LAGUNA BEACH, CA (BRAIN)—Chuck Densford saw his first mountain bike in 1981 and chucked a 15-year career as a mechanic wrenching on German machines named BMW, Mercedes and Porsche.
It was a Mountain Goat built by Jeff Lindsay that convinced him bicycle retailing had to be more fun than putting up with picky customers complaining about their Teutonic engines. “I saw that bike and thought: ‘That’s the perfect form of transportation,’” he said.
Densford owns Rainbow Bicycle Company, a small, cluttered shop along the main drag through Laguna Beach, California—a beachside town with attitude that attracts scores of tourists who flock to its galleries and restaurants. His small, nondescript store is easy to miss if you’re not looking.
But customers find him. While talking with him, a customer dropped by to ask about renting two mountain bikes for him and his wife. No problem, Densford said. Come in tomorrow, he added. A few minutes later, a local walked in pushing a cruiser. He needed to pump up the tires. Densford grabbed the air compressor hose, filled the tires, and thanked him for coming in.
And if there’s a name brand on the floor it’s Densford’s own— PsycleWerks—a full-suspension frame he has made in the USA. A dozen, most painted red, hung from the ceiling waiting to be built.
Densford has been riding bikes all is life and once commuted by bike between Laguna Beach and Balboa, where he lived. With other early mountain bike enthusiasts in the area, he played a large role in advocating to open trails in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park and El Moro Canyon to the sport. The access enjoyed by riders today in those areas is the result of a decade’s worth of work by Densford and his fellow early advocates.
Like other dealers we’ve talked with, he’s concerned about the economy. And at age 66 has weathered a few recessions. “I’ve gone through all of those mini-recessions, but this seems a lot more serious,” he said. “But if you watch what you’re doing, you’ll be OK,” he advises.
What sets Densford’s store apart from others we’ve visited on this five-day tour of Orange County dealers are the Vespa-style scooters he’s selling. “To me these are legitimate transportation,” he said, noting the hilly terrain Laguna residents face when it comes to day-to-day commuting.
But he also has the mechanical training needed to service them, a skill most bicycle dealers lack. As a result that part of his business now accounts for about 50 percent of his income.
Photo: Chuck Densford talks about the changes he seen over the 27 years he's been a bicycle dealer in Laguna Beach.