Five independents receive a grilling on entry level touring bikes, but which ticked our boxes?

BikeBiz’s Mystery Shopper does Southend

During April, BikeBiz’s Mystery Shopper enjoyed a day by the seaside, interspersing visits to Southend’s bicycle dealers with a view to obtaining a touring bike for more coastal visits. Are you a retailer in the Rayleigh and Southend area? Did your store’s staff flounder around like a beached whale, or was it plain sailing straight to the sale…


Split between moto-cross and cycling, I wrongly assumed grips would be tailored towards the more ‘extreme’ end of the market, though after a short browse through stock I could see potential.
Moments later, a store assistant approached and began to take on board my requirements of purchasing a bike fit for touring.
Advising me that Specialized had one of the very best reputations within touring, the assistant used a similarly styled bike to demonstrate the kind of features I should expect on a well-built touring bike.
Explaining tyre choice and pannier mounting, the assistant went on to highlight a few bikes within the Specialized catalogue – for which he suggested I researched further before placing an order with Grips.
On my exit I was handed a business card and told that I could pop in again to discuss a purchase fitting my budget.
There was very little more this store could have done to ‘school’ a self-confessed beginner in what kind of bike a first-time tourer should seek out.

Cycles UK

After having first been led to the Cycles UK Rayleigh distribution centre thanks to a faulty Google search, I finally located Southend’s Cycles UK.
I was met almost on entry, much thanks to the layout of the store placing the tills right by the door. The lone staffer explained to me that a new season’s stock was due through shortly, meaning it could be worth waiting a little longer to see what fresh bikes land. I was also informed that current stock was low due to current high sales.
The staff member was, however, incredibly helpful in guiding me towards the correct style of bike, though chose to do this by bringing up the Cycles UK website and inviting me to browse behind the counter. It was explained to me that any bike on the chain’s website was obtainable instore and I could order anytime.
One of the few faults I could pick in the assistant’s sales technique was the ever-so gradual increases in price of his suggestions, despite a few hints that I could budget for a higher priced model. The suggestions were, however, on the money and delivered with an enthusiasm for the bikes.

Southend Trading

It’s tough to criticise small businesses, it doesn’t seem fair to give the larger stores glowing reviews and those with less resource a much worse press. However, on this occasion I took virtually nothing from the retail experience, despite being seen quickly.
The shop’s best offer was a drop barred road bike sat within my price range, or alternatively a £169 cycle suited to short leisure rides. Having a limited range is not often a problem, given a store’s ability to order product in. But, Southend Trading’s staff member digressed into a rant about how the supply of Saracen Bikes had gone dry to all small shops, thus he could do nothing to help. Last time I checked Saracen weren’t particularly ‘known’ for their touring bikes, making the whole experience rather strange to Mystery Shopper.
Furthermore, I was advised touring bikes are quite niche, so it’s not the kind of thing a family bike shop would stock. I can’t help but feel many cycling families would argue the opposite. Asked if the store could supply another brand, the store owner simply said: “I don’t think I can help you.”


BIKEbase, one of Southend’s larger stores, gave a strong first impression with its range of cycles. Having taken a few steps in store I was greeted and listened to before being recommended a well-built road bike for my quoted 50-mile journeys. On learning I may want to take some tow-path routes, the store owner shifted his recommendation to a true tourer.
Knowing my approximate budget, the store owner recommended I invest in a reknowned brand, namely Giant, who he re-assured me had strong manufacturing credentials, so much so that he himself owned the model previously highlighted.
Cleverly and correctly, the staffer advised I place a deposit if I was serious about a purchase in the coming weeks. It was explained that the industry is facing shortages, for which figures were quoted instore.
Mystery Shopper left with a Giant catalogue in hand and a further prompt to get in ahead of the summer rush. BikeBase was by far Southend’s most convincing retailer and the store would certainly get the sale if Mystery Shopper had any real money…

Jayz Cycles

Being close to the seafront, it was no surprise to find a comprehensive range of stylish cruisers on display. As a result, stock fitting my spec was limited. However, that didn’t stop Jayz Cycles providing a sterling sales effort.
The retailer pulled out a Schwinn catalogue, explaining that the brand had been around for as long as any other in the bike business. Asked if there was a website for which I could see the store’s obtainable stock, the retailer advised that the website was tailored to the main cruiser business only.
The employee was very attentive, explaining that bikes can be customised to meet any need, something Jayz Cycles could do once I had chosen a build.
I was finally referred to the Orbea and Schwinn websites. One other notable point spurred from the high female footfall while in store, was that the presentation had a very male-centric atmosphere. Mystery Shopper can’t help but feel would deter the female shopper.

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