As most readers know, we here at BKW are intrigued by shops that focus on the passionate cyclist. We have noticed a trend that’s forming in the bicycle industry. There is a push for bike shops which are smaller in size and narrower in focus. A shop specific to tandem riders, one aimed at the hucking crowd and of course, shops aimed at road cyclists. This specific approach offers cyclists a concentrated dose of their passion, free from both the physical and mental distractions of a traditional bike shop.
Our latest shop visit lands BKW in the Pacific Northwest with a visit to Cascade Bicycle Studio (CBS), a one man, one-on-one bicycle studio that operates by “appointment only”. Given the nature of the studio and the individualistic approach, we’d fall short if we didn’t mention its proprietor and founder, long-time bike industry guy, cyclocross fanatic, and Hup United founder, Zac Daab.
Zac’s background is very similar to most bike industry folks: he began working at a bike shop at a very early age, sweeping the floors, building bikes for inventory, and picking up lunch for the mechanics and sales team. It was during these years that Zac became hooked on cycling and it became his full-time obsession and, in one form or another, his vocation for the next 12 years. Prior to his launch of CBS, Zac worked at Seven Cycles as Senior Fit Expert, recommending more than 7,000 frame specifications for a variety of clients, including olympians, professional athletes, weekend warriors, and cycling enthusiasts. Zac’s broad industry experience equips him to offer an expert opinion as it relates to bicycle fitting, custom bicycle design and geometry, and material selection based on the rider’s intended use of the bike and previous riding experience. Zac’s education at Seven and his years of retail experience provided him with a perfect segue to the “studio” approach to bicycle retail.
CBS is located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood. The studio space is set just off the main street, resting literally below the hustle of North 36th Street. Stepping through the doorway and into the Studio was a sensory experience. The warm glow of the wood floors paired with the beautiful, neatly aligned machines created a sensation that was part awakening and part flash bulb memory. Much in the same way that small shop in Redding, California did when I visited it after more than 22 years: the smell and feel of the space marked a first. For CBS, it was the first time I entered a “studio” bike shop, and for the latter shop, the first time I walked into an honest-to-goodness California bike shop. The first impressions of CBS remains etched into my mind’s eye.
My initial thoughts were “where is all the stuff?” The streamlined nature of the shop and simple lack of the superfluous was, at first, disorienting. I mean, where are the boxes? the bright colors? the racks of clothes? the kids bikes? the tire inventories? the big service area? Where is all the stuff? Ahhh…, but this is the essence of CBS…streamlined and clutter-free. With these components missing, CBS is free to focus on the aspects that a passionate cyclist is seeking. Great advice, empowerment and top-level service.
The atmosphere at the studio is relaxed, professional, and rich in bicycle culture. Clients of all abilities and goals are welcome at the studio and a strong emphasis is placed on uncovering client needs and goals, rather than quizzing client’s knowledge, skill set, and accolades. At CBS, one does not need to “earn” the right to be a part of the studio culture. – CBS website
To some, CBS’s product and service offerings may seem too narrow, too single-minded, but for others who seek their dream bike or relief from pain on the bicycle, CBS provides the right blend of offerings and non-exclusivity. A comparison could be drawn between cycling and motorsports. If you own an older model BMW, a car dedicated for use at the track, and you are seeking advice and mechanical expertise to make your car faster on track days, the dealer is probably the last place you would seek info. The focus of the dealer is different than a small shop who specializes in track cars (maybe even your generation BMW). Add a mechanic whose former experience was building BMW’s race engines and now you have a shop whose focus aligns with your very specific needs and has the background to offer a level of support that few others do.
When you break down the Studio approach into its simplest form, it becomes apparent why it appeals to cyclists seeking top-level service and advice on the purchase of their next machine. Today’s bikes are more technical and more expensive than ever before. CBS distills all components of a traditional shop leaving the services and products that are of interest and benefit to the serious cyclist. CBS aims not to sell a cyclist their first bike, but rather to sell them their second or third bike or fourth.
CBS’s offerings are not limited to solely bikes. While visiting, Zac was wrapping up the installation of two SRMs for different customers. Having spent a season riding the SRM, I see the benefit of purchasing such a complex instrument from a retailer who has the time to explain the functions of the training tool and to address the enivitable flood of questions I will have in the future.
