South of the San Francisco bay and nestled tightly in Silicon Valley, sits Los Gatos, the quintessential California small town: quaint, streets lined with independent shops, cafes with delicious food and coffee, and the laid back feel that causes an East Coast resident to squirm.
Perma-summer gives residents of Los Gatos an excuse to dive into cycling with a full-on commitment; rewarded by roads that represent some of the best riding in the country. And for all those who have a love for the bike, herein Los Gatos sits a shop that answers their request for quality service, passion, and dedication: Crossroads Bicycles.
I stumbled into Crossroads back in 1999 and it has been a destination for me when my travels take me to the Bay Area. Each and every time I step foot into the shop, I note how warm and welcoming the environment is. The staff is quick to great you and I can’t remember ever being asked a closed-ended question upon entering. The lameness of “Can I help you?” simply does not exist in their vocabulary.
In an age when greetings in the bike world consist of “T’sup?” or “hey man,” a warm “Hello” followed by “What brings you in today?” is a refreshing change.
Crossroads strength as a shop is their willingness to improve your cycling experience. As I walk through the shop checking out the bikes and gear, the conversations taking place around me are reminiscent of those overheard in a Midwestern coffee shop. First, there are the warm greetings, then comes small talk followed by an overwhelming desire to go far beyond expectations to find a solution for the cyclist’s need. Whoa! Every town needs a shop like Crossroads; the sport would be as big as channel surfing.
Aside from the wonderful service and caring, attentive staff, I love the layout of the shop. Specifically, the mezzanine level that houses the shop’s hard and small soft goods. The elevated area gives the items it houses a sense of exclusivity, but still manages to keep them approachable.
Crossroads is deeply entrenched in the road market. Frames from Parlee, Seven, IF and Bianchi line the walls and provide enough eye candy to occupy time to savor a coffee (or two) from the café next door. There’s an emphasis on mountain bikes and commuting bikes, but the love for the road bike is evident.
One unexpected joy from my last visit to Crossroads was the selection of old VHS cycling tapes available for sale. Sure, the VHS has gone the way of its Beta predecessor, but, hell, where else can you find 1996 editions of De Ronde or Paris Roubaix? Priced at $15 each made them a steal. The only problem was that lack of a VHS slot on my computer.
If your travels take you to the Bay Area, or any point west of the Mississippi, put Crossroads on your list of must-see shops. If your lucky enough to live in this part of the world, drop in and introduce yourself, the crew is sure to take great care of you and your machine.
I learned to wash bikes in 1990 from a journeyman mechanic who had just returned from a tour of duty with the 7-11 team. He was a master mechanic in every sense of the word. He carried a suitcase that looked all the spy novel to house his tools of the trade. It was a suitcase designed for electricians: an aluminum case with layers that had individual pockets for tools and small parts. I remember the first day he came to work at the shop he brought his case, a travel stand (in the days before travel stands), a 5-gallon paint bucket, a selection of specialty brushes, and a pair of honest to goodness firefighter boots (complete with steel toes). In the days of old, we simply wiped bikes down with a rag and washed the parts in a solvent tank. Those days were about to become a thing of the past.
I had no idea there were such specialized practices for bike washing. There were special brushes for specific tasks, a special type of soap, and a brush technique for drive trains, brakes, the frame, bar tape, and wheels. Over 3 years, I came to master the art of bike washing. I washed well over 1000 bikes in my day. In the summer, I washed them under the baking sun, in the winter I washed them in the small confines of a dark, dank basement. Below are some tricks I continue to employ today (in no particular order):
Wheel brush – As in wire-spoked British car wheels (not bicycle wheel). This long, cone-shaped brush is ideal for areas that are tight and difficult-to-get-to, from the area between spokes and the hubs to the brake caliper, and below the BB area and the cassette. This brush will also do a number on bar tape, allowing the white to stay PRO white.
Wide brush – This brush is intended for the wheels and sides of the rims and tires. It covers large areas and works beautifully on all flat surfaces. I prefer this type of brush to have a long handle. When the temps are cool and your hands are wet, there is nothing more painful than slipping with the brush and slamming your knuckles into the brake caliper, or worse, the chain rings.
Large sponge or wash mitt – In the old days, brushes were too harsh to use on a sweet paint job because over time they would leave light scratches on the clear coat and create a fog. Today, the concern remains a frame’s clear coat but now its carbon fiber’s clear coat. Sponges have differing textures, use a softer option so the appearance of the frame is retained.
