Bike shops have a responsibility to teach their customers safe cycling.

This is because the bike shop salesperson has the customer’s attention, and it’s when the customer will be most receptive to tips, advice, and training. The bike shop salesperson, in many cases, will be the first and last person the customer talks to about biking. Lastly, it’s because the bike shop is a community center with a wealth of knowledge and experience – all of which should be shared.

The customer’s family is probably not a good resource and websites and friends can only teach them so much. But a bike shop salesperson has two advantages over other friends, family, and the internet: the customer’s time and trust.

Each bike shop should take it upon themselves to teach each new customer how to ride safely and legally on the street, the local laws regarding its operating and accessories (buy some lights, please!), etiquette for multi-use paths (like Chicago’s Lakefront Trail), and proper locking techniques.

  1. All bikers will, at some point, have to ride on the street in mixed traffic.
  2. It’s unreasonable to expect cyclists to know the laws applicable to cycling when they’ve had very little experience cycling and when there are no widespread institutions that teach cycling.
  3. Multi-use paths are fountains of rage and dangerous commingling. 
  4. The cyclist will be in a situation that requires them to secure their bicycle.

No matter how adamant the customer is that they won’t be riding in the street, they will. The sidewalk is illegal territory in so many communities, and isn’t safe for the cyclist themselves or the pedestrians they might run over. On sidewalks or on multi-use paths, they will have to cross streets with automobile traffic. It’s a little different than being a pedestrian and crossing these streets because you are operating relatively heavy equipment and you move at a different speed. Eventually, this cyclist will graduate from scaredy-cat to coffeehouse comfortable, biking to a café down the street. Talking one on one about these things, using diagrams from a brochure will influence the new cyclist that safe cycling matters – for themselves and those with whom they’ll interact. Then show them how to read a map.

Bicycle laws are not handed to 16-year olds in high school (actually, they most likely are, but who reads that?). That might have been 10 years ago, and they won’t remember that a front headlight but only a rear reflector are required for post-dusk riding. Or that red lights are for all street users (and really dangerous to disobey). Don’t forget that some bicyclists were taught to ride against traffic, facing cars down on the wrong side of the street.

Those customers who might be telling the shop salesperson that they won’t be riding in the street probably think they’re only going to ride on the multi-use path. These customers need trail etiquette stressed to them. They need to know when it’s safe to pass, what to say to those they’ll pass, the right speed to travel, and when to stop or slow down. The trail is not a speeding zone; rollerbladers, children, strollermoms, teams in training, walkers, and in some places even horses and their riders, will all be groups with whom the cyclist must interact and take care of – this mix is fun to watch and be around, but path users must pay attention to each other. 

Real locking techniques may be one of the most useful things you can teach any cyclist. They won’t be cyclists if they can’t keep their bike! The City of Chicago offers a guide on theft prevention and proper locking, two unique but related concepts. You shouldn’t do one without the other, because they enhance the overall “theft-proof-ness” of a bike. The salesperson can spend five minutes demonstrating to the customer cross-locking, and then having the customer practice. They can also quiz the customer on appropriate locking locations. What structures are secure and which ones aren’t? Why or why not?

Preface this lesson to the customer that “in 20 minutes, you can become a bicycling expert!” The bike shop-customer bond will strengthen and you’ll have proved to them your service is necessary and appreciable. Because you took the time to show a customer how much you care about them, their new bike, and the sport or utility of bicycling, they’ll spread the word and come back.