Worth a punt? Cambridge is one of the UK’s foremost cycling cities, but do its retailers support the burgeoning electric bike sector, or do they advise against it? BikeBiz’s Mystery Shopper investigates how the bike shops of the city handle customers looking for ebikes and sought-after £500 road bikes...


Ben Hayward Cycles
The bustling Ben Hayward Cycles is situated on a busy road at the centre of the cycling city. It has served the residents of Cambridge for 90 years and was taking a bike delivery when the Mystery Shopper arrived.

Inside the medium-sized shop, bike labels clearly displayed prices, but there was little indication of basic features for each bike to guide browsing shoppers.

After approaching a sales assistant, I discovered that the store didn’t stock electric bikes but was helpfully told of a local dealer which does serve the sector.

Leading the conversation, I quizzed the sales assistant over whether the shop had any road bikes in the region of £500 in stock. He showed me a Trek bike for 570, but that was the only one offered. He discussed the lightness of the bike and, after prompting, told our Mystery Shopper that with bike purchases the shop offered a one-year guarantee and a free first service by the in-house workshop, located nearby.

Overall, the sales assistant offered friendly service and was happy to provide some advice. While not offering a wide range of the type of bikes enquired about, the dealer did take the time to provide help and assistance, while also offering literature to look over.

Howes Cycles
Also situated on a busy thoroughfare close to the centre of Cambridge, Howes Cycles is another bike shop boasting a rich heritage, having been established over 150 years ago. After browsing the store uninterrupted, Mystery Shopper approached the shop assistant to enquire about electric bikes. I was told that the store didn’t offer any. I wasn’t offered any alternative nor was I directed to a nearby dealer that did.

I also enquired after a road bike for around £500 and was informed that the shop had no stock – except for one model left. The sales assistant didn’t take the time to go over any of the features, or the price of the bike, just said “it’s a bit small” – for me presumably.

I was told the shop was waiting for delivery of 2010 stock and I had to ask when that would be arriving rather than be offered the information. Neither was there an offer to take my contact details to inform me when new stock would be arriving. Perhaps the sales assistant had assumed that as they didn’t have anything I’d asked for that they were unlikely to procure a sale from me. But it would have been nice to have seen some effort to encourage a potential customer to come back when stock wasn’t in such short supply.

Station Cycles
Cambridge Station Cycles impressed, and was one of the star stores visited in the city. Unsurprisingly located next to the station, the retailer offers a range of services to customers, including cycle hire and repairs.

Bikes on special offer were displayed outside the store close to the entrance, while inside the vast building there were plenty of bikes and staff on hand. After browsing, a staff member stood nearby, ready to offer help. After answering questions on the two electric bikes on offer, the assistant discussed the store’s comparatively vast array of road bikes – both cheaper and within the price range requested –£500.

The sales assistant discussed brands and features with me at length and explained the differences between bikes in different price categories – primarily in the quality of components. I was told that if you get a Shimano 105 groupset on a £500 bike, “then you’re laughing”. I was informed that road bikes had been particularly popular this year and stocks were lower than usual, but the store still had a good range available. Overall, this shop was excellent – namely due to the staff member’s willingness to explain and take the time to provide enthusiastic, honest advice.

Cycle King
The Cycle King is another generously sized store in Cambridge. Situated on a busy road heading into the city, and appearing to take up the space of two retail units, Cycle King was extremely busy during Mystery Shopper’s visit.

With competitive pricing at the value end of the market, Cycle King has a huge children’s section at the front of the store, with bikes clearly labelled with prices and key features.

The store was so busy that I had to intercept a sales assistant on the way to another task. “Road bikes above £250 are a bit out of our market,” he admitted, but the store did stock some electric bikes. The sales assistant pointed me in the direction of the relevant stock rather than taking me over and talking me through the features. Before the sales assistant left to deal with another customer I asked whether the store had a workshop and was informed that it did and was warned that the store “only services bikes that we’ve sold” when asked about electric servicing.

Overall Mystery Shopper’s visit to Cycle King was brief during a very busy period for the store. Obviously the store is doing lots of things right.

Placed on a retail park just outside Cambridge city centre, Halfords sits alongside other outlets including MFI, Pizza Hut and Burtons.

The bike offering is located upstairs in the store, in the ‘Bikehut’ area. A selection of road bikes was dominated by Halfords’ exclusive Chris Boardman bikes, which were placed in the area near to the stairs, close to where the customer enters the section.

After spending some time looking at the displays I made my way to the counter to speak to a staff member. The sales assistant was happy to provide some advice, but remained behind the counter without taking me to the relevant bikes he mentioned or going into specific details to explain the bike features.

The store’s selection didn’t include any electric bikes, but encouragingly, the sales assistant did go on to recommend and provide directions to a local dealer that did stock ebikes.

When asked about bike servicing at the store, the sales assistant recommended that Mystery Shopper should opt for the cheaper of the two services on offer to customers – which was a surprisingly honest piece of advice to be offered.

Discount Cycles
On the same road as Cycle King, Discount Cycles is a smaller shop claiming to be an electric bike specialist – a promise the store lived up to. Greeted as soon as I entered the shop, the sales assistant came over despite being in the middle of another task.

He explained the differences and key features of the strong selection of ebikes. The store’s inventory included electric folders, electric BMX-style bikes and electric road bikes. The sales assistant explained several features of the bikes, including the fact that the battery can be taken out of each bike so that it can be used as a ‘normal’ bike. I asked about servicing and was told that the retailer handles that in-store, except for electric maintenance – for which bikes have to be returned to the manufacturer. The sales assistant went on to assure Mystery Shopper that electric bikes rarely go wrong, with anecdotes of satisfied customers: “I saw someone on it today and they are very happy.”

Visiting Discount Cycles was an impressive experience. Again the sales assistant took the time to explain, discuss and advise, while also assuring that the electric bikes are reliable machines. The small-sized shop itself was well laid out, with good labelling and bikes displayed in a way that allowed close examination.

CAM Cycles
Closer to the town on the same busy thoroughfare as Discount Cycles and Cycle King, CAM Cycles is another smaller-sized shop where Mystery Shopper was greeted on entry.

The friendly staff member worked on a repair front-of-store as he chatted to me. I was told that the retailer didn’t stock electric bikes, but was soon given details of a nearby shop that did sell them.

When asked about circa £500 road bikes, the sales assistant recommended Bronx, telling me that the brand offered a good range in a number of sectors. He handed me a Bronx ‘09 catalogue to help me make a decision on my potential purchase without going through any features of the road bike on offer from CAM.

In a city this well served with bike shops, Mystery Shopper was only able to visit a limited selection of Cambridge’s cycle retailers. Of those visited, the shops impressed in the main while also confirming the truism that bike shops are staffed with knowledgeable and enthusiastic sales personnel.

The student market undoubtedly dominates Cambridge’s cycling scene, but it was encouraging to see that the pro cycling city, often held up as an example to others, is supporting the burgeoning electric bike sector, with three out of the seven shops stocking ebikes.

In the opinion of Mystery Shopper, Cambridge Station Cycles and electric-specialist Discount Cycles were by far the best of the shops surveyed on the day, with their staff prepared to take the time to explain features and guide potential customers.

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