A note on brushes: Brush selection is a matter of personal preference. When selecting a brush, insure the bristles are made of natural fiber. The plastic bristle brushes have a tendency to hold grease, causing it to spread around rather than remove it. Drop a nasty, greasy natural bristle brush into a a solution of warm water and Dawn liquid soap and the grease literally falls off the bristles.
Avoid harsh chemicals at all costs – If your chain and cassette are so gunked up with spent grease and road grime, it’s probably time to replace it rather than clean it. For the really dirty intervals, I use Simple Green, which is a natural de-greaser and all-round cleaner that is ideal for drive trains. Steer clear of harsh chemicals, especially on carbon bikes. Harsh chemicals are not good for clear coats, resins, bonded joints, and good ‘ol Mother Earth.
Dawn dishwashing detergent – This blue liquid soap is magic on dirty, muddy, greasy bikes and, if you clean your machine frequently, it’s all that is needed to produce a clean, PRO machine. I prefer the original formula and, when mixed with some hot water, there is very little ‘ol blue can’t tackle.
I opt for frequent washings, this helps to keep the drive train clean and, with the elimination of sand and road grime, the drive train components will not wear as quickly.
Be cautious when spraying water on the machine: avoid spraying water directly into the bearing areas. If your bike is equipped with electronics like an SRM, it’s wise to avoid water and chemicals altogether in this area. I use a clean cloth for the SRM and, following a wet Spring, I pull it off and clean the individual components by hand.
In the dead of winter when the hose is in hibernation, I use an tea kettle to perform the rinse. I fill it with hot water and wait until I’ve washed the entire bike before rinsing. You have to work fast so the soap remains effective but it’s key to removing the corrosive salts and oil/grease mixture that lays on top of the roads in winter.
After any wash, I apply a very light coating of lube on the chain and then hang the machine allowing it to air dry. Every mechanic’s technique for washing bikes varies and over time everyone develops techniques that work best for them.
I was fortunate to have learned this skill from a complete and utter PRO. A full bike wash takes me less than 10 minutes and a quick wash takes less than 5. In the spring, I’ll re-use the same bucket of soapy water for weeks at a time due to the frequency of washes. When I roll in from a soggy ride, the waiting bucket makes it easy to give the bike a quick wash.
A clean machine is a PRO machine and it allows for the components to work properly while reducing wear. Keep it PRO, keep it clean.
“The Art of the Bike Wash” makes it to print in Embrocation Magazine Volume II and we are proud to be among the contributors. Embrocation Magazine is a hand-made brew of personal experiences from passionate cyclists. Check it out.
Boulder, Colorado has long been a hotbed for cycling: it remains a challenge to swing a spoke ruler without hitting a PRO or two in the process. Boulder was one of the first towns I ever visited where the bike shop competition was fierce. It was akin to that of gas stations in Los Angeles. Literally, there were bike shops on almost every corner and the abundance of shops makes perfect sense. Boulder is a college town and there are countless students riding bikes to and fro, and with each student there is an opportunity to sell at least 2.3 bikes per students if you figure each college student will have at least 1 bike stolen during their pursuit of higher education. For each bike stolen, there are u-locks to be sold, flat tires to be fixed, and the steady stream of stolen seat/seat post and front wheel replacements. So naturally, Boulder would be a boomtown for bike shops. When the soup is good…
But Boulder is more than a college town selling $200 beaters. Boulder is home to PROs seeking elevation training, those who are in pursuit of a healthy lifestyle and, of course, those who seek as many powder days as possible. Boulder’s cycling community has thrived over the years, and many great shops call it home. The famous Morgal Bismark put its stamp on the cycling world back in the late 80s and early 90s and served as a training center for those lucky enough to punch a time card.
One such employee was Sean Bragstad who spent his formative years in the Bay Area and was then drawn to the mountains. Sean and his partner Peter Chisholm spent a number of years working side-by-side at other Boulder institutions and both have a passion and viewpoint that is euro-road-centric. Not since Ernie’s on San Vicente in Santa Monica has a shop embodied such a roadie feel before you even enter the front door. I remember the first time I heard about Vecchio’s and I recall thinking it sounds like my kind of shop.
Vecchio’s name is indicative of their approach to cycling: vecchio is Italian for “old man” or “old way”. The shop has a profound respect for the history of the bicycle and their dedication to the sport is matched by their level of customer service. The shop, like a great Italian pasta sauce, is made up of Sean and Peter’s life-long cycling experiences, which are collected, cooked and reduced leaving an essence that is the shop. If you are passionate about cycling, its history and high-end road machines this is the place. There is nothing extraneous inside Vecchio’s that will take away from your experience. No “corporate concept” shop, no endless rows of $400 bikes. Just Peter, Sean, and the gear you and I seek. Simple.
