Where would you rather be: on your bike, or in the bike shop? If your answer is always “on my bike,” that means you’ve never had a really good bike shop.
A good bike shop is not just the place where you get stuff for your bike, it’s the place you go when you can’t think of anywhere else to go. You go because you like talking with other cyclists, or because you like watching an exceptional mechanic work on a bike, or — and I’m a little embarrassed by this one — you like the “new bike” smell.
It comes down to this: once you’ve decided you’re a cyclist, you need a place where you feel like a cyclist, even when you’re not on a bike. Like "Cheers," except they sell Clif Bars instead of booze.
This is the shop I frequented when I started riding seriously. Most of my riding friends and I worked at Novell at the time, and when it wasn’t a good day to ride — or we just didn’t feel like riding — we’d go to Gourmet for lunch hour. Someone would go next door to Bamboo Hut to get noodles and rib sauce for everyone, and we’d eat and talk about bikes.
It was here that Greg, the owner, started talking about a crazy new bike he’d seen at Interbike: the Ibis Bow Ti. The day I told Greg I wanted to build up a Bow Ti and that price was no object (it would price out to around $7000) was one of only two times I ever saw him smile. The other time I saw Greg smile was when he was building the bike. We all gathered around at the shop, watching Greg build a bike that cost as much as a good car. For me, at least, it was a transporting experience, and Greg gave it the care it deserved. Greg was a cranky old coot (he was the same age as I was, but he seemed old), but he was a gifted mechanic, and we all felt at home in his shop. Plus, it was always entertaining to listen to Jeremy, a teenaged brat with technical bike skills unlike anyone I’ve ever seen, talk about his night life. When Jeremy went on about his evenings, I realized exactly how sheltered a life I led.
Sadly, Gourmet went out of business. I felt bad for Greg, but knew that at least there’d soon be a good bike shop close by — Jeremy took out a small business loan, gutted an old dry cleaner’s building, and opened “Frank’s” — named after our favorite trail. Frank’s was big, and Jeremy knew how to cater to his loyal customers; he set up a lounge in the middle of the store, as well as kids’ bikes for people to do in-store criteriums during lunch hour. Rick, dug and I went there pretty much every lunch hour during the Winter months, where we’d have races, talk about riding, and occasionally play dodge ball.
At first, everyone always asked Jeremy to fix their bikes. After a while, though, I noticed something about Jeremy that I wouldn’t have expected: he was losing interest in biking. Same thing had happened to Greg. It’s a pattern I’ve seen at other shops: Someone loves biking so much they buy a shop. Then they start spending all their time with the business end of biking, get sick of it, and forget why they loved bikes in the first place. They lose their passion, and it becomes a treadmill.
Luckily — for those of us who needed a place to hang out, anyway — Jeremy had a guy we all just called “Racer,” a great mechanic who also happened to clean up at local road and mountain races.
I guess it was inevitable: Frank’s closed down. I don’t think it even lasted 18 months. Maybe the core clientele (us) scared normal bike-buying types away. Part of it was legal trouble — a lawsuit followed Jeremy from Gourmet to Frank’s; he couldn’t recover from the legal fees.
Racer’s Cycle Service opened just about 30 seconds after Frank’s closed down. Racer had his own …um…unique way of operating, though. First of all, he didn’t sell bikes. Just fixed them, and sold parts. Second of all, he operated out of a garage-style storage unit — which is also where he lived (camped?). Racer was clearly not relying on drive-by traffic. I expected him to go out of business immediately.
But he didn’t. After several months (including one Summer, during which I would not go to his warehouse after 9:00am, out of fear of spontaneous combustion), Racer moved to a little downtown storefront, and had a company that makes Freeway signs make him a “Racer’s Cycle Service” sign. It looks—not surprisingly—as if his store is a freeway exit. And we all had a place to go for lunch again, although his space was way too small for a good game of catch.
To Racer’s credit, his “build slow” strategy seems to be panning out. He didn’t start selling bikes until he could afford to, he didn’t hire employees until he could afford to, and now he’s expanding to a larger space.
Since I’ve moved out to the Northwest, I haven’t found a bike shop that’s like what I’m used to — a place to hang out, a place to exchange riding and crashing stories, a place where the mechanic knows how I like my bike set up by heart and will give my bike priority because he knows I’ll either tip big or buy/bring him lunch.
I think part of why I haven’t settled into a bike shop here is because I’m busier than I used to be. My kids are getting older, my job requires me to do actual work, and I have less free time in general. If I’ve got time, I’m likely to just go out and ride.
That said, last week I was picking up a bike at Sammamish Valley Cycles (I had left my road bike there when I picked up my new track bike) and one of the employees turned out to be Kent Peterson, the guy who did the 2005 Great Divide Race on a singlespeed. He recognized me as the Fat Cyclist (the Ibis Ti Road and the black rectangle across my eyes gave me away) and we talked for a good long while about epic rides, and he gave me some advice on setting up a bike for riding in the rain.
He still said the next time they could work on my bike was seven working days out, but just you wait and see. Soon I’ll be camping out there lunch hour after lunch hour and they’ll hustle my bike to the front of the line, just so they can be rid of me and get back to business.
Today’s weight: 164.4
PS: My wife would like me to make it clear that if you do not go see the movie Serenity within the next five days, you are a bad person. Thank you for your attention to this matter.
PPS: I agree with my wife, but would like to go one step further: if you do not go see Serenity, you are a callow ne’er-do-well who needs to reevaluate what is important in your life. One caveat: you will like this movie 34% more if you watch the short-lived TV series Firefly (upon which this film is based, now available on DVD) first. Or, as an interesting experiment, see the film first and then see the TV series.
PPPS: Seriously, it’s a really good movie. Like, the best movie since Batman Begins. But without the capes, which I think we all learned in The Incredibles are a bad idea.