Ode to Bike Shops

10.3.2005 | 3:00 pm

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.


Gourmet Bicylces

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.


  1. Comment by Unknown | 10.3.2005 | 3:20 pm

    Ah so true, I miss the old bike shop days. I have been cursed with living in Washington, DC where all local bike shops were swallowed by a chain that wanted to go regional and ran themselves into the ground. The remains were picked up by Performance, cheap prices, terrible service. There was a good store called Metropilis which did not survive the owners untimely passing. I now live in Charlotte, NC and the shops seem OK, had a good experience at Bike Line, but still haven’t found that old time bike shop feel. I need a new rear brake for a TT bike I built up and I would love to find a shop that would have an old piece of junk rear brake around, what are the odds?And I saw Serenity Sat. night, dang enjoyable movie, even the wife said it was fantastic.

  2. Comment by Unknown | 10.3.2005 | 3:38 pm

    Tough weekend with the weight eh?A word of caution about Kent Peterson. He is NOT a nutritional role model.

  3. Comment by Unknown | 10.3.2005 | 3:56 pm

    I’m with you on the small independent bike shop. I used to hang out at the Slippery Pig in downtown Phoenix. Eric Angermeir, the owner, used to give me Employee Pricing on product lines he sold and ‘good-guy’ discounts on stuff he took in trade from people. He also gave me the geratest cycling experience of my life; in exchange for wrenching as couple hours a night a couple days a week and a Saturday or two a month so his guys could get a race day off, I learned more about taking care of bikes than than from any book or magazine I’ve read or any research for any article I’ve written.Even when I moved to the suburbs, I’d drive 40 miles into the city to go on the Wednesday night ride. Friends I met at that shop are the closest and most important friends in my life. Even though I now live 3,000 miles away, I still talk to them weekly. The first thing I do when I move is seek out an independent. In Virginia, it’s The Pedal Shop (www.pedalshop.com). Mike, the owner, started out as a mobile bike repair service. He owns a small store front a couple of miles form my house. Independent shops are the hubs around which the mountain bike community gathers. They should be rewarded with your loyalty and your dollars.Thanks again Eldon for touching on another essential topic in this world of cycling we live in.

  4. Comment by Zed | 10.3.2005 | 4:45 pm

    It’s so sad to watch a bike shop close down, but it seems inevitable that unless they create an aggressive monopoly or include something other than bikes, they will someday close their doors. It’s kind of tragic. On the other hand, if they do close down, they inevitably have a clearance sale where you get hooked up with some nice parts for cheap. Heck yes! Is that evil of me to capitalize on another’s unfortunate circumstances that way?BTW, my buddy’s wife just told me she thought Serenity was weird and not worth going to. Please furnish some kind of response to these accusations. Thank you.

  5. Comment by Nina | 10.3.2005 | 5:29 pm

    Hey Getting Fat Cyclist:When I lived in Charlotte a few years back, I used to go to Ultimate Bicycles in Pineville across from the mall. They were always really helpful and gave good advice. If you haven’t gone yet, check them out. The employees (and owner) are a great bunch of people.

  6. Comment by Unknown | 10.3.2005 | 5:49 pm

    "he operated out of a garage-style storage unit" I prefer to think of my first space as a "heavy industrial buisiness park"I will shortly post a brief pictorial history of Racer’s Cycle Service on my blog.racer

  7. Comment by Unknown | 10.3.2005 | 5:50 pm

    here in Burlington, VT we have this place called the Ski Rack… During the Tour they rent a huge big screen tv, get satelite and set up seating and free coffee. It’s always a great time since you’re guaranteed to go in and meet a ton of new bike people and just watch the tour for free. They also have weekly bike rides for anyone who wants to go and a weekly mountain bike series up at a trail center. They also have a very good selection of energy bars.

  8. Comment by Jodi | 10.3.2005 | 6:00 pm

    This got my attention:Like "Cheers," except they sell Clif Bars instead of booze.I’m wondering if perhaps a shop COMBINES booze with Clif Bars and Bicycles that could be a recipe for success. Just a thought. I know I’d take my son there to buy his first bike, anyway….

  9. Comment by Tommy | 10.3.2005 | 6:25 pm

    Errorista: you want booze at the bike shop — what is it you do for a living again? ;)

  10. Comment by Unknown | 10.3.2005 | 7:51 pm

    good times, good times. time trials around the clothing racks at gourmet, a shop with barely enough room for the clothing racks. and one has to wonder if a wristwatch timing device should be trusted to the hundreth of a second.remember the water bottle rocket we made out of bike repair stands and punctured tubes? or derbying around the shop with floor bikes, crumpling wheels, and jeremy "warrantying" them. or the loft jeremy built in the shop, which he lived in, with a wetbar and direct tv, watching the playboy channel all night.did you ever sleep at racer’s? i always wanted to try out that bunk he built. won’t get the chance now, since he’s moving into a much nicer place. you didn’t mention mad dog. mad dog is a good shop. randy is a good guy.funny how none of these shops was corporate, all owned, operated by bikers and friends. is it dusty in here? i’ve got something in my eye.