The moment you walk into the shop you are greeted by cycling’s history, old bikes, old posters, and showcases filled with the items you wish you had in your collection. The last shop that spoke to me like this was Wheelsmith in Palo Alto. Vecchio’s amazing machines, parts, and accessories actually take a backseat to the memorabilia and “cycling stuff” that fills the belly of the shop. Once you’re familiar with your surroundings, strike up a conversation with Sean and Peter and it may be a while before you even notice the bikes.
As I travel along my journey through cycling, it’s rare that I come across a shop that speaks to me from both the future and the past. From one vantage point, Vecchio’s represents the future of bicycle shops, catering to a select group of cyclists. Knowing that they can not compete in a commodity-driven market, a market where price is the single concern. Alternatively, Vecchio’s chooses to focus on service, namely, providing their customers with an experience that no big box shop can offer: a service that passionate cyclists value. From the other perspective, Vecchio’s resembles the shops I fell in love with back in the 80s and 90s; those that I would travel out of my way to see and experience. Like Vecchio’s today, those shops were catering to the passionate cyclist and I received their beacon loud and clear.
Vecchio’s provides a one-of-a-kind experience, and a passion that is equal to your own.
Pack your bags and get yourself to Boulder. When you get to Vecchio’s, tell them BKW sent you.
1833 Pearl Street
Republic of Boulder, CO 80302
The sticker may be the single most valuable form of currency in the bike world. On the surface, stickers are created equal, but upon closer inspection, stickers, like currencies, have differing values. Don’t get me wrong, all stickers are important, but like teaching the value of money to a child, five singles are not as valuable as a twenty dollar bill. Here is a brief tutorial on the denominations of the sticker world.
Loose change - Loose change stickers have the lowest value and are often affixed to common, daily items such as travel mugs, the backs of your MP3 player and, on occasion, they are used to make minor repairs in place of tape. In the bike retail world, these are the stickers that find their way to garbage cans, parts bins, and new guy’s tool box.
Singles – Singles have a bit higher value than loose change. Like the dollar bill, you would step off the curb to grab one of these. Singles are often a bit larger or offer a cool die-cut shape. Singles are also good for daily items (see above), but their value makes them good for the bumper of your car, the window in the service area, or maybe to cover a rust spot on the trusty ’85 Ford shop van.
Fivers and the Ten Spot - Close in relation to one another, the value of the Fiver and the Ten spot is often determined by your love and personal investment in the message delivered by the sticker. A Sun Records decal carries more weight than a Sidi sticker that came with your shoes. Both are cool, but until Elvis records a historically relevant tune at Sidi HQ, the Sun sticker trumps. Fivers and tens are perfect for your tool box, even if you are a clean aesthetics kind of cyclist. One of these babies would make the clean lines of your roller cabinet that much tighter.
Twenty and the Five-0 - Now we are talking about some serious booh-kooh. If lost, the twenty and the Five-0 are the type of decals that are mourned and even warrant a bit of eBay time to try and find a replacement. Stickers like these are never wasted on short term items like cars, computers, or rental apartment refrigerators. The battle over where to place these gems is sure to be waged in your mind. Like your retirement savings strategy, think long-term.
Hundos – The largest of the folders, hundos represent the top of the sticker heap. These stickers can be any size, any vintage, and any area of interest. The value of the hundo is so great that often you hang on to it for years, waiting for the right place to affix such a valuable commodity.
Rare and Precious - Some adhesive-backed images were never meant to be adhered, plain and simple. The rare and precious are worthy of a designation greater than sticker, they are elevated to the designation of decal. Decals are coveted, they are the reason you have a sticker drawer, or special plastic bag in which all decals are stored. Some decals may be twenty plus years old and have only seen the light of day on very rare occasions; they may even have a home inside a bag inside the bag. Decals may never have their backs peeled off and their stickiness may never be realized. But like a collectable postage stamp, or an antique pistol, their worth is not measured by their functionality but rather by their pure essence.
As long as I have been a cyclist, stickers have always brought a simple joy. As a kid, I would run from booth to booth at the bike shows collecting stickers. Later in life, as I walk the isles, I still find myself pulled to booths, which among other things, has a pile of cool stickers on their table. Like cycling itself, the hunt for the perfect sticker keeps me young at heart.