Feature: The Bike Shop

VeloUK pays a visit to the local bike shop in Harrow (West London) to chat about the shop, bikes and whats popular with consumers

RST Cycle Clothing & Trigon Bikes

Feature: The Bike Shop

Shop Website here

Introduction and thanks
When my contract at British Cycling in 2011 was being changed and the coverage of the sport which I had been head hunted to do in 2001 would come to a halt, I decided the sport was important than a nice comfy wage (27K) every month.

Serving the sport as I do had become part of the fabric and was just something that I feel I need to do because it does seem to matter from the feedback I get. When I raced, my pretty average achievements only mattered to me which is why I gave up racing and started what I do now almost 20 years ago (scary).

But to do this needs backing and I reckon I have the most loyal and special support anyone who could possibly ask! One of the sponsors of the site (Prendas) was one of my original sponsors pre me working for British Cycling and since leaving, I have a whole new generation of sponsors (advertisers) who keep me on the road and at the keyboard covering the sport as well as I can.

The Bike Shop has its own brand, Quest, and they produce some great looking bikes like this TT weapon

One of those sponsors who has been helping the website for many many years is The Bike Shop at Harrow. Having ridden a Quest frame back in the 90’s when I got back into racing, the connection between VeloUK and The Bike Shop in Harrow goes back a long way even before they advertised with me!

So Thursday of last week saw me make the journey down to London to visit the shop for the first time and talk to Malcolm who opened the shop in 1988, the same year I arrived in England – almost 30 years ago which is a lifetime or longer for many of VeloUK’s readers.

Speaking of life times, it was like revisiting another life as I took the M40 towards the shop, near roads I would ride on when training and on the motorway I used each weekend to go to Hillingdon to race during the winter and often also during the summer racing season. A hop, skip and jump from Hillingdon is Harrow’s local bike shop looking after the local racing community.

You could not get a more apt name for a bike shop than ‘The Bike Shop’ and after parking outside and feeding the parking meter some money, I ventured inside to see within its walls a mixture of bikes; kids ones, urban, folding, ladies and of course high performance racing machines from Pinarello, Giant and their own brand Quest.

With Malcolm in the shop when I visited was a very knowledgeable young lady called Steph, who despite only looking 20, has been working in the shop for eight years. Not there but a name I have had in the results many times, Paul Doel is another who works there as does Ed who’s been there for ten years.

Okay, you need deep pockets for a bike like this but this is an example of the high end market bikes you can get through The Bike Shop

The shop is well known in the area and the first bike I see is a Pinarello F10, the WorldTour spec bike for the likes of Chris Froome et al. It doesn’t come much more high performance than that! Venturing further inside, I see more high performance bikes including Quest’s own great looking machines including a time trial weapon (the Rush).

Behind the counter was Steph who has probably more bike racing in her young legs than most having been around bikes all her life while in the workshop was Malcolm, who as a youngster was learning the ropes doing a spot of mechanicing for GB before in 1988, after 15 years working for another bike shop, opened his own. To say he’s a mine of knowledge is an understatement! I think the saying ‘what he doesn’t know isn’t worth knowing comes to mind!’

Malcolm has seen a lot of change in the bike industry over the years and we sat down for a chat which I knew it would be a learning experience. He started by explaining the industry when he started was certainly different to today.

“Most cyclists used the high street retailer where as now they shop more online” he explained adding he may not have started a shop if he knew then what he knows now! “At that time, there was a strong racing community in the area and I’d already worked in a bike shop for 15 years so it seemed like natural progression for me at the end of my racing career.”

Lots of accessories for the performance cyclist at The Bike Shop

Malcolm explained the shops’ focus in bikes is quite a diverse one. “We try and cater for all types of cyclists and it’s not just a performance store. We cater for families, commuters, tourists as well as the racing community and we do a good job having that spread of bikes.”

The Quest brand is the high performance one for the shop and the one I had ridden many many years ago in my own racing days back when carbon bikes were rare. “We started the Quest brand after having the shop for four or five years” Malcolm says “and we began with aluminium mountain bike frames, then road frames in aluminium and now carbon frames. It’s something that has naturally grown and grown and certainly in the local area, has become a well known brand and is something we are quite proud of”.

And proud I would be as the Quest branded equipment is certainly smart looking. The Quest range of frames which includes a track one, also includes an alloy road one for those looking for a winter bike which will take full mudguards. Malcolm added that all their Quest race frames though are carbon and if they decided to diversify, they may go back to a quality steel frame”.

Asked what are the popular bikes going out the door these days, he says “hybrids – we sell a lot of them for the commuters and we find those new to cycling who buy a hybrid, within one or two years, they will look to getting a race bike”.

What about aftermarket accessories; what are the most popular purchases? “Things like the Garmin or the Stages dash (GPS computer and link to power meters); items to help with training and performance” says Malcolm. “The GPS market is popular because riders know now they can go out without getting lost and of course put their files on Strava later!”

Its  not all ‘bikep0rn’ at the Bike Shop but bikes for all the family

“Power cranks too are also catching up. For a long time it was SRM only and they were too expensive and were mainly a gadget for the pros but with things like Stages, people are accepting the price of power meters now and we do a lot of them”.

