The Local Conundrum

Imagine you have a cruiser. A super-sweet cruiser. Imagine that it's shiny and red and it says "dyno-glide" on the top tube, that it has front shock absorbers and a ride so smooth your friends and even strangers call your bike The Caddy (as in Cadillac, not as in guy-carrying-golf-clubs).

Now imagine The Caddy has some fatal rips in her seat which you don't really notice until after a particularly strong April rainstorm when you're riding to work and you realize that you are actually sitting on an enormous, saturated, rain-water sponge that is leaking down your inseam with each silky compression of those Caddy shocks.

So you need a new seat. And suddenly a dilemma has reared its fearsome head: Local Bike Shop or Internet?

This is the kind of decision that can make sane people howl at the moon. Let's consider a couple of scenarios.

Adventures on the Interweb

You make it safely to your office but are mocked ruthlessly by Jerry at the front desk for your rainwatery crotch. You sit at your desk (editorial note: for those of you who are grocery stockers or professional surfers, "desk" is the technical word for "table where you get paid to browse the internet"), hum along to the merry computer start-up song, and google "cruiser bike seats." You even use the quotation marks, you crafty google master.

Three-hundred and ninety hits. You look at your watch and estimate that you can peruse them all by the end of the week, assuming you eat all meals in front of the computer and sleep under your desk at night. You walk down the hall for some office coffee. Cathy from finance looks at your wet pants. You decide to narrow your search down to the top ten results.

But the top ten results are, get this, all... freaking... motorcycle seats.

Your boss comes in and says, "What about the Henderson deal?"

You say "I'm just wrapping it up!" and your boss leaves.

In a stroke of inspiration, you search bicycle instead of bike, and you discover that not only are cruiser bicycles represented in force on the internet, there are hundreds of people who blog about their cruisers! And chat rooms! There is a whole online community of people like you, who want to talk to you about their cruiser bikes and offer advice about where to find a seat and what kind of seat is best. There are people posting pictures of their bike seats. You can create a profile for your bike and give it a name and your bike will become friends with other bikes across the country! You are filled with the warm glow of community.

Nine hours later your eyes are bloodshot, your pants have dried, Cathy and Jerry have left for the afternoon, and your bike has 67 new friends. You still need a seat, so you just go to the first ad from your search. It's a store in Ohio that will accept Visa or MasterCard, and you can submit orders by telephone, email, or via the website. "Just think," you say to yourself, "The internet has saved me a drive all the way to Ohio."

You choose a Soft, Comfy, Gel Cruiser Sized Bicycle Seat Pad. It fits most upright handlebar styles and best of all it is only \$29.99, which is a discount of \$6.01. Unfortunately, it's not enough to qualify for free shipping and handling, but if you spend \$20.01 more, free shipping is your middle name. Throw a chain whip (\$16.99) in the cart and maybe a little dog-repellant spray (\$6.95) for good measure, and your day is done. Only 5-7 business days between you and dry riding comfort.

The Local Option

You make it safely to the coffee shop (new hypothetical scenario, new hypothetical job) and clock in. You accidentally spill a gallon of milk on your fellow barista's pants so as not to be the only one with a suspiciously wet crotch. Bike-Shop Dan comes in and orders his usual double Americano with room. "This one's on me," you tell Bike Shop Dan.

It's your lunch break and your local bike shop is like a buffet for your senses. The smell of chain lube, jerseys and windbreakers like tropical flowers, and Bike-Shop Dan humming along with the radio as he spins wheels on the bike stand. Maybe there is a friendly dog to greet you, or the laughter of small children.

On your way to the wall of bike seats you are temporarily distracted by the wall of random bike accessories. A headlight that looks like a frog. Something in your lower brain says, "I need that." A handlebar coffee cup holder -- same persuasive voice.

Bike shop Dan greets you by name and tells you a hilarious joke he just heard. Then he tells you about the different seats he has in stock, and which one he recommends for the Caddy. It's a Soft, Comfy, Gel Cruiser-Sized Bicycle Seat-Pad and it's only \$35.00 and Bike shop Dan is going to throw in a free keychain.

With the dirty business out of the way, you and Bike shop Dan engage in conversation about your friends, the weather, politics, the best flavor of ice cream, and the best tires to ride in winter.

An Example of Editorial Bias

Let's return to Table 1.1. The internet has its appeal, but the Local Bike Shop comes out ahead when it matters. Shopping at your LBS is good for the local economy, and less shipping is better for the environment. When you buy parts at your LBS, they are more likely to give you a hand or lend you a chain whip in dire times, and you might even learn something new about bikes. Of course there are the occasional bike shops gone bad, where a leg-shaven salesman named Hans wants you to test ride a \$6,000 frame and buy a \$25 water bottle. But more often than not, your local bike shop is the quickest, friendliest way to get back on your Caddy and back on the road.