With summer holidays approaching, I picked up a few last minutish items online. Some super high strength sun cream (I don’t have skin, I have a translucent layer of rice paper laid over my flesh), a couple of ‘best summer read’ books and something called a ‘cover up’ to add to my partner’s swimwear wardrobe. All done without leaving the comfort of the couch, leaving me more time to check the Facebook updates of people already on holiday and to start a sort of ‘gloating countdown’ as a build up to my own. There was one item I was still missing, however. Last year, at the same South-Eastern European beach venue, I became enamoured of the idea of owning some Euro-swim trunks. Not those minuscule, everything-on-display up your bum jobs, but something fitted, athletic and day glow. The only problem being that I have, for as long as I can remember, only bought board shorts for swimming in. I know my board shorts size, I can order board shorts online, no problem. There was not time to be popping online, ordering three sizes and then sending two back. I needed to try them on pronto and get the right size, first time.

No problem, I thought. I’d identified a brand online that I liked. They did all manner of shiny bright designs. Just a question of popping into a shop to try some on. Only one problem. No shops in the UK carried this brand. In fact, no shop that I could find within a half hour journey of my house carried any ‘euro shorts’. The message was the same several times over. The swim specialists did this sort of thing, but they can’t maintain a presence on the high street. Everyone just goes in, tries things on and then buys, cheaper, online.

And so it goes with bikes shops. More and more, you’ll find that the old local bike shop from your high street simply isn’t there anymore. They haven’t been able to compete with the online giants for sales. Some websites can sell chains and rear mechs for less than a shop can buy them wholesale. Display shoes would sit, getting dusty while customer after customer tried on the size they wanted, then bought online. Bikes would pass the end of the bike year without anyone even putting down a holding deposit. Sure, they’d pop in, ask the full spec (many websites fail to include the width of the bar or the hub manufacturer), throw a leg over for size, promise to be back tomorrow and then disappear into webworld. The only way to strike back was to set up a website yourself and keep the shop on in order to maintain a workshop and a real world presence for those who need to one-to-one advice.

Which is just what we do at Biketart. Our web sales are important to us, but we are still very much a bike shop. We have two proper branches, with showrooms and mechanics and clothing rails and lubricants and spares and inner tubes. Always inner tubes. Sure, many people still come in, try stuff for size or pick our brains and then hit the Internet for the actual purchase. So why do we bother? Why keep a real shop going if we can just sell online and let some other mug provide the service? The answer lies in a number of important factors.

Emergencies: We are cyclists too. Who knows when we’ll be out for a ride, far from Canterbury, we get a massive puncture and our sealant can’t save us (we all run tubeless, naturally) so a new tube is needed. If It wasn’t for a local bike shop, we’d be walking all the way home and waiting for the post to bring us a new or new sealant before we could ride again.

Awkward spares: You notice a slight wobble in your rear braking. Closer inspection reveals the your rotor is rattling because a bolt has worked loose. Replacing the Torq bolt is easy enough, but what about the tiny washer that created exactly the right spacing? Your local bike shop will have just the right size lurking in their mystery washers jar. Not only that, but they’ll have about sixteen other sizes for you to try out while finding the right one. The alternative? Hoping that ‘Jonny who knows’ has listed the right size on his mini-site and that, when ordered from ‘Massive Online Bike’ they send precisely the size you expected. Otherwise it’s trial and error ordering for about two weeks and no riding in between.

Expertise: Not only will the mechanic in your local bike shop likely know which size washer you need, they’ll also know how to fit you to a new bike, which saddle matches your riding style, what grade dot fluid your eleven-year-old disc brakes need and how wide is too wide when cutting down handlebars to fit your local trails.
Assessing the alternatives: When the time comes for replacing worn out parts, sorting an upgrade or custom building a bike around a new frame, you will need to work out what your choices are. Is that bottom bracket compatible with those cranks? What is the correct top and bottom cup size for your headset? Is this rear mech compatible with your old shifters? What about switching to 35mm bars? These are the sorts of things that bike shops can not only advise on, but physically check for you, right there and then. No lengthy Google searches, no need to rely on your mate-who-knows-stuff, no ordering and sending back, just quick, easy advice from someone whose job it is to either know the answer or find out for you. Hassle free.

