Stepping up to the big leagues

How Kyle finally landed his bike

My friend Kyle turns 11 today, and as an active boy who excels on the baseball diamond and soccer pitch, he asked his father if this was the year to upgrade from a 20"-wheeled Specialized BMX bike to a 26 incher. Three days ago we found what we were looking for, but not without a veritable scavenger hunt to find what used to be a logical transition bicycle.

Thankfully, Young Kyle is patient and inquisitive. His father John and I weren't as much.

My family and I owned a bike shop in Dayton, Ohio for nearly four years. Our's was a bike boutique, focusing on service and niche brands. We catered to the commuter and fixie crowd, mainly, but offered a smattering of road and mountain bikes to balance things off. Rule number one: greet the customer immediately, and welcome them as you would someone coming into your living room. Ask a few questions, like 'what are you looking to do with the bike you're looking for?' and 'what have you seen so far that you've liked at other shops?'

Sadly, not one person out of the three shops we visited the other day bothered to acknowledge our presence, let alone to inquire what we were looking to buy on a warm April evening. One was rolling bikes in 10 minutes early and was too preoccupied to assist us, another was a major retailer that rhymes with Arr-EE-Eye, and the other was Performance, a national chain that prides itself on stocking name brand products at affordable prices.

Not wanting to spoil Kyle's big event, we soldiered on, armed with the combined knowledge of 1) what Kyle wanted the bike to do, and 2) what Kyle's dad hoped would be a good value and be something to grow into. Thankfully, I was able to make recommendations to Kyle, and explain what certain shifters did, what the benefits of a suspension or rigid fork were, and the overall gist of what his dream bike can and would look like.

Unfortunately, the first shop had what we were looking for, but had closed sharply at 7 p.m. (we walked in at 6:50). We thought we could find something similar at the other shops, but even in bike friendly Mountain View, California, the majority of the bikes were better suited for heavy-duty trail riding, despite the fact that most people want to make the most of our wonderful bike lanes. Our's is also a very moderate climate, with comfortable weather virtually year-round.

What we were looking for was a no-frills commuter bike, suitable for a young man wanting to use his sweet new ride as transportation. This means 26-inch tyres with a semi-slick tread, mudguards and rack fittings, subtle graphics, and enough gearing to deal with slight hills and headwinds. Simple request, right?

Apparently not. Flat-bar road bikes aren't for 11-year-olds, nor are full suspension bikes. Cheap hybrids with cheesy adjustable stems and poorly designed suspension seatposts aren't the solution either. And, anything over the $400 price point will scare off most parents, who are making the leap from a $200 bike. Despite the obstacles in our path, Kyle listened intently to the options I was providing, and his father and I decided to retreat to my house, do some web surfing for alternative brands or models we hadn't seen on our adventure, then regroup for another day. It helped tremendously that we stopped for a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts first.

After an hour on the web, we decided the Diamondback Transporter was the one. On Wednesday, Kyle's dad called the first shop we visited, asking them to put a 16-inch frame model on hold, and by 3 o'clock Wednesday the deal was done.

Our marathon hunt for a new birthday bike for Kyle was a success. My hope is that the bike industry wakes up to the needs of parents and children looking for affordable, simple, two-wheeled transportation. If we continue to create such obstacles, we shouldn't be surprised to see obesity and dependence on oil rise in this country. Let's do everything we can to make buying a bike a joy, not a challenge.

Happy birthday, Kyle. Long may you ride!

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