In association with Cyclescheme, BikeBiz reveals the results...

Top 20 Independent Bike Dealers: Part one

The thriving independent bike dealer population is on the frontline of the industry. We asked trade pundits, distributors, suppliers, customers and the shops themselves for their thoughts on who deserved particular praise. For more on how we arrived at the top 20 head on to the bottom of the page. In the meantime…

Alf Jones, Chester
Alf Jones Cycles relocated in February this year to a site in Gresford. Now with a retail area approximately twice the size of its old store, the new location means the growing retail business now has more space for a larger workshop and storage facilities as well as better parking for customers.

The store’s online presence has a host of features that go beyond cycle retail, offering information and services to visitors. It pools news and tips on where best to ride locally, with product reviews and an event planner, providing a one-stop-shop for cyclists and those new to the sport.

Alf Jones is helmed by Andy Castle, grandson of the shop’s founder – he who lent his name to the store. The keen mountain biker has completed Trans Alp stage races and a triathlon or two to boot.

AW Cycles, Reading
A shop highly recommended for this list, AW Cycles is, we’re told, “always mentioned as the local store of choice at roadshows in Reading area”.

The calibre of the shop was reinforced by a Mystery Shopper visit, which found the store to combine good service with a vast array of bikes and approachable staff. The firm is committed to supporting cycling in the local community too, with the AW Cycles Elite Cycling Team nurturing young and talented riders, and even providing funding for local school cycling events.

The Bike Factory, Chester
Offering a “vast selection of kit and great customer service” (so says our panel), the large bike specialist has retail roots in Chester that reach back almost 100 years.

Pitched as a modern vibrant retail environment, The Bike Factory offers an outstanding range of cycles and accessories, to meet all cycling requirements in the area.

The shop tells us that its emphasis is on service and customer satisfaction, while the sales team take part in all sectors of cycling, from BMX to touring and mountain biking, and shop staff take an active part in promoting cycling in the locality as Chester is a cycling demonstration city.

The ever important workshop team is trained to Cytech level three standard and ranked in the top ten in the UK, we’re told.

The Bike Shed, Exeter
The three-shop-strong retailer is, our panel of trade experts tell us, “renowned in the South West for their eye for detail and superior staff”. Serving Devon’s cyclists in Crediton and Barnstaple as well as Exeter, the latter store has very recently seen the arrival of a new dedicated bike fitting area, with more space and capacity to provide a great bike fitting service for customers. Four qualified bike fitters take cyclists through the process designed to help people ride longer, faster, happier and healthier. The shop holds regular rides, sees staff race and even chairs regular talks on topics like ‘Strength and Conditioning.’

Chelmer Cycles, Chelmsford
When BikeBiz’s Mystery Shopper visited Chelmer Cycles the undercover reporter was impressed by the speed and quality of service. Not forced to circle the store in hope of help (a Mystery Shopper pet hate), the sales assistant offered ‘excellent personal service and really took some time out to listen before lunging in with a sales pitch’, with ‘the edge in terms of advice given’. Chelmer also scored highly with our independent panel, tipping the balance of getting the firm in the top 20 list.

Condor Cycles, London
It will come as no surprise to find that Condor Cycles is on this list. Probably the best known bike dealer in the UK, Condor is no stranger to accolades and awards, and the highly thought of shop is not one to rest on its laurels either. Last year it moved to a 10,000 sq ft warehouse to cope with its thriving business and shortly before that refurbished and expanded its outlet on Gray’s Inn Road, London. Such is the appeal of Condor – and its own brand frames – that the two-time BikeBiz Award winner attracts customers from right across the UK and even globally – as far afield as the US and Japan.

Dales Cycles, Glasgow
Situated on the delightfully named Dobbies Loan in Glasgow, Dales Cycles is another store that has been in the business for decades – a century next year, in fact. We were told that the store has a “huge selection of bikes and accessories, with really helpful staff and expert knowledge on the local area”.

Dales Cycles has adapted with the times and has recently moved into a new warehousing and office facility, offering a fully fledged online site, finance and the aforementioned friendly staff.

Don Skene Cycles, Rumney, Cardiff
Named after Wales’ cycling legend, Don Skene is a bike shop with over 50 years of experience. Set up by the man himself, Don has now retired and the business is currently run by his son and daughter.

Priding itself on excellent customer service and competitive pricing, this Cardiff-based shop was another popular choice among our panel of bike industry experts.

Stocking in excess of 400 cycles with an accompanying huge selection of accessories, the firm also offers finance and voucher options for its customer base.

Formby Cycles, Formby
Formby Cyles has been in the hands of its current owners (the family-owned and run Taskers group) since 2003, who have invested millions of pounds into the business, we are told. Most obviously, that investment has been funnelled into a new superstore – five times the size of the old store – with a large onsite car park and a vast array of product. We were told that ‘Formby must be in there’ by one of our pundits. Offering Cycle to Work, the store is staffed by enthusiasts each with their own area of interest, Formby also offers finance and a HomeFit service, delivering bikes direct to the door with a fully qualified mechanic to set the purchase up.

George Halls Cycles, Market Harborough
This IBD is located on the border town of Market Harborough (straddling Leicestershire and Northamptonshire). With a Halfords on its doorstep the shop tells BikeBiz that it prides itself on good relations with fellow IBDs.

With a small but thriving workshop George Halls has even been known to fix the odd wheelchair as well as bikes, even picking up bicycles for repair for customers.

George Halls Cycles also features a web shop specialising in small, hard-to-find parts, even servicing the trade on some occassions. Aside from bike retail, the owner is a highly active member of the wider cycling community, helping run cycle clubs as well as founding and organising the grass roots MTB CC series FNSSMTB, as well as helping the County Council map local cycle routes.

Lists. Some people hate them, others love them. One thing is for sure, lists are virtually guaranteed to fire up debate.

This list of the top 20 IBDs has been put together to put the independent bike dealer under the spotlight and celebrate these stars of the bicycle industry. Offering top-notch service, superb product knowledge and a great range of product, the best bike retailers are invaluable to the industry, on the frontline of the business and the most obvious face of our trade.

IBDs that can do all of the above and manage to forge great customer and community relations – and maybe even reach out to non-cyclists to bring them into the cycling community – are, needless to say, worth their weight in steel frames. 

There are, of course, many more than 20 IBDs deserving of praise and recognition operating in the cycle industry at the moment. So just how did we manage to whittle the list down to a mere 20?

IBDs could nominate themselves, consumers could make suggestions and we asked suppliers and distributors within the trade let us know who they thought were the best of the best. Cyclescheme, as supporters of the feature, also helped put the top 20 together, but we stress that IBDs did not have to be partners of Cyclescheme to make the final list. We also called on the experiences of Mystery Shopper to help collate the list.

So, have we ommitted some of the finest dealers in the business? No doubt there are some shops we’ve missed.

But have we managed to assemble a list of independent bike dealers that impress their peers, suppliers, undercover journalists and even their customers?

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