Fixing your bike: Sure, you can probably fix a puncture, you might even me up to bleeding your own disc brakes, but can you fit a new press fit BB? Do you have a headset press? Have you successfully set up 1×12 gearing on a two dozen new bikes such that you can ensure perfect shifting every time? Probably not. Yet the guy in your local bike shop probably has. Not only that, but he or she also knows how to extract that stuck seat post, properly toe in the pads on your fifteen year old v-brakes, true that bashed up rear wheel and wrap bar tape to perfection. Yes, you could sit through a half hour long headcam tutorial from a bloke with an adenoid problem on YouTube only to realise that he’s left handed, so the whole way he approached setting up that front mech properly won’t actually work for you – or you could drop your bike off to be fixed at the local bike shop and pick it up the next day knowing that the job had been done by a professional and that any problems can be fixed by them rather than bodged by you and the You Tube man.
Where to ride: If you are new to an area or visiting somewhere you’ve not ridden before, the absolute best way to find out about the local trails is by popping into a shop. Even the most popular areas to ride only have a handful of their trails mapped out on the interweb and you can bet your bottom dollar that the very best trails never get shared digitally. The local bike shop staff will not only know exactly there the most beautiful piece of local singletrack is located, but they’ll tell you how to get there, where to go next, which is the easiest way to climb the nearby hills and, if you don’t mind popping along at the end of the day, they might even lead you there themselves. Many local bike shops also run regular shop rides (just like we do at Biketart) so you can follow the staff down the sweetest regional trails and meet other riders into the bargain. Way better than sitting on Twitter waiting for #Radrider37 to put out ‘the call’ for riding buddies (more on that below).

Shiny things: Every local bike shop has ‘that cabinet’. You know. The one where the bling lives. One of the staff will have spent hours balancing a XX1 rear mech in top of a 12 speed chain, while ensuring that a Garmin leans nonchalantly against a Reverb B1 Stealth post just so you can a) gawp at it and b) ruin the whole thing by asking to see the Renthal stem that’s holding the whole display together. The shiny things cabinet it not only the place where you can make a proper 3D appraisal of the carbon railed saddle you’ve been lusting after but it also acts as a draw for other customers, leading to conversations and possibly new riding buddies.
The touch and the feel: There is, as yet, not website in existence that allows you to actually touch, stroke, pick up and sniff (no? Just me then) those shiny new bits of kit you just saw on PinkBike or Singletrackworld. Only in the local bike shop can you hold out those sexy carbon bars as though you are riding. No online shop lets you balance up the Eagle and XTR cassettes in your hands (because no one really trusts listed weights). And if you want to see, first hand, that amazing new carbon 150mm full bounce frame that everyone has been raving about…guess what…local bike shop again.

Can I borrow your…?: unless you are one of those people with a fully equipped tool wall in your garage (in which case, good on you, can you lend me your 3/8 inch Raleigh compatible hex wrench please, I’ve lost mine) then there will come a time when you have a simple job to do and no tool to do it with. I’m talking about wanting to adjust the angle of your brake levers and discovering that the Torx bolt that holds it in place is not in your Allen key set. Or popping off your cranks for a thorough clean only to discover that you lack the little twisty tool thing needed to get them back on again. And then there’s that mid ride puncture when your fantastic mini pump doesn’t quite have the oomph to get your road tyres back up to 120psi in less than 1000 pump strokes. In all cases, you pop along to the local bike shop and borrow that tool or track pump for two minutes. Often they’ll also help you to finish off the job that you have started (either out of pity or because they need the tool back) meaning that the bolt is actually torqued to the right setting or the chain line is right for once. No online retailer can offer you that. Not even a little bit.

Community: Twitter and Strava and Facebook may be great places to arrange a ride or find out who is about, but there is no substitute for meeting real life people, in real life shops and having real life conversations. The sort of chats that start with ‘nice bike mate’ and end with “yeah, I used to have a pair of those forks in 2003, I’m sure I’ve got a spare top cap in my toolbox, you can have it if you like” or “fantastic, meet you Tuesday for a night ride. You can borrow my spare lights”. The sort of natural flow of conversation that comes from simply chatting to someone is only achievable in real life and almost never happens on social media. Simply being able to rock up your at your local bike shop on a miserable wet Sunday afternoon (yes, you could be out riding, but who are we kidding?) and having a natter about tyre choices for mud, which turns into agreeing to take part in a 24 hour race next month, is an invaluable experience and just a small part of the excellent community of cycling that revolves around almost every bike emporium. While never, ever happening at

Which brings us back to Biketart. Yes, we have a brilliant website and there is no doubt that it is a huge part of our bike business. We are pleased that you’ve stumbled across this blog thanks to being part of our online community or using our website to buy bike bits. But our two real life shops, in the centre of Canterbury and trail side out in Barham, are massively important to us. They are the beating heart of Biketart. They are where our staff share their knowledge with customers and with each other. They are where you can test ride real bikes, access first hand knowledge and get your actual bike fixed by an actual human being.

So the next time you just need to order a new chain, or pick up some replacement cleats feel free to do it online. Just try to buy from a site that is supported by a real, live, full of all those bits and pieces local bike shop. Like Biketart, for instance.