Issue 28 is jam-packed full of goodies, including interviews with Mathieu van der Poel, the winning racers and tech of Nationals, the return of CXM Labs with a supple tire test and a column by cyclocross pro and Singlespeed National Champion Justin Lindine.
Lindine took us on an offseason tour of his shop-rat history, with a personal testimonial on why local bicycle shops matter. Because we believe local shops do matter, we have Lindine’s full column from Issue 28 here for you today. (Note: We regret to report the article was printed with a few words missing between pages, and wanted to offer the article in its entirety here.)
For columns like this, as well as a look at Niels Albert’s new shop and extensive cyclocross bike reviews and training guides, grab a backcopy today, or a digital version available on Uberflip, in the App Store on iTunes, and on Google Play for Android.
by Justin Lindine
Top notes of citrus come first, like grapefruit mixed with lemons; then comes the astringency—that bitter, back-of-your-mouth taste of Mastik One hits you as you close the door on the chill of early autumn and enter the world of degreaser, tubular glue and the wellspring of passion in our sport. Welcome to the chapel of ’cross: welcome to the bike shop.
Cyclocross has enjoyed exponential growth in the U.S. over the last 10 years, to the point where it’s beginning to feel mainstream where it was once fringe. But in a country divided as sharply by football allegiances as by red and blue votes, and with the national pastime still listed as baseball, ’cross just might have a long way to go before the sport’s best are selling power drills and hawking services on national television. But, like all good “underground” or “fringe” things, one of the most underrated parts of ’cross might be that unique sense of community—of inside knowledge, of love beyond reason. To get where we are now, with races every weekend, hosting the first U.S. World Cup round at CrossVegas, growing numbers of racers across the country—none of these things would have been possible without the curators and keepers of this passion, many of whom are the owners of bike shops. Every fall, the shop owners devote themselves—sensibly or not—to the love of ’cross. Tires will be glued, flatted, torn off and new ones glued again. Bikes will need new bottom brackets every other week—chains too. Derailleur pulleys are removed, greased, and reinstalled.
Sure, a shop is a business, but ’cross as business has been a long time coming in its viability, and it remains a labor of love. In the meantime, they have promoted, sponsored, or volunteered at races. Favorites on the calendar, like the NBX Grand Prix in Warwick, Rhode Island, are classics thanks to the hard work of the NBX team and the community they foster. Racers, myself included, have been supported out-of-pocket—despite any grandiose delusions on the racers’ part—with little chance of return on investment. These people, these shops, are in no small way responsible for the growth of this sport: fanning the smoldering flames of its infancy, and continuing to provide the its backbone today.
I’ve had the great fortune of working and spending a great deal of my life in and around bike shops. I never would have started racing at all if it weren’t for the team run out of Windham Mountain Outfitters in my hometown, and I went on to work there through high school, college and even for a while after graduation. My bike-racing travels have led me to so many shops since then, and I can rattle them off by name and town, complete with details of their layout and vibe. Some were “’cross” shops, others were not, but all were some mix of retail store, church, and clubhouse. Equal parts business and extension of someone’s deep appreciation for the sport, surviving in spite of a changing retail world of online shopping. Standing firm, like the best record stores, offering up something less tangible than sheer value—passion.
Nowhere is this passion more clear than in shops that do specialize in ’cross—a niche faction of a niche sport, at least in this country. I was a late bloomer when it comes to racing ’cross, competing in my first race when I was already in my sophomore year of college. I dabbled in it for a while, spurred on by the support of the Targetraining team I was racing road for at the time—based, not coincidentally, out of a very nice shop in Connecticut. But in truth, the love I have for the sport wasn’t truly ignited until I started racing, and ultimately working at Joe’s Garage in Haydenville, Mass. It was there that I got my first taste of a true “’cross shop.” Joe has been an integral part of the Western Massachusetts ’cross scene, sponsoring a team that has been a mainstay of the New England circuit, supporting races, and more than anything else, fostering the growth of the sport by sharing the passion for this wild, beautiful and sometimes brutal sport with anyone who walks through the door. We glued a lot of tires, and rebuilt many aspiring racers’ bikes from one weekend to the next with a sense of duty and pride and—to use the word one more time—passion. We might have even worked on a certain U.S. National Champion’s bike upon occasion… not naming names or anything. Of all the things I miss about moving from New England to my new home in Utah, it’s the contagious excitement I had there, recounting the weekends racing with friends while working on bikes, that I miss the most. I feel honored as an elite athlete to have had that experience.
The growth of ’cross means that more and more, you can find places as dedicated as I’ve mentioned anywhere around the country. Undeniably, the role of bike shops is changing in today’s world of internet distribution and direct-to-consumer purchasing. Service, specialty knowledge and added value are the new catchwords of successful shops. In the end, I see a place for both forms of bike sales—just not one at the expense of the other. Especially as an elite racer, it can be easy to become distanced from the local shop scene when bikes arrive at your house and sponsors change with alarming frequency. Perhaps it’s only because I’ve spent so many years on the other side of the counter, much of it balancing the roles of employee and aspiring bike racer, that I appreciate the importance of these shops and the people behind them, who do so much for our sport—most of it unheralded if not totally unnoticed.
I firmly believe that just as there are few people who become bike racers with an eye toward the goal of getting rich, so too with bike shops, and maybe most of all those who dedicate themselves to cyclocross. There must be a love of the process as much as a love of the outcome.
I love going to new shops, noticing the details that make it a unique expression of someone’s appreciation of this sport. Ultimately, even though I’m deeply appreciative and honored to have the opportunity I have right now to be racing my bike full-time, I can’t help but miss those moments at the shop: eating soup and a bagel for lunch in between tune-ups, talking about ’cross and bike racing in general with anyone who’d care to listen.
So take a moment to stop by your local shop if you haven’t recently. You just might find they’re the ones behind that race you enjoyed so much or that trail you rode last week. Even with recent growth, ’cross is still a small community—reach out and make yours a little bigger.