Mellow Johnny’s

March 2, 2016 § 51 Comments

Before I could book my flight to Austin I had to sign the General Austin Flight Agreement, which says that, “Once arriving I solemnly swear to agree with everyone how much Austin has changed for the worse.”

On the flight my neighbor told me she loved Austin. “But it really has changed so much since I moved there ten years ago.”

“Yes,” I said. “For the worse?”

“Definitely,” she said. “The old Austin is pretty much gone.”

“That’s too bad,” I said sympathetically.

Yesterday morning I took a walk along Shoal Creek and then Waller Creek to downtown. It looked mostly the same as it had in 1982 ago except for a few big buildings.


Once I got downtown I stopped by Mellow Johnny’s bike shop. I’ve yet to see a bike shop in Los Angeles like MJ’s. The first thing that strikes you is a giant Ride Board that lists upcoming club rides every day of the week. The second thing is the coffee shop that is more a part of the bike shop than the retail area. The third thing is the repair shop that greets you when you walk in, and the fourth thing is the shower which is available to pretty much anyone who needs to de-stink.


What’s striking about Mellow Johnny’s is the fact that foremost it’s a place for cyclists to hang out, and only after that is it a place to buy bike crap. The placement of the repair shop is awesome. Regular customers don’t come back often to buy new bikes; they come to get their derailleurs adjusted. Oh, and the shop opens at 7:00 AM, when cyclists are up and about and in dire need of a coffee fix.

As soon as I walked in a sales guy asked me not if I needed any help, but “What music are you jamming to, dude?”

We started talking. I told him I’d walked from 24th and Lamar. “Amazing amount of construction, huh?” he said.


“It’s incredible how Austin has changed,” he said.


“Yeah. My wife and I moved here four years ago. It’s a completely different city.”

“For the worse?”

“Mostly. The old Austin has been swallowed up by development.”

“That’s too bad.”

About that time a group of riders came in from the morning ride and lined up at the coffee counter. I got in behind them and started chatting. One was a guy named Alan, a judge. The other was named Matt. Finally I walked over to the big wooden communal table where everyone was sitting. “Mind if I join you?”

“Sure,” said a guy named Martin. “As long as you’re cool. This is the cool table.”

“I’m not very cool,” I said.

“That’s okay,” said a guy with a huge mustache that was waxed so stiffly on the ends you could have hung your coat on it. “As long as you say something cool.”

I asked about the rides and people began talking animatedly. Bikers are the same everywhere. They are happy to chat with you about the local rides, which ones are hard, which ones hilly, who are the hammers, and the good-natured back-and-forth between friends about who dropped whom when and how and where. Most of the guys at the table rode for the Violet Crown Sports Association, Austin’s oldest racing club.

“I used to race for VC,” I said.

“When?” asked Martin.

“My first race was in January 1984 at the Bloor Rd. to Blue Bluff time trial, where Jack Pritchard gave me a Laverne & Shirley board game for winning. Our team kit was a blank purple Vigorelli jersey.”

There was a bit of awed silence as I pronounced the mythical words “Jack Pritchard.”

Suddenly I wasn’t some stranger in jeans to whom they were being polite. “Do you know Jay Bond?” asked a guy named Andy.

“Yeah,” I said. “He built my first pro bike. Or maybe it was Phil. A Picchio Rigida. The ones that all had cracked rear dropouts. It was purple.”

“Wow,” said Andy. “Jay’s my neighbor.” The triple authenticity label of mentioning Jack Pritchard, Phil Tomlin, and Jay Bond could only have been strengthened by saying the hallowed words, “Tom Paterson,” which of course I did.

We talked about Jay’s famous 55-mph straight-line fred fall coming out of Leakey a couple of years ago, about his sister Felicia, the illustrator for “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” and most importantly about whether or not Jay still had his blue steel Pinarello and his red steel Eddy Merckx.

I checked my watch and saw it was time to head back. “Great talking with you guys,” I said. No one had mentioned how much Austin has changed or about how the Old Austin has gone.

That’s because, you know, it hasn’t.



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§ 51 Responses to Mellow Johnny’s

  • Waldo says:

    What if you give a mouse a Picchio?

    I love my Picchio Special. It sings.

    • fsethd says:

      Mine was a Rigida. When the rear dropout cracked, Skip Huysak fixed it … another name from days gone by in Old Austin.

  • vcscribe says:

    Andy would never let us hum our empty beer bottles over his back fence into the ‘other neighbor’s’ yard because you were likely to clobber a TdF domestique. Or a movie star. Or a female pop singer. Or one of the Olson twins . . .

  • cgnewgirl says:

    Smiles. Heartwarming, thank you.

  • Waldo says:

    Was Darth Voldemort Armstrong there?

  • sibex9591 says:

    That book was a Jeopardy answer last night.

