It’s late. I got a late start and scrambled to see everything and nothing at once. I’ll fill in more in the coming days. The above seat cluster is by Mark DiNucci. It was some of the best lug work I saw today, performed by an absolute master.
A love of gear is an expansive love. And it’s not a love that blooms in isolation. It grows from our infatuation with an activity and the gear is nothing more than the physical manifestation of that activity.
I won’t say that cyclists love cycling more than runners love running, but the devotion seems different, and—naturally—to our eyes, more enjoyable.
It should be no surprise that our love for the bicycle itself extends to the stores that sell them. If the bicycle is a good time waiting to happen, then a shop is countless adventures yet to unfold. In each of those bicycles—even the ones we wouldn’t buy—we see our lives as we want them to be: The excitement of dressing for a five-hour ride with friends every day of the week.
And yet, we love bike shops not because of what they are, but in spite of what they are. Few of us have the sort of shop we dream of in our backyard. Even when our buying experience isn’t what we’d like, or as good as we believe it ought to be, we continue to love bike shops at least as a concept.
I’ve been in plenty of shops that were professional enough, but seemed empty of passion and that seems to be where I draw the line. Unless a shop is doing something to excite me about my sport and make me feel like my riding life is important to them, I won’t really go in for more than chains and cables.
I think that may be why operations like Mill Valley’s Above Category and Studio Velo engender such fanatical love. They are to cycling what Miracle-Gro is to roses. Ah, to live in Marin County. Slurp.
So why don’t we love the average bike shop the way we did back in the 1980s? My memory of shops back then was that they were cool the way Fonzie was cool to me when I was in second grade.
Once I take off the rose-colored glasses, I can see that a retailer had a much easier job in 1986 than they do today.
The number of bike categories they had to address was much less. The shop I dealt with had road bikes, a few mountain bikes and at Christmas they’d get a few kids’ bikes. One or two of the bikes were touring models and the rest were traditional road racers.
Replacement parts held in stock mostly amounted to freewheels, cables, brake shoes, a headset or two and five sizes of ball bearings. Aftermarket upgrades amounted to one or two groups, a few choices in pedals, a couple of rear derailleurs and a saddle or two.
In all honesty, the clothing selection was lousy.
I don’t recall anyone angling for a discount back then. Of course, the most expensive bike my shop carried didn’t cost 10% of the annual income of its more affluent customers, either. Even college students could come up with $1000 to purchase a Campy-equipped Torpado.
All of the decoration around the shop involved photos of PROs riding the bikes the shop carried.
Retailing is a much tougher business today. Online competitors and deal-shopping consumers squeeze profits like a kid with a ketchup bottle. The number of models a brand offers has in many cases tripled or quadrupled and retailers are rewarded better pricing based on just how much they stock. The array of replacement parts a shop is expected to stock has multiplied with the ferocity of cockroaches in a dirty kitchen. And while a frameset could hang on a wall for three or four years without losing its relevance or value, the same cannot be said today.
So who’s to blame? Well, this is one of those occasions, like the economy, where there’s plenty of blame to go around. Consumers (us) can be faulted for wanting deals that ultimately undermine the service we get when we visit a shop. As they shave their margins, they shave their ability to sit on large amounts of stock and their ability to pay livable wages to their staff, which hurts their ability to keep employees who talk like Competitive Cyclist copy.
The shops can be faulted for caving to every request for a deal. If they all held firm like unionized workers, we’d all be paying list prices. Some can also be faulted for running their shops like sidewalk lemonade stands and not really knowing basic statistics that are key indicator’s for their business’ health or how to connect with consumers on an emotional level.
Finally, the bike companies get a buffet-sized helping of blame for their ever-increasing number of SKUs. Let’s ask the question: How many price points do you really need to hit?
Speaking of connecting with consumers on an emotional—even visceral level—I’ve got to ask why none of the bike companies out there have resorted to enticing men with sex. You know, busty babes? I’m guessing that shots of Lance Armstrong and George Hincapie stand in for traditional hard bodies for most women (well, if not, it works for my wife), so why not use the Bay Watch approach to luring more men into the sport?
