When is the last time you went bike shopping?
By “bike shopping” I don’t mean getting on the internets. I mean really bike shopping, like they used to back in the old days.
Austin used to have the bike equivalent of Motor Mile along 24th Street. There was the Co-Op Bike Shop, World Cycles, Peloton Cycles, and Freewheeling, all within easy walking distance and within way easier biking distance. You could go a few blocks either direction and hit Bice Cyclery or Bicycle Sport Shop.
The first “bike” bike I bought, I went to World Cycles and checked out their Univegas. Remember those? And I also browsed through the Co-Op, digesting the sticker shock of $350 entire United States 1982 Dollars for a danged bicycle. Ultimately I bought my Nishiki International for $375 because I knew right away that Freewheeling was the shop of shops.
My youngest son graduated from college the other day and I told him that I’d get him a bike. He lives in Long Beach, so I rode over there yesterday. I had left it up to him to pick a couple of shops. Riding in Long Beach is wholly different from riding in the South Bay because Long Beach decided years ago to make itself bike accessible.
The main thing you notice is that people don’t honk. It doesn’t matter how you ride. They are looking for you, they see you, they slow down, and they avoid you. At first it’s quite strange, but especially in the downtown area you quickly realize that you have, you know, The Right to be on your bike in the middle of the street in traffic.
The first stop was a tiny place on the corner of Anaheim and Redondo. There were no windows and it was dark inside. The doors had big boards on them that the owner had to take down in order to open-unlock the shop. The shop had just opened. We walked in and it was clearly not the place where we were going to get an entry-level, Nishiki International-type road bike.
The small shop space was packed with BMX bikes and well stocked with tattoos. The tattoos jibed well because my son has a rather large one on his arm, but the BMX inventory, less so.
He had taken the bus to meet me, and the next shop was about fifteen minutes away, on 7th Street, so we started walking. The weather was cool and sunny and we talked about THINGS. It is good sometimes when a dad and a son, or when two people, can talk about THINGS. They needn’t be heavy or complicated, although they certainly may be, but they have to be real.
It is surprising how quickly time passes when you talk about THINGS, and soon enough we were at the other shop. It was burglar-proofed with bars everywhere, and shut up tighter than a clam. The sign said “Sunday: 11-4” but it was past noon and not a mouse was stirring. What I liked best about the place was its name: “Bicycle Shop.” More places should be so simply named. “Resaurant.” “Clothes Shop.” “Grocery Store.” “Barbershop.”
Maybe people should, too. They certainly used to be. “James.” “Susan.” William.” “Anne.”
A fellow parked outside the shop in a beat-up Mercedes with a bike strapped onto the trunk was waiting, too. “Any idea when this place is going to open?” I asked.
“Naw,” the guy said.
“How long have you been here?”
“Hour at least. I ain’t in no rush.”
That was apparent, and it was a good reminder about bike shopping, which when done properly should be a journey. By now there were no more bike shops in easy walking distance, so we decided to pick up the trail on Tuesday. He’d borrow a bike and make a longer list so that we could see a few more shops, maybe even one that was both open and that stocked road bikes.
We walked back towards the bus stop, talked about a few more THINGS, then stopped and got some noodles. It’s the first time I’ve been in a restaurant in about a year. When you eat all the time at home, restaurants can be exciting and surreal places, but more about that later, perhaps.
In keeping with Long Beach’s bike friendliness, there was a giant bike rack parked in front of the restaurant shaped into the word “dine.” Over lunch we talked a bit more about THINGS, he reminiscing about the story I’d once told about breaking all the bottles in an alley as a little kid and watching all the cars get flat tires, me reminiscing about the time our dog Fletcher got into a dogfight and trying to win by biting the other dog’s tail.
We finished and parted ways, him towards the bus stop and me back towards Los Angeles. We hadn’t gotten a bike, but we had certainly shopped for one. And anyway, the point probably wasn’t even the purchase of the bike. The point was THINGS.
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