What's a fair price, and how do you know it's a fair price?


Everyone knows that the best way to find out how much something should cost is to ask Mr. Google. It doesn't matter if Nice Bikes Company tells you their Urban Steed model retails for $759. If Mr. Google can find someone advertising it for $699, that's the price you'll fix in your mind. Unless of course you repeat the search a few days later, and there's someone out there who decides to go lower yet. Now, you won't want to pay a penny over $675. You're getting the best deal. That's a good thing, right?

Maybe. It's assuming that an Urban Steed is an Urban Steed is an Urban Steed. But what if it's not? You know, kind of like when you go to your local Fresh Farms store (for those of you not from Chicago, it's like a giant United Nations of farmers' markets) and it’s August, and they have about 17 different types of peaches. A peach is a peach, right? Not so fast! These Georgia peaches are nice and round and rosy, and they're $1.29 a pound, but when you pick one up, it has the suppleness of a coconut. Yikes. However, over here are some Michigan peaches. They're small and kinda yellow. The price tag says and $1.99. What's with that? You walk closer, and gently squeeze. The fruit gives a little, and pushes back, invitingly. At the same time, peachy aroma tickles your nostrils, and before you know it, you've bagged a dozen at top dollar, and -- never mind whatever else you came here to get -- you rush for the register, because you can't wait another minute to sink your teeth into this fragrant, fuzz covered flesh. Mmm-m.

OK, but what does this all have to do with bikes, you're thinking, wiping peach juice off your chin and licking your fingers. And why is the same Urban Steed at Jane's Friendly Bike Shop around the corner $779?!

OK, since you asked.

Even though this Urban Steed pictured in your Google search looks just like the one on the floor at  Jane's store, they may be as different from each other as those peaches you were squeezing at Fresh Farms. Let me underscore the first difference right here: both peaches were there for you to, er... experience. However, while the Google bike is merely an arrangement of pixels on your computer screen, Jane has taken it upon herself to stock the bike at her friendly bike store, so that you can, in fact, touch it, size it up, even give it a test ride.

Before that bike hit the showroom floor, Jane took some trouble to educate herself about her supplier's offerings and put together a balanced purchase order, based on what she expects her potential customers will want to buy. This probably means that she also has other models for you to compare with the Urban Steed. It also probably means that she had to fork over not a small amount of her hard earned money to get this nice-sized order from her vendor. The Google bike will probably be drop-shipped from some warehouse when the faceless clerk on the receiving end of your money presses the appropriate button. You will be told the bike will arrive pre-assembled, to which I can only say: HA!

Meanwhile, to assemble the Urban Steed, Jane has hired a competent mechanic, who has trued the wheels, expertly adjusted the derailleurs and brakes (you know, so that you can safely stop), and ensured that everything is tightened to correct torque. The mechanic may even have corrected some things that the factory or the pre-assembler did improperly (minor fork and frame alignments, thread repair, etc. are not uncommon). Jane may then herself, or with the help of another senior mechanic, safety-check the bike, and correct any remaining issues. (BTW, the three paragraphs I just wrote describing all this are alone worth $25.)

The day you decide to visit Jane's Friendly Bikes Shop and kick the tires on the Urban Steed, she's ready for you. She may consult with you about your biking needs personally, or she may have a knowledgeable salesperson assist you to make sure you get the right frame size, correct saddle position, and comfortable reach to the handlebars. Either way, you're getting good advice, pal. Will your anonymous, button-pushing clerk behind the Google picture do this? NO!!!! Jane and her entire staff are taking their valuable time to circle around you like planets around the sun, and help you make the right choice, and that time is worth something. This is how they make their living.

But why can't they make their living on $675? The other guy does. Look, if you're still not convinced, go and buy the Urban Steed from that anonymous guy. Just do Jane and me a favor: don't come and test-ride it at her store first. OK? If after your purchase the crank arms fall off, or the brakes rub, or the gears skip, Jane will take care of you with a smile at her standard labor rates.

If, on the other hand, you're still with me, let's continue shopping here at Jane's. Now that you've decided to take the Urban Steed home with you, she will have some really great suggestions about other accessories or upgrades you may want to add to get the most out of your bike purchase. Sure, she wants to make more money (isn't that why you have a job too?), but she also wants to make sure you don't drive off into the sunset only to realize you have no way to lock up your bike. So trust her, for heaven's sake. She'll most likely also include follow-up maintenance service for a period of time with your bike purchase.

It turns out that Mr. Google may not have all the answers. Price comparisons are meaningless unless you also compare the full value of the item being sold. To many casual consumers, a bicycle is a bicycle, and they don’t give more than a passing thought to bicycle assembly. But bicycles are fundamentally different from any other commonly purchased retail product. Unlike jeans, books, or even Ikea furniture, they require thorough, professional assembly to function properly and safely. An internet or mass merchant bike may seem like a bargain, until you add the cost of assembling, correcting improper assembly, and follow-up maintenance. Like Jane, we have been doing this for a long time, and that’s why service and value are part of every bicycle purchase you make with us.

Justyna FrankWhy