A Bike Shop We’ve Always Needed

A Bike Shop We’ve Always Needed

If there’s a single truth to bicycle retailing that everyone involved can agree upon, it’s that the nature of being a bike shop and how you provide value and service is changing, and will continue to change. Not to be too reductionist, but as the wisdom goes, the only constant is change, right?

Here in Santa Rosa a bike shop opened today that will cause a great many bike shops around the country to think about what they can and should do differently. Called the Trail House, it’s a new venture by the owners of NorCal Bike Sport and the Bike Peddler. That it sits barely 200 meters from singletrack isn’t what makes the Trail House different.

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The Trail House serves food. Sure, they have Clif Bars and Bonk Breakers and that sort of thing, but that’s not what I’m talking about. They serve actual food, stuff that you’d have with … a beer.

Sorry, I buried the lede.

The Trail House is a bike shop that serves beer.

There’s room to sit and relax. And talk about the Strava PR that you just re-set. Yeah.

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The owners, Shane Bresnyan and Glenn Fant (above left and right, respectively) are not just local shop owners, but they are an integral part of the Santa Rosa cycling scene. Indeed Shane and Glenn own many of the Strava KOMs in Annadel (and elsewhere). They’re fast. They’re chill. They’re friendly. And they are like crack dealers for bikes.

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The vision for the Trail House was to have something that reflected the Sonoma County cycling vibe. It needed to embrace Annadel, but it also needed to be a place where you could hang out and not feel like if you didn’t purchase another coffee (or pint) you’d get run off.

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Shane constructed the tables and did a fair amount of the welding needed inside. He turned the two load-bearing columns into sculptures of oak trees to evoke the forest that covers so much of Annadel. A big part of that park’s appeal is the heavy canopy that hides you from an encroaching world. He was also responsible for the oak mosaic behind the mechanic’s work bench shown in the opening image.

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Part of the charm of the Trail House comes from the fact that while you can buy kits, parts and accessories (and get your bike serviced), the floor isn’t covered with stuff to buy. It’s there, but not front, not center. It’s tragic that such a thing should be so refreshing.

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And if you think you can stop by for a quick coffee, the fact that the three giant plasma screens are showing great bike racing means that if you don’t bump into a friend (either new or old), there’s something to keep you captivated.

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I think the word “curated” is overused. It implies vision and intent in a way that is often nothing more than a bunch of stuff someone just liked. The Trail House is different in that Shane told me every beer he and Glenn chose, every piece of furniture was chosen to reflect some experience the two had shared. Be it beers they’d had post-ride or a couch they napped on, the place is meant to evoke their love not just for cycling, but for Sonoma County specifically.

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Because the Trail House’s owners have two other shops, they have the ability to set an unusual agenda. NorCal Bike Sport is a Specialized Concept Store that does a brisk trade in S-Works models, while The Bike Peddler is a more mountain and family oriented shop that doesn’t deal in the high end. Because they have two two businesses, the Trail House doesn’t have to worry about bike sales. So the only bikes at the Trail House are for demo (or display). It’s a great way to check out a Stumpjumper if you’ve never had the chance. There’s also a deeper strategic need: in order to keep their liquor license, 50 percent of their receipts have to be from food. Sell one bike and they’d need to stay open all night selling hotdogs.

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The tap pulls were made by an artist-slash-furniture maker who uses old skateboard decks to make everything from tables to chairs and now, tap pulls. Don’t worry if you can’t tell which beers are available from the pulls. They have a board they’ll keep updated. I’m told four taps will be devoted to Russian River Brewing Co. options, while others may be traded out here and there. Expect to see special releases and other hard-to-get beers there.

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You can do samplers, of course. But really, with Pliny the Elder, what else do you need?

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As Shane said to me, “It’s not a dream if you make it happen.”

Instagram: @trailhousesantarosa

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31 comments

  1. TomInAlbany

    I have to say, I haven’t had a Blind Pig in so long, that now I want to move into your house, Padraig, so I can frequent your locals!


    1. Author
      Padraig

      I spoke to Shane about it this evening and he says not only is he in love with their coffee, he was super impressed with their service. They even sent a staffer up to train his staff on optimal preparation, at no charge. So while they pay a bit more for the Sightglass coffee, they are, apparently, happy to do so.

  2. Nik

    Funny. With bike shops, I care about one thing more than anything else. More than how many kinds of beer they serve, and more than who constructed the furniture. This is what I care about:

    When someone has worked on a customer’s bike, does that person check that the work was done properly, that all bolts they touched have been tightened to the proper torque, and that the bike is safe for the customer to ride ?

