Simon Usborne: 'I have long despaired of the sullen, patronising staff found behind the tills of bike shops'


Why does it appear that to work in a bike shop you have to be a bastard? It was a question I asked on Twitter about a week ago: "My next cycling column will ask 'Why do you have to be a bastard to work in a bike shop?' Thoughts/anecdotes gratefully received."

My language may have been strong, but I feel strongly about this, having for a long time despaired of the sullen, patronising staff too often found behind the tills of the big chains (I exclude most independent shops, where the nice people seem to work). Is it in the job description, or does working in a bike shop do that to a man?

It turns out I'm not alone. A mother choosing a child's bike reported being treated as if her son had thrown up over the helmet display. Two colleagues were given the same attitude when taking back bikes so poorly assembled they posed a health risk. And I feel more intimidated walking into certain cycle shops than I would a Paris branch of Prada.

Are these guys would-be Mark Cavendishes taking out their frustrations on clueless customers? One tweeter suggested bike shops had the same recruitment criteria as record shops (think Barry in High Fidelity). I guess, with the decline of the latter, they have to work somewhere.

Of all the responses, however, one stood out. "Because it's a sectarian religion," said Tom, "and they're always suspicious that you might not be one of the elect." There remains an ugly tribalism in cycling. It's a hangover from the time when cyclists were viewed as virtuous deviants who espoused a holier-than-thou, I'm-doing-the-world-a-favour smugness. You still see it in the aggressive rider who bangs the windows of an errant car, the preachy green type who sneers at drivers through exhaust fumes and, I suggest, the typical bike-shop worker.

My message to all of you is this: Stop it. You're not saving the planet, you're not superior, and you're not in a tribe. You're riding a bike, which is the easiest thing to do after walking. More and more people want to ride – and buy – bikes, which is great because it's helping to erode the perception of cycling as an alternative activity, or hobby. So get over yourself, enjoy cycling for what it is (a nice way to get around) and smile a bit.;