The cycling population at large is slowly adjusting to the new kid on the block, and for those who have a “studio” in their community, the acceptance of this approach to bicycle retail has already begun. In the same way the “corporate store” has rewritten the retail landscape, the studio approach is next. Bicycle retail is undergoing another transition in an effort to keep up with its customers and their needs.
If you find yourself in the Pacific Northwest, schedule a visit with Zac and drop by CBS. You won’t be disappointed.
CBS is hosting an open house this weekend (June 27th – June 28th) to welcome representatives from Seven Cycles. Three days of Seven demo rides will be held. Please email or call CBS if you would like to attend the open house or to schedule a Seven Cycles test ride.
Cascade Bicycle Studio
473 North 36th Street #C
Seattle, WA 98103
Nashville, Tennessee, is the country music capital of the world. Step off a plane in the Nashville International Airport and you are immediately greeted by cowboy boots, cowboy hats, guitar cases, and the warmth of southern hospitality. But something less obvious about Nashville is the seriousness of the cycling scene. Nashville has some top-notch bike shops with each bringing something special to the road scene, but there’s one shop that really stands out; it’s a shop that focuses on the enthusiast and delivers the service and attention to detail that passionate cyclists deserve and demand from their local shops: Gran Fondo. This unparalleled shop is located in beautiful Belle Meade, just down the road from Vanderbilt University.
I’ve been to Gran Fondo a number of times and, with each visit, I was treated to an array of PRO bikes that would make even the most spoiled cyclist stare in awe. Like many great shops, Gran Fondo hits you the moment you walk in the door. It’s both a retail space and a celebration of the objects and people that make cycling so wonderful. Colorful jerseys from era’s past are neatly arranged against the soft yellow color of the walls, while hanging along the front of the shop are large PMU and Champion banners serving as reminders of a 2001 trip to Le Tour. In a zen-like moment you feel the “clubhouse effect” taking hold of you, inviting you to let down your guard, come in, and enjoy the scenery.
I’ve visited hundreds of shops over the years and it seems that any shop worth its salt has at least one signed PRO jersey hanging on the wall. All signed jerseys are cool, but some are more impressive than others. At Gran Fondo, I saw the jersey of all jerseys…a jersey that sent my jaw southward and had me scrambling to find out some additional information.
There it was in all its glory, in Tennessee, VDB’s 1999 World’s jersey plucked straight from his shoulders, complete with race numbers remaining on the pockets. The jersey, now owned by one of the shop mechanics, was a gift from VDB’s longtime mechanic and friend. I’m not a person who collects cycling memorabilia, and there are very few cycling pieces that I honestly wished I owned. This jersey, however, sits at the top of my short list. – (Stay tuned for a post dedicated entirely to this jersey.)
At this point, Gran Fondo had won me over; I was hooked. This shop is PRO. Gran Fondo’s dedication to the cyclist is evident. All members of the staff took the time to seek me out. They approached me with open-ended questions that would facilitate a conversation and their warmth and friendliness was a welcomed relief from the common retail experience.
Gran Fondo’s love of the sport is not limited to the confines of the shop, Gran Fondo makes it a point to reach out to the cycling community and to do their part to help bring cyclists together. From beginners to seasoned racers, Gran Fondo offers something for every cyclist. For example, in the summer the shop offers a beginners’ ride to help make the transition from beginner to full-on cyclist an easier one. The ride serves as a feeder for the local scene and this type of effort is critical for creating cyclists who understand what it really means to ride or race in a group. If you happen to be in Nashville on a Saturday, drop by the shop at closing for discussions of all things bikes while kicking back with some delicious wine and cheese. In 2005, Gran Fondo’s owners spearheaded a women’s 29, 62 and 100-mile ride to help raise awareness and resources to fight breast cancer, the Hope on Wheels event attracted 400 female cyclists each year and, in the two year history of this event, the HOW100 raised over $160k for cancer research.
Gran Fondo’s commitment to the enthusiast is evidenced by the $1,000 starting price for a road bike and driven home by the focused product selection and knowledgeable staff. In both 2005 and 2006, Gran Fondo was the #1 Bianchi dealer in the U.S., bringing the Celeste style into full swing to the cyclists of Tennessee. The road scene is alive and kicking in Nashville and the sheer number of cyclists on choice rides is staggering. Gran Fondo has done an excellent job of carving out a niche and focusing on a smaller segment of the cycling community. When you walk in the doors, there is no doubt that Gran Fondo knows what they do and they do it very, very well.