  11. Comment by Fat Cyclist | 10.3.2005 | 8:02 pm

    oh, my bad in leaving out mad dog. it’s a great shop, and randy’s a real success story the way he started there as an at-risk teenager and now owns the place and runs it like a champ.

  12. Comment by Unknown | 10.3.2005 | 8:37 pm

    Another great blog… I even looked at the pictures! Secondary to your humor, I think a large part of my attraction here is just reading about different lives, different people, different events, sort of "how the other fat lives."Sort of like Survivor (which I don’t watch) except that there isn’t an isolated location, no insufferable self-promotion or greed, and no one gets kicked off by a vote or wins millions. Come to think of it… I think you said something like that in your sub-title. In far fewer words.Hugs,MuMo

  13. Comment by Fat Cyclist | 10.3.2005 | 9:42 pm

    getting fat cyclist – i can see by your taste in film that you are a clever fellow, as well as handsome.craig – every weekend is a tough weekend with the weight. i’m intrigued by your kent peterson remark. does he eat nothing but straight crisco or something?steve – i should have taken the opportunity to learn to wrench from a good mechanic when i could. caloi rider – as you probably know, calling something "weird" is the second laziest form of criticism a person can make (calling something "dumb" is the very laziest). such criticism really means nothing more than "i didn’t get it," which might be a legitimate criticism…if this film were some un-gettable arthouse flick…but it’s not un-gettable. it’s easily gettable. it’s an accessible, smartly-written sci-fi western with humor, action, and drama. i’ve read your blog; you’ll get it. racer – you don’t do anything "shortly." you want something done shortly, talk to me.errorista – i forbid you from buying jr his first bike. i’ve seen what you let him wear and that you let him tote a purse around, and i’m fairly confident he’d wind up with a girl’s bike, which you’d get to make the point that gender stereotypes are meaningless, and that those kids that beat your kid up just need to be hugged more often. which is to say, i demand veto rights for any bike-related purchase you make on your son’s behalf. thank you in advance for your attention to this matter.

  14. Comment by Unknown | 10.3.2005 | 11:08 pm

    What was the deal with the weigh-in last week, I notice that the target weight this week is the same as for last Friday, or did I miss something? I know what you mean about weight going up on the weekends, for me it is because I am at home near all the good food, so I end up eating more bad food during the day, whereas during the week I only bring less desirable food with me to school so I don’t eat as much. If the week had 5 weekend days and only 2 weekdays then I would just get heavier and heavier.

  15. Comment by Ariane | 10.4.2005 | 12:31 am

    True, the LBS (that does stand for Local Bike Shop, yes?) IS like Cheers. I DO wanna go where the cyclists go, given that many of our troubles are the same, and everybody (or at least the people that work there, who are friendly, and helpful and all that is good and light in the world) seems to know my name…. Props on the spot-on analogy. ARGH! Shoot… I was supposed to go there today to get a new tail light… curses.

  16. Comment by Robin | 10.4.2005 | 12:54 am

    Fatty:These bike shops must have been great. They sound like a bike geek paradise.RobinGetting Fat Cyclist:Check out Ultimate in Pineville on Polk or their location on Selwyn (called Bicycle Sport). Soda will be glad to see you :-)

  17. Comment by Cinco | 10.4.2005 | 1:56 am

    If you find a good shop in Redmond, please post it.Also, what kind of gears are you using to conquer these hills? Double, triple?Great blog by the way. Absolutely the funniest thing in my day.

  18. Comment by Jodi | 10.4.2005 | 2:52 am

    fatty – funny you should mention the girl bike factor. Tonight I took Junior to a shop that happened to be showcasing children’s bikes outside. He DID absolutely gravitate towards the girly my-little-pony bike and showed NO interest in the tuffie construction looking bike. Can’t blame him, though…shiny and sparkly beat out clunky and grey anyday in the world of a two-year-old. No purchases were made, though. I will defer to you on these matters. Perhaps you could find a way to meld the boy look with glitter and the like? A Luxury Bike for my Luxurious Boy? He will never get beat up, though…FYI little dude throws a mean punch.

