MILL VALLEY, CA (BRAIN) — The BRAIN Dealer Tour glided across the Golden Gate Bridge early Wednesday to start a day visiting bike shops in Marin County on a 35 mile-plus day of riding around the beautiful area.
It's no secret even to folks who haven't previously been in Marin that demographically it's a world away from Oakland and Berkeley, where we visited stores Tuesday. The birthplace of mountain biking features high-end shops that offer an array of cult-brand road and offroad bikes, fewer commuters and artful softgoods departments.
On the way we were joined by mountain bike pioneer Joe Breeze and were ambushed by the WTB staff, which was waiting for us with cowbells ringing in front of their headquarters in Mill Valley. We also got ambushed by a total of five flats during the day — something of a surprise as no punctures were reported during our more urban ventures into Oakland and Berkeley Tuesday.
Be sure to follow our coverage of the Dealer Tour on Twitter and Facebook as the tour wraps up Thursday with visits to stores in San Francisco. And check the March issue of Bicycle Retailer for complete reports.
Here are a few snapshots of the stores we visited Wednesday:
Sunshine Bicycles, Fairfax
Located on Center Boulevard in Fairfax, Marin’s bicycle haven, Sunshine Bicycles sees a constant stream of cyclists ride by on weekends. It’s within steps of Iron Springs Pub & Brewery, a popular refueling station after riding and across the street from Java Hut, where cyclists often meet-up before heading out on a road or trail ride.
But Tony Merz, manager of the 41-year-old business, says the shop has maintained loyal customers by offering quick turnaround times for service and repairs—1 to 2 days—and by welcoming all buyers, from families and kids to racers and from novices to enthusiasts. It fosters strong ties with its community, sponsoring several high school mountain bike teams. This has bolstered its sales of fat-tire bikes to youth and families.
Less than two miles away from Camp Tamarancho, Sunshine sells one-day passes to this 9-mile loop of “guilt-free, legal singletrack,” which is hard to come by in Marin County. Like other shops in Marin, sales skew toward off-road, although Merz said hybrids have become a bigger part of the mix within the last decade in tandem with the expansion and opening of new bike paths.
A Bicycle Odyssey, Sausalito
A Bicycle Odyssey is part museum part retail store. The Sausalito shop is crammed to the rafters with goods from the past 35 years that founder and owner Tony Tom has collected since he opened in 1975, alongside the newest bikes, apparel and parts.
Tom carries a wide assortment of bikes, but his heart is in high-end road, and unlike the trend toward carbon, he touts the attributes of steel, titanium and lightweight aluminum. “The carbon fiber market is so commodified,” Tom said.
Tom is looking to broaden his business with plans to open a second location just a couple of blocks from his main store to offer demos and rentals of high-end road bikes by the end of February. His customer service and reputation as a bike connoisseur in the Bay Area is well documented on Yelp.
Tam Bikes, Mill Valley
At a time when many shops say they can’t move high-end mountain bikes not of the carbon variety, Tam Bikes has taken a somewhat contrarian stance. Sure, composite rigs from Specialized and Santa Cruz are a big piece of the shop’s bread and butter, but boutique steel hardtails from Soulcraft and Retrotec have recently gotten star placement on the sales floor.
“I don’t think it’s going to take over the market, but as a niche I think there are people who want a little more personality [in their bike]. And it’s nice to support the smaller framebuilders,” said Tam Bikes co-owner Bryce Kirk, a local boy who, as an eager young grom, spent time sweeping the shop floor for legendary Marin County framebuilder Steve Potts.
Some 70 percent of bike sales are off-road rigs—no surprise for a retailer located in the shadow of mountain biking’s birthplace, shop namesake Mt. Tamalpais—but dirt junkie Kirk and partners Quoc Phan and Den Sataki expanded their road offerings last year and added Cervélo to the mix.
Still, to leave Tam Bikes we had to walk by a prominently displayed titanium Carver 650b hardtail, decked out in Enve carbon finery, and pass under the classic Steve Potts rig, part of Kirk’s personal collection, hanging over the front door.
Studio Velo, Mill Valley
Studio Velo is an elegant shop, with a black, gray, red and white color scheme that carries through from the faux wood vinyl floor to the fixtures and even some of the bikes featured on display.
The store's owners enjoyed the luxury of building their store almost from scratch last year when they took over a former dry cleaner's location in this upscale Marin County enclave. It was the second location for an 8 year old operation that began as a very modest mobile bike repair business.
Now Studio Velo feels very settled, with a large softgoods area featuring Rapha, Capo and Giordana clothing, as well as an open concept repair area and bike fit area. The store offers custom bikes from Independent Fabrication, Guru, Time and other brands.
Founder Scott Penzarella navigates the shop through tricky terrain, dropping some brands that have been discounted heavily online, and avoiding brands that require pre-season orders.
The operation also has a travel business and a smaller storefront in San Francisco that focuses on bike fits and some select softgoods
Mike’s Bikes, San Rafael
“I am Specialized.” Bay Area cyclists may have had a déjà vu moment when they first heard the Big Red S’s marketing catchphrase. After all, “I am Mike” predated it as Mike’s Bikes’ outdoor bus advertising campaign a couple years before.
Not that there are any hurt feelings. Mike’s Bikes is Specialized’s No. 1 U.S. dealer, and the retail chain’s marketing team occasionally seeks input from its counterparts in Morgan Hill, said director of marketing Davin Pukulis.
Opened in 2005, the 8,000-square-foot San Rafael store is not Mike’s Bikes’ largest (the Sacramento location covers 10,000 square feet), but it does house the 11-store chain’s central offices, including the six-member marketing and community engagement team.
As owners Ken Martin and Mike Adams expand Mike’s Bikes — they added two locations, in San Jose and Pleasanton, last year alone—maintaining authenticity with hard-core riders is a concern, Pukulis acknowledges. That’s why he surrounds himself with fellow bike geeks.
“I’ve made it a point to have cycling enthusiasts every point of the way,” he said. “The entire marketing team rides and races together.”