I don’t mean to trivialize the issue, but a great many very large, very successful multi-national corporations resort to sex as a means to short-circuit men into purchasing their widgets. Given how ubiquitous the approach is, isn’t it fair to point out that the approach continues to be used because, well, because it works? Wouldn’t photos of Heidi Klum astride a Specialized Amira bring some new consumers into the sport, riders who won’t expect Dura-Ace at 105 prices?
I don’t really think sex is the answer, but it is such an obvious tactic that if bike companies and retailers are missing this one, I can’t help but wonder what else they are missing.
And yet, like the faults we find in our best friends, we’ll never stop loving bike shops. Around every corner, in nooks and basements, they never fail in their ability to fascinate and excite.
In shooting industry folk for my last post, I shot so many images, I couldn’t fit them all into a single post, so I’ve decided to do another and do so knowing that I will have omitted some terrific people. They are what, for me, make the trip to Vegas something I look forward to each year.
Above is Ted Costantino, the founding editor of Bicycle Guide. It was his guidance of the magazine that inspired in me a desire to write about cycling; his editors were good enough to light aspiration in me. All of the magazines showed me that being a bike magazine editor was cool, but BG made me want to write about cycling with real literary flair. Today Ted is the publisher of Velo Press and I periodically send him book proposals. I’ve wanted to work for this guy since the 1980s; I’ll find a way to do it some day.
Carson Stanwood taught me the value of a good PR guy. Part comic, part encyclopedia, part hale goodfellow and part dedicated rider, Carson is one of those guys who just gets it. He’s never pitched me on something as unnecessary as a hernia; his accounts have always been an A-list of companies I can’t know too much about. In 1997 he gave me a T-shirt commemorating Interbike with the slogan, “Help, I’m talking and I can’t shut up!” It’s still in rotation.
Chris King’s head of marketing, Chris Distefano (left) and co-worker Abby (whose last name I didn’t get, at right), caught here doing the hangover ride to Lake Mead and back. If there’s a magnetic north pole to cool somewhere in the universe, Chris is there with a bike sporting a product you’re dying to ride.
I began reading Richard Cunningham’s work at Mountain Bike Action before I ever scored a byline. I’ve long envied his creativity in frame design and prose; a combination you won’t find in too many places.
Brad Roe, right, is the editor for Road Bike Action and the man who invited me to contribute to their editorial efforts. Jonathan Edwards, left, is a doctor and one of the contributing editors to the magazine. Brad has overseen the magazine’s evolution from being written by a single editor to one that brings readers a number of voices. He’s receptive to new ideas and has a light touch as an editor; it’s a killer combination.
Ben Delaney, at left, and Sean Watkins, right, are both very fast Cat. 1 racers. As it happens, they are both employed by Competitor Group, where Ben is the editor of VeloNews and Sean helps to oversee advertising sales for the entire group of magazines (which also includes Inside Triathlon and Triathlete). I met Ben when he was a staff editor for Bicycle Retailer and Industry News and he later freelanced for me at Asphalt. He’s everything you’d want in a contributor: good, easy going and on-time. I imagine he’s even better as a boss. Before joining the staff of Triathlete, Sean was an ad sales guy for Winning, Bicycle Guide and Triathlete when they were owned by another publisher, and he’s been fast for, well, he was a member of the Skittles team and called Lance Armstrong teammate.
Steve Frothingham is another former Bicycle Retailer guy who now works for VeloNews as their online editor. I contribute from time to time and Steve’s an easy guy to work with. In between his Bicycle Retailer days and joining VeloNews, Steve got a masters’ in journalism and spent some serious time in the trenches working for the Associated Press.
I got to know “A Dog in a Hat” author Joe Parkin in the fall of ’95 when he was racing for Diamond Back and he and teammie Gunnar Shogren spent the season racing ‘cross in New England. I already knew who he was from his days as a roadie in Europe and racing domestically for Coors Light. When I joined the staff of Bicycle Guide, I stayed in touch with Joe and he always had a ready quote for me. My trip to Interbike is incomplete without saying hi, and it’s nice to see his book has met with such success. He’s promised to carve out some time to contribute to Red Kite Prayer.
Matt Pacocha impressed the folks at VeloNews well enough to make the leap from pro mountain bike racer and freelancer to staff technical writer. It’s a good thing, too. He’s still super-fast and writes some very clear prose.
