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Dealer Tour LA: Westside retailers serve the rich and famous

Published November 11, 2015
Our group rode along the Venice Beach bike path north to neighboring Santa Monica.
More bike lanes and shops feed into growing cycling culture.

SANTA MONICA, Calif. (BRAIN) — Riding on palm tree-lined bike paths and green lanes in Los Angeles’ Westside on the first day of the BRAIN Dealer Tour, it’s clear that even though this region is renowned for its car-choked streets, a cycling oasis has sprung up in some of its affluent neighborhoods.  

In Santa Monica, which is launching a bike-share program this week with 500 bikes, officials tout the city’s effort to tackle traffic, and claim cycling is one of the best ways to get around. The city adopted an ambitious bike action plan in 2011 that calls for programs and facilities to get more people on bikes.

“They want Santa Monica to be the friendliest bike city,” said Jay Wolff, owner of Helen’s Cycles, one of the area’s oldest bike shops. “And that’s brought in folks who think they can open a store.”

Wolff said the number of retailers has grown in tandem with Santa Monica’s growing bike infrastructure, even in light of the red tape entrepreneurs must overcome to open a new business here. He estimates that some 13 bike stores within three miles serve this thriving beachside community, including REI in that number.

Helen’s is among the most well known and the largest with six stores in the Westside, though the Santa Monica store on Broadway is the biggest with 11,000 square feet and three floors. The store serves as the main warehouse and distribution center for Helen’s other stores in Beverly Hills, Arcadia, Manhattan Beach, Marina Del Rey and Westwood.

“There’s a lot of wealth in this neighborhood,” Wolff said, adding that celebrities including Harrison Ford and Dennis Quaid are among the store’s regular clientele. “There’s a lot of crazy money and play money here.”

Within a hop and a skip from Helen’s is Cynergy Cycles. The large building on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard, which was a former airplane hangar for the Santa Monica airport, is undergoing renovations as it becomes one of Specialized’s flagship concept stores, said Cody Pham, the store’s newest employee.

Specialized bought the store, which opened in 2006, from the original owners in 2012 and has plans to develop it into a community space and lifestyle store, Pham said.

Back on Broadway, one of Cynergy’s former employees and a renown fit guru in the L.A. region, Steven Carre opened one of Santa Monica’s newest shops — Bike Effect — to offer bike fitting services and custom bikes. The 2,000-square-foot store, which recently celebrated its fifth year in business, has expanded beyond its “fit studio” origins. Now the store has an expanded service area, and stocks some Parlee, Moots and BMC bikes, which are its “anchor” brands and a sliver of others like Guru that offer customizable geometry as well as high-end clothing from brands like Machines for Freedom, Velocio and Rapha.

Like the bikes it custom builds and fits to clients, Bike Effect stands out for its sleek merchandising and fixtures. From bamboo floors to its espresso bar, powered Park Tool repair stands to a custom water fountain for riders who drop in to refill their bottles, the store exudes a luxurious shopping experience and aesthetic.

“We both like clean, modern design — this was a fit studio,” said Alison Letson, co-owner. “We never wanted to have a bike shop. This is a boutique and we build relationships.”

“The term bike fit is used incredibly loosely these days,” added Carre, who is booked 2-3 weeks out for bike fits in the offseason and up to a month or longer during the summer. “But there’s no magic system. It always comes down to person doing it. We strive to be the Michelin three-star equivalent in fitting.”

Bike fits range from $250 to $400 (a four-hour process that includes an extensive cleat and shoe fit) at Bike Effect. And like other Westside retailers, the store’s customers include famous names such as baseball’s Barry Bonds and NFL player Dion Jordan, who because of his height, required a custom bike made for his size.

And off of Main Street, another store also lays claim to the area’s celebrity business. Bike Attack has two stores on Main Street that while they bear the same name, couldn’t be more different inside. The newest one opened in February and only sells e-bikes. And takes a design cue from tech stores with its white fixtures and minimalist approach to inventory.  

Owner Ericson Monsalud opened the first Bike Attack in 1999. Monsalud, who previously ran a bike and outdoor shop on a U.S. Army base in Berlin, Germany, returned to the U.S. in the late ‘90s after the Clinton administration closed the base, and opened his first bike shop in Venice. He closed it and opened in Santa Monica on Main Street in 2004. At the time, Main Street was vacant of bike shops. Now there are seven. And Main Street has become known as e-bike central as most of the shops sell or rent e-bikes. 

Among the shop’s diverse customer base, Monsalud calls out members of rock bands including Metallica and Red Hot Chili Peppers, actresses Pamela Anderson and Frances McDormand, and actors Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn as some of the stars who frequent the store. “We get a lot of celebrities,” Monsalud said. “We treat them like normal people.”

The BRAIN Dealer Tour continues on Wednesday and Thursday as riders venture inland to Pasadena and Westlake Village. Follow along on Facebook and Instagram and look for full coverage with in-depth profiles in the Dec. 1 issue of the magazine.  

 

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