  19. Comment by Christina | 10.4.2005 | 3:12 am

    RE the Redmond request from Tim:My husband said the service was decent at Redmond Cycle when he recently spent quite a bit to buy parts to revamp his childhood BMX bike for our son. Other than that, we just patronize all the various shops in Redmond/Bellevue/Seattle depending on what we’re buying. The only other one that stands out at all was Gregg’s in Green Lake where my husband bought his first good road bike. The service was decent there too. And test riding bikes from Gregg’s is always scenic w/ the lake and all. :)And then of course on the other end, there’s REI in Redmond which is handy for many OTHER recreational activities, but not so much on bike service/sales. However, b/c of the "jack-of-all-trades" approach at REI, it allowed us to snag a GREAT deal on a road bike. I got an ‘04 Cannondale R100 a year and a half ago for a ridiculously low price. I got that bike w/ those mega expensive Ksyrium wheels (the highest end ones). That bike wasn’t supposed to come w/ those wheels at all and should’ve shot the price up MANY hundreds of dollars. My husband noticed the bike in the window, saw the wheels first, and then saw the low price, and we bought it immediately before someone knowledgeable might change the price tag. I think the employee who sold it to us was from the spelunking dept. or something. I also bought my husband really nice Sugoi bibs for a mere $29 at REI. I wonder if someone is trying to sabotage REI’s bike dept…

  20. Comment by Susan | 10.4.2005 | 3:42 pm

    My husband had to take his back wheel into the shop ‘bike doctor’ for a new rim, tire, tube, basically everything. About $150 later we go to pick up the ‘new’ wheel. Thankfully we were going on a short ride so we brought the bikes with us hoping to pop on the wheel and away we go. No way! He puts the new wheel on and it wobbles. Worse then the way he brought it in. He takes it off and says hey guys this ‘new’ wheel wobbles and rubs. And they take it to their machine which is made to balance and tune the wheel. It was so bad it took another 15 minutes just to get the wheel adjusted properly. Needless to say we won’t go back there. Could you imagine if we didn’t have the bike there to put the new wheel back on. We might have been on the path or our bike trip with this wheel rubbing and wobbling the entire way!Thanks to you and your site I have started my own exercise regimen. My doggy and I are walking. Both of us are severely overweight.S

  21. Comment by Susan | 10.4.2005 | 4:26 pm

    This is me and my dog.

  22. Comment by augustus | 10.4.2005 | 6:04 pm

    I go to Blue Sky Bikes in Saratoga, NY. Liz, Jeff, and their staff are the best. I got serious around when I got my first "real" bike, a Cannondale T800. It,s a touring bike, actaally it’s a road leaning hybrid. It has around 10000 miles in 4 years. I am getting ready to get a new commuter bike in the next few weeks. Blue Sky here I come. I hope they never close.P.S. Did i read about you in a magazine this summer? Good luck. Peace. GUS

  23. Comment by Unknown | 10.5.2005 | 3:10 am

    My wife did say she didn’t like it, but she had good reason. She said “I just didn’t like it. The mean people sounded like dogs, running after you because they are going to eat you. That wasn’t my favorite part.” I dunno if that’s a professional grade critique, but it certainly is something that I wouldn’t want spread on my toast, if you know what I mean. Anyway, thought you might like to know that Caloi rider’s report of my wife’s opinion wasn’t as complete as I might have liked.By the way, we made your "best cake in the world," and it totally lived up to its name. I’m only sorry that it’s far too rich to eat a lot at a time. That good ol’ stick o’ butter in the batter sure does make it taste good, but you can start to feel your blood slow down with your first bite. Kinda reminds me of the effect that egg nog has on me when I don’t dilute it with milk.

  24. Comment by Unknown | 10.5.2005 | 5:52 am

    I’m with this sister-thing: a bike shop slash bar would utterly rock. Beer goes well with the smell of Phil’s grease, although Tri-Flow is a bit much. Too bad the alcohol regs would make this such a hassle. Perhaps shops could just GIVE an IPA or glass of Dago Red to their favorite patrons without as much paperwork?

  25. Comment by Fat Cyclist | 10.5.2005 | 6:34 am

    danimal – yep, i’ll accept that as a good reason for your wife to not like the film. though, if i were the nitpicking type (and sometimes i am), it’s more of an assessment of the kind of films your wife likes than a critique of whether the film’s any good. that said (now i’m going to pick my own nit), serenity is such an unusual mix of genres (western/sci-fi/comedy/horror) that there’s no easy way for her to have known beforehand whether she was going to run into the kind of film she liked or didn’t. regardless, saying ‘i didn’t like the film because the doglike ‘reavers’ were too jarring/irritating/whatever’ is a reasonable criticism. no arguing it, really.


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