    In my experience, 80% of bike shops skip this step. Apparently they just don’t care. Or maybe they reserve the good service for bikes costing $8000 and up, and the peasants riding $3000 bikes can drop dead.

    1. kevin

      Too often I have to re-position my saddle after it’s been in the shop that I’ve come to put electrical tape on the seat post.

  3. Heyson

    In this blog post you say : “There’s also a deeper strategic need: in order to keep their liquor license, 50 percent of their receipts have to be from food. Sell one bike and they’d need to stay open all night selling hotdogs.” … Ummm What are you talking about ?!?


    1. Author
      Padraig

      If a bar gets too much of their revenue from alcohol, they get shut down for not selling enough food to the patrons because eating while you drink keeps you from getting as hammered, right? So this is a state law (there are similar laws all over the U.S.). The thing is, there’s no provision in there for selling $10k bicycles. It’s just not food and if the authorities don’t see enough revenue from food, they figure you’re not being a responsible establishment.

    2. Heyson

      I would guess Trailhouse has a type 40 license, which is for a setting that sells just beer and that don’t have a full kitchen, they do have to provide snacks, (would think they don’t have a type 41, 47, or 49 license , which is more for restaurant settings with a full kitchen, and includes wine and I believe ‘Spirits’ sales too. Those require the 50% of sales coming from food.)

      Where did you hear that Trailhouse MUST do 50% food sales by the way? (your source)

    3. Jeff mulanix

      These guys have been building my bikes now for a long time. I’m sure they’re the best around. Believe me when I say I am not unjustified to feel like my bikes are custom made by the manufacturer (specialized) specifically for me. Through these guys I’m involved in the process. And they build the most kickass bikes around. By all means come on down and see for yourself.
      Oh man I guess I met as well let it all out. They don’t just build bikes. They are also two of the very best all around cyclists I know. And if you hang around this place long enough, you’re going to meet some good ones. Maybe even some great ones, if you’re lucky!
      But they’re not just really fast guys either, they’re the guys that have the vision, the expertise, drive and dedication to drive our sport forward.
      I speak for myself but I think my friends Glenn and Shane will be ok if I speak for them when I say we all understand the fundamental motivation that stimulates all this furor- we know how to have fun. Come on by people are doing it all around me all the time.

  4. Gary

    I’ll give them kudos for at least putting some ingenuity and thought into the business and what makes it appealing. The well worn discussions about the death of the LBS highlight (make that FLOODLIGHT!) the need to shift the model considerably or die. An LBS needs a reason to be there and not just because some guy hung out his shingle plus sunk every nickel he had into it. Service, unique selection, knowledge, community, beer and food. Wish these guys all the best!

  5. Touriste-Routier

    While I am certain this place is very cool, calling it a bike shop is a bit of a stretch considering 50% of their revenue needs to come from food sales, and that, “the only bikes at the Trail House are for demo (or display)”.

    Considering that beer appears to place a strong role, this further limits revenue from cycling based sales & services. Thus I see it more as a cycling themed cafe and bistro. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but it certainly isn’t a panacea for the ills of the LBS.

    If one goes back in the history of bicycle sales in the US, you’ll find that a lot of sales were made by shops that had split business models; hardware stores, lawnmower sales & repair shops, winter sports shops, this is on top of sales made by department and toy stores. 2 problems with this business model was a lack of expertise and businesses tend to cater best to/invest most in areas where the majority revenue comes from. I’ll stop here, so as not to hijack the post/thread.

    I wish them success and hope this serves as a great standalone business that aids their other shops, by serving as a showcase and providing goodwill and camaraderie.

  6. Wesley Hodgson

    A good friend of mine just opened a similar venture up in Bellingham, WA (in other words: also super close to world-class riding). http://www.cafe-velo.cc/ Basically coffee + beer + service. Such a great idea, especially when it’s so close to great trails. I haven’t ridden dirt down in Sonoma County since I was down there for SSWCs in 2008!

  7. Greg

    I saw this post and immediately thought of Sycamore Cycles in Brevard, NC. I was very impressed with the bike shop personnel there.

  8. Jeff mulanix

    These guys have been building my bikes now for a long time. I’m sure they’re the best around. Believe me when I say I am not unjustified to feel like my bikes are custom made by the manufacturer (specialized) specifically for me. Through these guys I’m involved in the process. And they build the most kickass bikes around. By all means come on down and see for yourself.

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