  • sibex9591 says:

    AND that was a very pleasant read this morning.

  • david w says:

    Good call on examining the Meme “Austin Has Changed”. There is no such Meme in places called Baltimore or Poughkeepsie. Hmm. Meanwhile, the current City of Austin Police Chief is a Woman. Which is pretty weird in Any State. It’s esp. Weird in the State of Texas. Oh…and the City of Austin Woman Police Chief happens to be openly Gay. I say, continue to “Keep Austin Weird”!

    • fsethd says:

      Remember when we were college students and they’d already had the “Austin: No Vacancy” bumper sticker for years and years? Yaaaa.

  • Al Lakes says:

    It’s San Antonio which has changed.

  • Tom Paterson says:

    Some of the old people are gone, some of the old dirt roads got paved. You can still ride “anywhere” from your dwelling, and some of the old routes got replaced by better ways to go.
    If it weren’t for the traffic, there wouldn’t be nearly as much bitching.

    • fsethd says:

      I remember so much bitching when I moved to Austin in 1982. The hippies claimed it was ruined. By what, I’m not sure.

  • Matt Smith says:

    It’s that amazing, misplaced, nearly universal logic of, “This city, ________, seems to have changed, obviously for the worse, at the exact moment that I decided it had.” Even better, the transplants who move to a given city and, forgetting their recent immigration, declare that their new hometown has taken a turn for the worse. Humans, man.

  • Winemaker says:

    This is what I remember about Austin, and especially the Tour of Texas (83-85), where I spent most my time trying to find more tagaderm. I went out one or two nights to drink some fine wine and party.

    RIP 8/27/80

  • dangerstu says:

    Change, I’ve only ever met one person who whole heartedly embraces it, though many people say that they do, the observations don’t support that it is the case. The only worrying thing is that I’m married to the one, and it’s very eye opening.

  • LesB says:

    When someone says xxx has changed for the worse, the xxx they loved in the past was a change for the worse from a previous generation of inhabitants. So it’s an infinite circle of everyone being pissed.

  • Jah Slim says:

    That Sunday, 8:15am MJ start is the relocated Freewheeling Ride. Jay still shows up ‘cept he’s now on a Crumpton or Crumpleton as Phil calls ’em. Lance himself has made a few appearances lately on Saturdays.

  • fsethd says:

    Comment from a reader:

    My PTSD I hit a rock I didn’t see, in Malibu, 3 years ago, and it took me down. Broken collarbone. I wasn’t going particularly fast – less than 20 mph. Handlebars were jammed under the top tube, and once freed, still pointed east when the bike pointed north.

    At the time, shortly after Steve’s death, I was using Ted’s Cycling in MB. I left the bike with them to check over and straighten out while I healed. They had to replace the handlebars, but said otherwise the bike was fine.

    When I was able to ride again, 8 weeks later, I was absolutely freaked out; constantly looking at the ground wondering when I’d hit it again. The first time I descended VdM, I ran over that sewer cover near the bottom – it gives quite a jolt. Hitting something was my trigger, so I shook, the bike shook, and we both shook together so badly I was sure Ted’s had not found an issue in the bike. I took it back to them and told them something must be loose in the head. They checked it out again, and assured me that the only loose head on the bike was mine.

    Good post. There is always a trigger after a crash. I have finally gotten over riding past where it happened without panicking that a huge rock is waiting for me again.

  • Paul says:

    We visited Mellow Johnny’s the summer before the Reasoned Decision.

    One of my sons had recently lost a testicle (testicular torsion, not cancer at least). My wife wanted to get him a Juan Pelota Cafe t-shirt (not in a mean way), but I nixed that as just not a good idea.

  • GT says:

    The title drew me in, I was expecting a mild rant about ex dopers and the manipulation of languages.

    Maillot Jaune =/= Mellow Johnny, unless you’re smoking some of that which keeps Austin weird.

  • Joe C says:

    Austin was no good after the Armadillo World Headquarters closed. I get to ride with MJ’s CFO on occasion; he made me hate mean, skinny dudes.

    • worthy10 says:

      For those who degrade Austin… Please consider this comparison… One word everybody ready?… Houston.

    • fsethd says:

      All “back in the day” lamentations must mention the AWH, whether you ever went there or not.

  • Hugo Walker says:

    Okay now I am pining for some Hill Country chip seal…lookin’ at flights NOW….

  • Spinner says:

    Great story! I miss the World War 2 vets! We need them back as the country is changing for the…..

  • […] in the South Bay takes a trip down memory lane at Lance Armstrong’s Mellow Johnnie’s bike shop in Austin […]

  • Steve says:

    You heading back to LA or staying for the Lago races this weekend? I might be out in LA for those track races the middle of March. Watching, not racing. We should go for a ride.

  • A-Trav says:

    You are a legend to legions.

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