Dominique Rollin, left, of the Cervelo Test Team made the jump from domestic racing to Europe and did quite well in his first year. Len Pettyjohn, right, is the former director of Coors Light and is with a new venture now, called Centurion Cycling. Len will be producing a series of Gran Fondo rides in ’10 that will be both epic and fun. I’ve been quoting him in articles for more than 10 years.
Dave Letteiri once interviewed me for a position as a mechanic for the Chevrolet/L.A. Sheriffs cycling team. Most of the interview focused on my ability to keep cool if I was being yelled at by an amped-up rider. Since then, Dave’s career has been devoted to Fastrack Bicycles in Santa Barbara where he is an integral part of the cycling scene. His shop looks a bit like a bomb went off, but has some priceless cycling memorabilia that makes it a must-visit for anyone passing through the town.
Derin and Kurt Stockton ought to be legendary for their exploits. Kurt is a former US Pro champion (1990) and Derin raced in Europe for Tulip, among other teams. When I joined the staff of Bicycle Guide, Derin was a contributing editor and did some extraordinary work. Since then he has raced pro downhill and these days is a strength and conditioning coach for pro motocrossers in Temecula, Calif. Kurt has stayed close to the road world and has managed several teams and has plans to announce something new in the near future.
Jim Stevenson is from my neck of the woods, but got out of the South before I did. The number of mutual friends we have in Tennessee and Missisippi are enough to make you think we are fraternity brothers, and in a way I guess we are. Since his departure he has worked for Centurion/Diamondback, GT, Felt and now Bianchi, where he is national sales manager. If there is one guy’s brain in the industry I’d love to download, he’d be at the top of the list.
Nic Sims is Specialized’s media relations guy for the bike industry. You’ve probably seen him on Versus talking up the latest in Specialized technologies. He’s witty, passionate and has the energy of a five year old on Red Bull. He was one of the first guys I talked to in the industry to really understand the power of blogs as a new form of media.
Josh Rebol is one of the instructors for Specialized’s SBCU. Prior to joining Specialized, he was was at Hazard’s in Santa Barbara where all he did fits all day, every day. When I have a question about fit, he’s one of the first guys I go to.
That’s Robin Thurston, one of the biggest-picture thinkers I’ve encountered in the bike industry. He’s the visionary behind Map My Ride. His business acumen is formidable and he paid serious dues racing in Europe before thinking about how GPS could change our interaction with our world. This guy is one to watch.
Assos’ Larry Kohn and Kim Schramer. They are bringing Assos the level of recognition the line deserves and are among a short list of lines that have really seen the value in the bicycle studio concept. Larry was a big fan of Belgium Knee Warmers and stepped up right away to support Red Kite Prayer.
Of all the cycling clothing companies to see the value of offering both custom clothing to teams and a collection for those who want something fresh looking without the crush of manufacturers’ logos that some team jerseys are, I don’t think anyone has done a better job of it than Gary Vasconi and the crew at Capo Forma. Gary eats, drinks and sleeps the roadie life and gets it like only a true roadie can.
Brian Worthy is the U.S. representative for one of the world’s best custom clothing lines: Vermarc. The Belgian line sponsors one team: Quick Step. However, if you look around a bit, you’ll see a lot of PROs wearing their stuff—their teams just buy it. Why? It’s that good.
Michael Foley and Ken DeCesari are two of the men behind the incredible growth of Sock Guy. Foley was the man behind the launch of Bike magazine and was with Bicycle Guide before that. He’s well-connected and seems always to know what’s happening even before it has happened. I’ve learned loads from that guy.
J.P. Partland is an old friend who has contributed to every magazine I’ve worked for in the industry. These days, one of his primary gigs is writing the incredible detailed copy for the Competitive Cyclist site, along with honch Brendan Quirk. He lives in New York City and can be found at the races most weekends in the PRO/1/2 field.
Chad Nordwall is the man behind Above Category bicycle studio in Mill Valley, Calif., which is probably the only community in America to sport two incredible bicycle studios (the other being Studio Velo). Above Category is likely to become an object lesson in how to present cycling in a more professional manner and the competition between the two shops will make each even better.
My apologies to the dozens of other friends I didn’t see or just plain forgot to shoot when I saw you on the floor.