Thursday, May 14, 2009

The value of a bikeshop….

I’ve always enjoyed bike shops….I can remember back when I was in jr high and riding BMX bikes. At the time, Hayward had 5 bike shops within pedaling distance – actually Hayward had 3 and there was one on the border of San Lorenzo and one on the edge of San Leandro….
There was Hayward Cyclery on C St., Cyclepath on B St, Witt’s down on Mission, Wheel-away in San Lorenzo and another one I can’t remember right where Hayward and San Leandro meet on E-14th St.

Back then in 1975 b.i. (before internet) we would plan a Saturday, ride down the hill and try to hit as many of them as we could and be done in time for our parents to pick us up so we didn’t have to pedal back up the hill. Going to a bike shop and looking at stuff was pretty much the only way to find out about new bikes/parts in those days.
We would spend hours just looking at the new bikes, checking out parts to make our bikes cooler, and generally just hanging out. Most of the owners got to know us and generally let us hang out as long as we wanted. (nowadays I think they call that "loitering")

Fast forward 30+ years and of those 5 shops, only 2 remain. Witt’s is still in the same spot with the same owners. Cyclepath has different owners than it did back then and has moved a couple of times.

I frequent both shops but usually for different reasons. If I need something right away, like tubes or tires or a part for some bike I’m working on, I’ll usually go to Cyclepath and chances are they’ll have what I need in stock. If I need work on one of my bikes though, or am building up a bike, I’ll go to Witt’s.

The interesting thing is that Cyclepath has become one of the bigger shops in our area. In addition to one of the largest showrooms and largest inventory in the area, they have stores in San Mateo and Pleasanton as well. They always have the latest and greatest on the floor and their staff can talk about hydraulic disc brakes as well as the latest lightweight carbon fiber road bikes.

Witt’s though, hasn’t changed much at all over the years. Witt’s is one of those shops that is pretty small and totally exemplifies the small, local shop. It’s in an old building and has an inventory of maybe 20 new bikes and a half dozen used or trade-ins. (plus some very cool wooden wheels that Barbara used to race on)
Clarence and Barbara were both avid cyclists, they used to sponsor a race team and they both know their stuff when it comes to bikes. Pretty sure Clarence could build a bike in 10 minutes flat wearing a blindfold.

It’s also one of those shops that makes you wonder how they stay in business. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen other people in there. Although Clarence almost always has a bike in the repair stand so maybe I’m just not in there during the busy times.

I have to say, it’s also my favorite of the bike shops I visit. Probably because I tend to be nostalgic and like things that are old and comfortable more than I like new and shiny and state of the art. I also like the fact that when I walk in they both say hi, they know my name, they treat me well and on the occasion that I’ve needed an urgent repair they’ve taken good care of me. I’ve even had Clarence pull a bike he was working on down off the stand and fix mine while I waited.

Granted, they don’t carry the highest end stuff on the floor and they don’t stock a lot of parts, but when I need something and can wait a day or so, they can always get what I want.
I’ve had Clarence build up the nicest set of wheels I own and now that I’m building (or rebuilding I guess) my brother’s 1982 Miyata road bike, Clarence has been irreplaceable in finding parts that will allow me to upgrade the bike without major modifications to the frame or the drivetrain.

Obviously, I still shop on the web to save money and get some of the more specific parts I need for projects, but I’d much rather support a small local shop that’s been around longer than I have….

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