Tuesday, January 21, 2014

California Bike Industry Touring

This will be the least interesting of three or four posts about my recent California trip… wordy and not terribly focused.  Bottom line is that I’m taking a step beyond internet research and forum discussions to go meet and experience different parts of the bike industry in person.  It is a really fun process!

One of my 2014 goals, and in general a part of my curiosity for the world of bicycles is to visit in person and have conversations with designers, frame builders, parts fabricators and companies.  In this vein I recently had the opportunity to pay visit’s to three radically different , yet philosophically linked bicycle companies in California and came away impressed by the passion and at the same time had my eyes opened to some significant challenges to achieving and/or maintaining a profitable business.  This past week I stopped in at Ocean Air Cycles in Ventura, Bruce Gordon Cycles in Petaluma and the just opened Rivendell Bike, Book and Hatchet storefront in Walnut Creek.  I got exposed to quite a few strong opinions, some excellent bikes and parts from each of these companies.  Here are a couple thoughts on each of my visits;

Ventura, CA

This was my second visit with Rob Perks and I’d encourage you to check out my ride report on his excellent Rambler, the low-trail Rando/Porteur bike he designed based on his experiences with vintage, skinny tubed steel Trek bikes (among others).  We didn’t have time for a ride unfortunately but the conversation was very good.  My interpretation of Rob’s business model is that he identifies or designs items that he himself uses, sources them from local, US business (the smaller the better) and presents them for sale.  The collection of bit’s and pieces available through is storefront is pretty eclectic and I find it fun to peruse and read about his suggested uses.  The Rambler, the heart of his operation is a blank sheet design spec’d out by Rob and fulfilled by Zen Bicycles in Portland.  I found the myriad of responsibilities Rob has too his customers to ensure his design get’s satisfied in the one-man-shop operation to be pretty dizzying.  My impression is that all Rambler riders are in good hands as Rob really cares and almost seems honored by each customer’s business.  I would have bought a pair of the new Soma C-Line tires if he’d had them in stock, I still may put in an order for them but I’ve had another fit of bike-tire-buyers-preemptive-remorse (BTBPR) and am not sure.  But I will be ordering one of his cool embroidered hats offered in partnership with Randi Jo Fabrication, it’ll be my first cycling cap… J

Bottom line, another great conversation with Rob and I’m hoping to try out a Rambler again when I’m in Ventura next!

Petaluma, CA

I only had a passing familiarity with BG Cycles before last week, I’d taken note of the BLT (Basic Loaded Tourer) bike they were offering at a very attractive price last year and then on my first visit with Rob Perks he showed me one of BG’s renowned cro-mo tubed racks.  I’d read Lovely Bicycles’ blog post about meeting BG…  none of that could have prepared me for meeting the man, and seeing his bicycles!  I think I was actually somewhat enthralled to spend the roughly 2 hours he gave us, a running conversation about the bicycle industry, frame building, details on frames and components and of course getting to see his amazing ‘auto-biographical’ collection of every bicycle he has made for himself since the 1970’s (10 points for anyone who takes the High Fidelity reference).

I don’t really know where to go describing this visit other than to say if you are interested in steel bikes you owe it to yourself to have a conversation with Bruce.  What I really took from Bruce’s conversation was his deep seated belief in the value of handcrafted, made in the USA components and bikes.   I’m convinced that every detail of a BG bicycle is INTENTIONAL, and that those details reflect a lot of riding and building experience.  I think a set, or at least a rear BG rack is in my future but I need to figure out a couple of things first.  In the mean time I couldn’t help but purchase one of his cool aluminum tail-lights, bullet shaped and smooth…  it’s already found its way onto my Atlantis (not sure Bruce would approve but it looks great either way)

Walnut Creek

Not quite the ‘origin’ as I opted with my limited time to check out the new storefront vice the warehouse/HQ.  Grant Peterson’s book, Just Ride, is definitely responsible for jumpstarting and directing my interest in bicycles.  So it’s only fitting that I finally make the pilgrimage. 

This visit not only satisfied my curiosity in seeing the Riv storefront but it allowed me the opportunity to meet Keven, with whom I have been corresponding with questions about my Atlantis since the summer.  First the shop… it is as dazzling as I could possibly expect, I was impressed by the quality of the displays and of course the bikes.  Thinking back they had a Hunq, a Cheviot, 2 Sam’s, a Rodeo… I think that was it, I wonder if they turn over the selection?  The riv-ish-ness of the shop is undeniable!  My hands down favorite part is the ceiling bell grid w/ pull cords… I’ve never heard of such a thing and I love it!

I arrived hoping I’d get a chance to check out a 58cm, 650B A. Homer Hilsen from a fit perspective and probably could have made that happen at the HQ but the shop didn’t have one.  The brief conversation I had with Keven was interesting, based on my PBH (Riv’s handy dandy measurement system, mine is ~90) he was unequivocal that there were no Riv 650B bikes in my size… end of story.  Honestly I would have liked to discuss it a bit further but the confidence and manner that he presented kind of put me off a bit.  Amazingly though, he did it in the most friendly way possible… weird actually.  He is hugely knowledgeable about Riv’s bikes and pretty much any offerings they have.  Anyway, it came down to what bike to test ride (since we were there we may as well test one out) and I picked the 58cm double top tube Sam (blue w/ cream headtube).  More on the ride later but I have to pass on the most amazing thing to me about my visit.  Keven, armed only with my self-measured ~90 pbh adjusted the Sam saddle and handlebars without any input from me or trials…  that one #, and his skills resulted in a PERFECT fit.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised but I was very impressed.

Upon our return to the shop I couldn’t let the opportunity to pick up a medium dark green Shopsack and a sweet (but $$$) RBBH Tshirt.  Great visit, awesome putting a face to the email address with Keven and I’m still looking forward to making a stop in at the HQ some day!


  1. Interesting comment about Keven. He really is knowledgeable and persuasive. A great guy.

  2. I would love to get to spend some more time with him and the other Riv guys, I think an S24O or at least a group ride w/ some coffee interspersed would be a great way to get to know them better...

  3. Thanks for the inclusion on your tour. The other two stops you made were to places I have deep respect for, and to be included in the list is flattering to say the least. I have learned an immense amount from both. As for Kevin, I hope to have my own version someday, and I concur, there are no 650b bikes in your size ;-)

    Rob@ oceanaircycles.com

  4. Rob, A trip to Ventura isn't complete without a conversation with you at your shop! I really appreciate the hospitality and your patience with my questions. I'll have to add large frame = large wheel to the list of things that OAC and Riv concur on! :)