5205 Harding Road
Nashville, TN 37205
If you are in the area, please consider participating in Sheldon’s memorial ride.
Information can be found here: www.sheldonbrown.com
Sunday, March 2: Meet at 10:45 AM in the parking lot behind Harris Cyclery for an informal memorial ride before the service. Departure will be at 11:00. Distance: approximately 25 miles, pace slow to moderate. The ride will go by way of Weston to Water Row in Sudbury (water level permitting!), one of Sheldon’s favorite places to ride, and will return by way of Lincoln.
Fixed gears, hub gears, whatever you’ve got, are all welcome.
Please pass the word.
A memorial service will be held at 1:30 p.m. March 2, at the First Unitarian Society in Newton,
at 1326 Washington St.(across the street from Harris Cyclery) West Newton.
Photo Courtesy: Sheldon Brown
Nestled tightly on a small side street in Mill Valley, CA resides a bike shop that is as impressive as Marin County’s mountain bike history. If you blink, you’ll pass it, and if you’re seeking a big shop with a huge selection you might as well pass it. But if you’re seeking best-in-category products, an intimate setting, and great advice about rides, products, or training techniques, then this is your shop.
Above Category is our latest installment on the movement of smaller, more focused bike shops; it’s a movement that reflects a shift in the industry and showcases passion and product in equal measure.
If it were not for the luscious Pinerello Prince shod in Lightweights, I would have driven right past the shop for a second time. Instead, I almost rear-ended the car in front of me while trying to take in the insane level of utter PROness.
As you walk into the shop it’s tough to not be bowled over by the pure volume of exquisite Italian road products: Pinarello, Campagnolo, and Pegoretti adorn all vertical surfaces in the room. If the Italian flavor doesn’t whet your appetite, then surely the Swiss style will. Apart from the Competitive Cyclist Web site, I don’t think I’ve ever seen this much Assos gear in one place, let alone laid out with this much care. An element that makes these focused shops so cool is how condensed the inventories are. With less stuff to clutter up the space, the products themselves become artlike. Case in point: I found myself admiring pieces of the Assos line that I already own! Like CBS, Above Category is staffed by a team of one. Owner Chad Nordwall is solely responsible your experience and, in the end, Chad has the most at stake. It is safe to say that your experience will be second to none. It also means you may want to call and arrange an appointment for your visit in order to insure your needs are met quickly and completely without interruption.
During my years in the bike world, it was always seen as foolish to build insanely expensive stock machines because it created a level of exclusivity that drove customers away. Today though, these smaller shops embrace it and, as a result, have created a niche experience. Let’s face it: business in the road bike segment continues to stay strong. Business dipped following LA’s retirement, but roadies are a loyal bunch and even more so at the high-end. A shop with less overhead can be profitable by catering to an exclusively road, or for that matter, high-end road clientele.
It’s easy to feel that a shop filled with expensive bikes would do little for the cycling community as a whole. However, shops like Above Category provide a service to the entire cycling community. These shops and their owners are bitten by the cycling bug and their commitment to the game helps us to grow as cyclists by expanding our knowledge and exposing us the entire sport.
You don’t need to buy an SRM or a set of Lightweights to benefit from Above Category. Hell, buy a tube and just enjoy the experience. The amazing thing about the shops featured on BKW is that not a single one of them had a “too cool for school” attitude. All were very welcoming and eager to be a part of the cycling experience, no matter where you are on the continuum.
Above Category has close ties to a number of PROs who are out there living the dream, which, of course, is great exposure for the shop but I was most impressed by Above Category’s dedication to a local junior team ranging in age from 12-14.
All too often the junior programs are overlooked and, in my humble opinion, there’s no program more important to the future of our sport than the junior programs. Chad’s coaching advice to the team is some of the best coaching advice I’ve ever heard. In fact, they are words I still live by: Ride when you want and have fun. If you feel good, go fast, if you don’t, go slow. Chad’s coaching and support is providing the next cycling generation with a great introduction.Whether your plans for the season include a bike purchase or some rancho relaxo time in California’s wine country, bring a bike, drop into Above Category, and ask Chad for some routes he would suggest. You will not be disappointed.
38 Millwood St.
Mill Valley, CA 94941