My favorite bike shop is just down the street from where I live. Bike Emporium isn’t huge and it doesn’t carry every single product imaginable. But the friendly, expert service and community hub bring me in nearly every week.
Rolling up to the shop, there’s a little automatic door button on a post. Sure, it might not be as fancy as a camera sensor, but tapping the big square metal button with your front wheel makes you feel like you know the secret code, like you’ve found your way like Harry Potter into a magical space that no one else sees. Plus, you can just roll your bike right in without having to wrestle with a spring-loaded door.
Inside, the hardwood floor creaks a little as you enter, but the whole shop smells like rich coffee and fresh rubber. And, okay, maybe a little bit like oil and lube, too.
Jill, the owner, seems to always be there, greeting you by name while she helps somebody set up a Garmin, or dial in their suspension. (How can she always be in her shop and yet log more miles than anyone I know?) The other staff are a mix of veterans who have been there for years and college-age kids who will probably be gone in a few months. But they all know and love bikes, and they all have the almost eery knack for remembering your name. I don’t know if that’s Jill’s contagious personality or a trait that she specifically hires for. In any event, it feels good to roll into the shop and have folks call you by name.
Bike Emporium carries Specialized and Trek, so you can always check out the latest super-high-zoot super bikes, even take them for a test spin, but Jill also has bunch of cool, smaller brands, too. It seems like every time I go in there’s some new crazy sock company I haven’t heard of before. You can buy Castelli and Assos and Rapha, if you like, but you can also dig around in the spare parts bins in the back.
The walls and rafters are packed with memorabilia — a signed Eddy Merckx jersey here, a first-year RockShox fork there. When local pros retire, something of theirs always seems to make it onto a wall somewhere.
You can bring in any bike in virtually any sorry state, and Jack and Evan in the back can make that sucker sing. It’s uncanny. Plus, you can bring in parts you’ve bought elsewhere and not get hassled for it. Sure, you pay for service, but you’re always treated like the staff is on your side.
I think the thing I like the most about Emporium is how everyone I know feels comfortable in there. Roadies in day-glo kit and commuters who wouldn’t be caught dead in tight clothing all get the same service. There’s one code: You like bikes? You’re in. Okay, maybe two codes: Don’t be a jerk.
Group rides leave every day from the shop. You can sign up for digital alerts — and get the .gpx route file, route description and rider list on your phone — or just check the chalkboard next to the coffee machine for which ride is going where, when, and at what pace.
Speaking of the coffee machine, the whole shop rotates around it. Okay, maybe it’s not quite in the center of the shop, it’s closer to the service area in the back, but the point is that this old fire-engine-red La Pavoni espresso machine drives the whole place. If you can’t run the machine, you can’t work at Emporium. Shots, Americanos, lattes, cappuccinos and more are constantly being pulled. Jill used to charge a dollar per drink — on the honor system, leave a buck in the can — but now that many people don’t ride with cash, she bagged it, and coffee is free. Free!
Behind the shop there is a little self-service station with a vending machine. If you’re out early or late and need something when Emporium is closed, the machine dispenses all the standard sizes of inner tubes, CO2 canisters, bars and gels, and the air compressor and tools (on little chains) are free to use. They recently added a little USB charger, too, which is pretty cool.
Weekends are the best. You can pretty much spend the entire day and evening either on the bike or in the shop, when Jill opens up the basement with its sweet little mini cinema and bar. Two years ago Emporium started Cycling Club, which gets you access to showers, post-ride massages, and — God bless her — the taps in the downstairs cinema. Maybe ‘cinema’ is a little grandiose a term for the room; there are a few couches, comfy chairs and tables in front of a projector screen, with an old wooden bar on the side. But cinema is what we call it, and it’s all to easy for a post-ride beer to turn into four beers as Paris-Roubaix plays on the projector.
Much like the coffee machine, Jill had the bar running a while before Cycling Club started. Now it’s grown into A Thing, though. So many riders come for it that they’ve started doing a bike valet on the weekends. She charges a membership fee, but, come on, it’s so worth it. Showers, massage, and rotating taps of local and Belgian beers? I’m all about it.
There is one substantial downside to Bike Emporium, though — it does not exist. While I’ve been to shops that incorporate a few of these features, no such place exists as described above.
Your perfect bike shop…
In your dream world, what features would the perfect bike shop offer?
BikeRadar took inspiration for this essay from George Orwell’s The Moon Under Water, a description of his favorite, nonexistent pub.