Monday, December 5, 2016

Shopping in GB

Shopping in the UK

I've been shopping a lot in the UK for bicycle gear.  Why?  Price.

Two things:

  1. The pound is weak.  At $1.27/pound, down from something like $1.60 in mid-2014, the exchange rate has gotten really, really good.
  2. Euro prices are lower.  Manufacturers price discriminate, meaning they charge higher prices to more affluent (or more spendthrift) consumers, and nobody is more affluent or spendthrift than are US consumers.

Merlin Cycles has the best deal on group sets, hands down.  For $500 and change (price dependent on exchange rates) I can get a full Ultegra 6800 group.  If I am willing to get the less desirable color scheme or take the group unboxed, it gets to to the low end of that range.  Merlin has also been the source for some great deals on wheels, including the <1400g Dura Ace 9000 wheelset I've been running pre-rebuild on the Gunnar; they cost less than $800 shipped.  I once priced it out and discovered it is realistically possible, using Merlin, to build a $2500 titanium gravel grinder for which I would pay $4000-$5000 off the rack in the US.

Merlin is one of those sites for which "half price clearance" isn't particularly helpful.
In addition to great deals on gear you can find in the US, Merlin is an outlet for Euro gear that you may not find locally.  For example, I also had race wheels on the triathlon bike for many years made by a Dutch brand called "Supra"; those 6cm dish carbon wheels were in the range of $500 and rode every bit as nicely -- and as fast -- as the Hed Jet 6 wheelset I have also used.

A touch bling, but they matched the Cervelo.
Planet X Bicycles is another example.  Planet X is a touch different -- they contract the production of and market nice bike gear under their own name, as well as a few other brands they have purchased over the years.  Thus, Planet X, On-One, Holdsworth, and Viner, along with some others, all appear to be Planet X brands.  These brands market some really nice bikes.  For example, the phenomenal EC-130:

If there is a reason I have a hard time seriously considering a Specialized Venge, the <$2500 Planet X EC-130 is it.
I have some random parts from Planet X as well as a nicely built 6cm/9cm carbon wheelset (touches include Sapim CX-Ray spokes) for which I paid <$600 and that served us well in the Natchez race last year.

$600 Planet X wheelset.
Some other UK-based outlets I have not used (yet), but shopped regularly:

I have not had success finding deals in other EU countries -- on bikes, that is.  Telemark Pyrenees is an astounding source of skis and ski gear at ~60% reduced cost relative to shopping in the US.  Barrabes was my go-to for climbing gear in the early good years of the Euro, when the dollar was worth 10% or better more than was the Euro.  (And when I used to buy lots of climbing gear!)

Finally, a third reason -- beyond prices and gear that you cannot buy locally -- to shop overseas is, well, fashion.  I blogged about some cycle-design euro clothing a couple of years back and still like the Vulpine jeans and Dromarti shoes that are not for sale in the US.  (Rapha, too, but Rapha has a US distributorship in place.)


Shipping from Europe can be nearly cost prohibitive.  One reason I do not own a Planet X EC-130 is the $200 in shipping.  Within the US any mail-order bike store would eat that shipping expense.  The bigger ones in the UK do as well.  Some do not.  Before making the commitment to a perfect UK ride you need to short out shipping costs.

Import Duties

Here is the kicker:  import duties.  These can be huge.  On textiles, for example -- like a pair of jeans from Vulpine -- the duty, if charged, is high enough to make the purchase noneconomical.

Watch for the next post in a day or so. I am currently investigating what I will get stuck paying to bring in a bicycle in a private party sale that is handled by the Cyclomonster bicycle shop.  (Shop owner Phil is selling it to me used, but the shop is boxing and shipping.)

How to handle import duties?  I have paid duties (thus paying more than I budgeted for the goods); I have refused to pay duties (goods returned to merchant); and I have ducked bills for duties that came from a shipper after the fact.  (I have never paid a bill that came after the fact, because no shipper can ever show me that I actually agreed to pay the duty.)  

The actual obligation to pay is utterly opaque; casual investigation suggests to me as an individual consumer I should not be obliged to pay.  But there is contrary information as well.  More on that in the next post!


sam said...

Good topic. Of note, I have sometimes found better prices from Performance on individual components and, occasionally though rarely, on entire groupsets.

A couple gotchas I've found when ordering bikes. First, the duty issue you mention. Yes, I could refuse the delivery. But at some point the time to pick out and order a bike dwarfs the savings from refusing a delivery because of customs. I usually seem to escape duty on smaller items, but I'm pretty sure I've been dinged on every overseas bike purchase.

Second, the brakes often come UK-style (i.e. reversed). Yes, one can fix this, but it's at least an hour of futzing and possibly winds up requiring new cables and/or housing. It's more of a problem when ordering a hydraulic MTB groupset. Last time this happened I used my reversed brakes for a month or so which really messed up my muscle memory.

Max said...

I can only imagine reversed brakes would be a disaster on a mountain bike, when you actually brake hard from time to time. On the road you can figure out what you are doing before it becomes a disaster. On that note, does this explain the elbow?

Performance: Really? I have seen better prices on individual components, like the occasional rear derailleur or front wheel or bottom bracket. But an entire group? Nice find.