With winter approaching fast now, riders also have to think about getting the grip during these slippery months and Malcolm says that the Continental Gator skins and Four Seasons are by far the most popular tyre adding that the Vittoria Rubino pro control with ‘Graphene’ technology is also popular, riding like a race tyre but proving to be very strong as well.

The Bike Shop also has a great range of lights which is another area in cycling where the consumer is now spoilt for choice with lights that can flash to help riders be seen or provide a constant light source to help riders see where they are going with lights bright enough to dazzle those coming towards them.

“The batteries will give you two to three hours in the evening, and with no bulbs to blow and being small, light and compact, there is no excuse not to have them” says Malcolm.

The shop also has clothing, turbo trainers, and lots more for the cyclist whether they race or not. It’s not a big shop but its packed with things to look at and worth a visit for sure whether in person, online or both!

The Workshop
One area of any bike shop though that has become a major asset is the workshop. As the saying goes, “the internet can’t fix your bike” and the workshop is now an important part of The Bike Shop too, even more so when there is some one in it with three or more decades of experience working with bikes.

Whilst many a cyclist may be scratching their head at which way the bearings go in their headset they bought online, it’s a task that Malcolm has done many a time and is second nature. Malcolm explained that they pretty much do anything when it comes to bikes repairs outside of frame repairs and resprays.

Wheels for example are not as easy to ‘true up’ as they were when they had 36 spokes and the technology was quite basic. That job has become more technical than it used to be as wheels get lighter, there are less spokes in a wheel and the tension and build of them becomes more critical.

Working on disc brakes is another level up again. For those like me who as a teenager would pull a bike to bits down to a bare frame every month to clean it, getting the bike in tip top shape becomes routine but these days things are even more complicated with all the electronics and fancy materials not to mention press fit items. Now its winter, for those with a race bike in hibernation, having a professional mechanic give it a proper servicing ahead of next season is for sure something worth considering.

The Quest track bike looking the business as well and we all know how important is too look good as well race fast! (So I’m told LoL)

As Malcolm pointed out, a lot of the servicing work on a high performance race bike, just as it is on a car, is best to left to those with the right tools for the job and experience to match especially when such tasks can be difficult for those who have little time to tinker and solve the puzzles that come with stripping a bike and then putting it back together.

But not all improvements in tech on bikes are making things more difficult. When chatting about electronic groupsets, Malcolm admits that of the big three, the Campagnolo EPS is the most difficult to install on a bike followed by Shimino Di2. The easiest to install is SRAM Etap says Malcolm.

“It is quite easy because there are no wires or cables. Once you have paired the levers to the gear mechanisms, you adjust them pretty much like you would any mechanical one and it’s done. No cables in frames and wires so we like Etap! It is a nice bit of kit”.

I remember when Di2 first appeared and everyone seemed a little nervous about making the switch from mechanical to electronic but now says Malcolm, around a third of bike builds are with electronic groupsets. Problems with them he says are pretty much non-existent too and they provide long battery life and accurate changes.

Saddles, bottle cages, tyres, tubes, stuff for cleaning bikes with and so much more at the Bike Shop. It is a much more pleasant experience than shopping online! 

Cheap versus expensive
Asked about differences between the cheaper entry level bikes and more expensive ones, Malcolm explained that whilst in the old days riders had different types of steel tubing to choose from (531 was cheaper and heavier than 753 for instance), nowadays the differences are in the type of construction and compounds used in the carbon frames which will see frames differ both in their weight and also their stiffness and ‘raceability’. As well as price of course!

One area where things have got a lot better for consumers are groupsets. Back in the day, the cheap groupsets looked and felt cheap and I always bought the better ones so I could stop the bike because cheap brakes were pretty useless. Nowadays says Malcolm, even the cheaper groupsets are better than we raced on 30 years ago providing faster shifting and stiffer braking even without discs.

By way of example, he added they sell more Shimano Ultegra than Dura Ace because it is hard to tell the difference between the two other than a little weight difference and the small performance differences.

The shop have Quest frames for those looking to build a custom bike up

“With Campag” he says, “you get the racer who wants what the WorldTour riders use which will be Record or Super Record where as others (I could spot myself in this group), will be those who are buying to have the Campagnolo brand and will purchase Potenza or Athena.”

“Chorus” he says “gets stuck in the middle and we don’t sell so much but it all works fantastically well. Campag had to up their game when SRAM came on the market and they are much better than they used to be”.

So with all the improvements in equipment, the effective cost of a race bike has come down and Malcolm says some one wanting an entry level race bike can get one for under a thousand pounds which will be better than what we were racing on 20 or 30 years ago!

Finally, for some one who has been in the industry for a while now, I thought it would be interesting to hear what he felt the biggest change was in bike racing? We talked about clipless pedals and STI levers for example but the biggest change for Malcolm wasn’t equipment but the fact a British team (Sky) now tops the rankings in WorldTour and Britain can count on British riders winning the Tour de France.

Quite ironic really when he recalled the time a young Bradley Wiggins came into his shop and said his goal was to win the Tour de France one day. If only we’d known he would be true to his word and would do just that setting off the British interest in the sport all those years ago…. Thank you Bradley!

My thanks to Malcolm for the chat and look forward to venturing down there again soon

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