Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to bring you the first in my series of East Bay bike shop reviews. Today, I bring you a review of (drumroll, please)…
3121 Sacramento Street
Berkeley, CA 94702
I was originally pretty excited about the idea of a place called Recycle Bicycle–the concept of reusing, recycling, or repurposing anything makes me pretty happy. If a shop could be environmentally friendly, that was a good thing. But as it turns out, a shop that attempts to recycle isn’t quite as glorious as it sounds.
The idea behind the shop is that they buy used frames and then build them up with new or used parts (including gears, brakes, shifters, wheels, etc.). This is fine for some of the bikes. For example, there was a great old Schwinn townie style bike, in classic blue. It’s not a big deal for that bike to have used parts, and the shop was asking $249 for the bike. All things considered, it’s not a bad deal. Cost-wise, it was probably better than trying to buy a frame elswhere and build it yourself, especially if you consider the time and energy you’d have to put into finding parts.
On the flip side, however, there was a beautiful Soma road frame (it’s pictured here, to the right). The guy working at the shop (who also appeared to be an owner/manager) told me that they paid maybe $300-$400 for the frame. They then built it up with bottom of the line Shimano components and are asking $1200 for the bike. This is not a good deal. It was a nice frame, with not nice parts. If for some reason I was crazy enough to spend $1200 on this bike, I’d probably have replaced a bunch of the parts. They just didn’t mesh. Why put low quality parts on a relatively high quality frame? Perhaps to make a larger profit? That’s how it seemed to me.
The lesson I learned is that Recycle Bicycle is kind of hit or miss for buying whole bikes. The idea of building used bikes to sell is great–many people can’t afford new, or just want something oldish and cheapish to ride to BART or the store. But if you don’t take someone who knows bikes with you to the store, you might get ripped off a little bit. Depends. The Schwinn was not a terrible deal, but the Soma was. Like I said, hit or miss.
I have to rate the friendliness of this shop as kind of low. I’m generally a forgiving person, and don’t really like giving people bad reviews, but I felt sort of unwelcome when I walked into the shop. No one greeted me, no one asked if I had questions, or explained to me what the goal of the store was. And because it’s such a non-traditional kind of store, it would have really been nice to have some help. I ended up asking a price on a bike that was there for repair! There was no way for me to tell what was for sale and what wasn’t, and I’d have appreciated some help. They got friendlier after I told them I was doing a blog review of their shop. Then they were happy to chat, and to encourage me to promote their motto of “ride green.”
Equipment Knowledge: 3/10
The owner/manager didn’t really know anything about the bikes, and with such a wide variety of bikes and components, it’s almost impossible for the workers to know everything about every bike in the store. They said they have a great mechanic who actually builds the bikes and really knows his stuff, but I didn’t meet him.
Mechanical Knowledge: 5/10
It took one mechanic about 20 minutes to mess with a seat post and put a flashy red rear light on one girl’s bike. Another mechanic couldn’t get the fork off a bike, until my trusty boyfriend told him which nut to try tapping with a hammer. And then my boyfriend did a seat adjustment for a guy waiting in the mechanic line. There were about 5 people in the mechanic line at any given time, with issues (like seat adjustments) that should have been quick fixes. For some reason they weren’t. I give the mechanics a 5 because they had the right tools, and seemed like they knew their way around a bike for the most part, but boy were they slow.
Merchandise Selection: 7.5/10
This is one category that Recycle Bicycle does well in. They have road, mountain, and commuter type bikes. Older and newer, and a wide variety of price ranges. I mean, just look at all the bikes in the picture to the left! Dozens!They also sell some used parts and the usual new things like lights, grips, etc. They don’t have so much in the way of new bikes (they do get some overstock frames that are new), but what do you expect from a place called Recycle Bicycle?
Potential for Satisfaction: 9/10
Recycle Bicycle scores really well in the potential for satisfaction category. You’re allowed to bring your bike back and exchange it for another bike within 30 days, and you have a 90 day warranty on the bike in case it should fall apart. They also don’t have an incentive to sell one brand over another because they’re not making a commission from any particular company, and they don’t have quotas to meet. It seems like if you can get someone to help you, you can probably get honest advice. As long as it’s not the owner/manager guy. He told me himself that he “knew nothing about the bikes.”