I don’t speak bike

I have realised after nearly 42 years that I don’t speak bike.

I have a bike I use sometimes to get to the railway station. It’s a nice blue and white bike, with gears, and brakes and two wheels (thereby qualifying it as a BIcycle), and the man in the shop told me it was a hybrid bike. He was also very helpful in selling me a range of accessories* I would need.

At the moment it is sitting in the shed, as the back wheel has a puncture, and the only cycling I am currently doing is on a stationary cycle at the gym. Going back to the bike shop to get a replacement inner tube was fraught.

There was no indication with my manual as to which model I had, nor could I see one on the bike itself. When he asked me what type of bike I had, I went completely numpty and said “Errr, a ladies bike?”

He gestured to the range and asked which model I was riding. I was still totally blank as I didn’t see my model- all the ones I was shown were the more upright, commuter style bikes. I ended up gesturing pretty helplessly towards one, feeling a tad out of depth.

The tube he picked out that he thought would fit my bike. I looked at the valve and it wasn’t the right one, as it was too wide. He ended up looking up my purchase on their database and figuring out my wheel type, then picking out the right tube, not without a bit of frustration on his and my parts.

The issue here is, I happen to live in a town where there are HEAPS of cycle stores, all well patronised. There are hordes of road cyclists who zip around the Lake on the weekend, we have the road cycling championships every year, and we have a just had a cycling classic aimed at raising money for cancer research. With all this activity, there is an assumption that when people walk into a bike shop, they’re knowledgeable and can talk the torque. But sadly, I’m not!

Do you know what I would like in a bike shop? Someone who is not a hardcore cyclist, who can interpret thingummy and whatsit and vague looks into something meaningful. Someone who doesn’t reel off jargon, someone who is fluent in bike, but doesn’t make you feel out of depth because you’re not. And a bike shop which offers sessions to numpties like me sessions in looking after your bike and how to change your tyre.

*The whole point about the word accessories, is that I associate it with things like shoes, handbags, scarves and jewellery, not bike lights, or panniers, jerseys, filets, and those godawful ugly cycling shoes! Though a bike pump however, is an essential accessory…

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3 thoughts on “I don’t speak bike

  1. While I totally understand the feeling, having been on the “outsider” end of the equation (I had a similar experience at my mechanic’s a few weeks ago) I’ve also been on the “insider” end of the equation.

    The ability to translate “thingamajig” into the actual term is what makes a great salesman (or great teacher, great writer etc) because it requires you to be able to put yourself into the other person’s shoes and explain it from their perspective, instead of yours. It’s not a skill to be taken lightly.

    It’s a good ideal to strive for, I agree, but the other side of that coin is that it is genuinely difficult to do. it’s not just snobbery – those “thingamies” sound just as much like Klingon to them as the jargon does to you, and it’s hard to answer someone when they’re not even sure what they’re asking you.

    And, it must be noted, them “not being fluent in bike” would actually be a lot worse – you need them to be bilingual, as it were, or their ignorance would make them totally useless.

    • Hello Ben,
      Thank you for your long and thoughtful response! I have been an insider too, having worked in retail and been a librarian. I know of the frustrations of trying to interpret what people want because they either do not know what they want, or they know what they want but don’t know how to articulate it!

      Language is powerful, and with it comes the power to include and exclude. Often the use of jargon and technical terms can make individuals feel as if it is another language being spoken and will feel excluded and intimidated. I did say I would like someone who was fluent in bike, but able to articulate in non technical terms to ignoramuses like me :).

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