For Absent Friends (bike shops past / if it happened in the 80s, it almost didn’t happen at all)

Visited the dentist again today; very brief check of the tooth extraction (all is well). Someone in the office noted my bike and mentioned that her husband used to own a shop, Broken Spokes in San Carlos. That got me to thinking about all the shops that have come & gone these past 34 years, and an old Genesis song went through my head as I was riding back, “For Absent Friends.” If you’re really interested, here’s a link to the song on youtube.

So just off-hand I’m thinking the original VeloClub on El Camino in San Carlos, Pierre Cuisinot’s shop (eventually sold and later closed; Pierre moved to Grass Valley some years back), Pat Barrett’s previously-mentioned Broken Spoke on Laurel, Ron Stott’s Pro Bike Shop (open for only a year or so on El Camino back in the early 70s), Steve’s Bike & Sport on Laurel… San Carlos used to be quite the place for bike shops! In Redwood City we had Olympic Bike Shop on Broadway, another small shop that had been around for years on James right next to the train station (before they paved paradise and put up the parking lots), Redwood Cycle which had first been on El Camino, then Woodside Road and finally for a short time in Sequoia Station before shutting down. Woodside Bike Shop has come and gone and come back again. Family Bike Shop was sold to… me… in 1980. Freedom Bike Shop, where I first worked? Weird, I can’t place what became of it.

Menlo Park lost Sugden & Lynch on Santa Cruz Avenue a very long time ago; that was the hangout for the younger guys getting into racing. I still recall the day Tom Ritchey rode in on the first bike he built. Menlo Sports on El Camino went away… late 80s? I worked there during summers while in college. And of course Garner’s Professional Bike Shop (the rest of us weren’t “Professional”?), originally one location in Redwood City, then expanded to a second location in Palo Alto (Alma shopping center?), moved the second location to a high-rent spot in Town & Country Shopping Center (still in Palo Alto), couldn’t make the ridiculous rent so closed that down, then later one of the Garner brothers, Mike, died of a heart condition and the Redwood City location sold and became GoRide.

All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain (Blade Runner quote). It’s funny how much has already disappeared; if it happened before Google, unless someone took quite an interest in it, nobody will care. There will be nobody, a few years down the road, to tell the story, and nobody to care about the stories missed, because we assume that Google has everything. Unfortunately, there will be a period of time in which we will see very little documentation, because people generally didn’t/don’t write books about things until they’re semi-nostalgic, and the advent of the ‘net & Google took away the necessity & urge to document in print. We might someday look back at the 80’s as the lost decade, pre-history in terms of the digital revolution.

The stories… the bike shop in Mtn View that the owner torched… what was the name? Bayshore Bike Works? And the suspicious manner in which a local bike shop owner’s house blew up, I mean literally blew up… an owner who was a former Navy demolitions expert. Shop closed down shortly after. Because it happened in the 80s, you won’t find anything about it. Part of an oral history that will come up in random conversation from time to time when people connected to that part of cycling on the Peninsula get together.

Wheelsmith, Start to Finish, Spectrum Cycles, Pacific Bicycles (which still has one store in the ‘City; used to have a small empire of 7 or 8 I think?), and for a while there was a two-store operation, one in Sunnyvale and another on Woodside Road in Redwood City. What happened to them? I know some of the inside scoop and/or dirt, but really, if it happened in the 80s, it almost didn’t happen at all. Start to Finish actually came along in the 90s, but there’s some interesting back story to an operation that grew so fast, so quickly, and then disappeared.

But I do recall Downtown Bike Repair on Arguello in Redwood City. Only lasted for 6 months, pre-historic in the context here since it was probably in the summer of 76 or thereabouts. About 330sq ft that I rented as an experiment, to test my ability to run a store-front repair business that would require relationships with banks & distributors and, of course, customers. It was budgeted to lose about $2500 but ended up making $2000. A failed experiment of sorts! When the 6 months were up, I closed it down and went off to school at UC Santa Cruz. Bike shops exist and close for a variety of reasons. 🙂

9 thoughts on “For Absent Friends (bike shops past / if it happened in the 80s, it almost didn’t happen at all)

  1. Good stuff. You should set up a separate space on your website for recollections, photos and such. A shame for the history to be lost. I grew up on the east coast in the late 70s. As I kid (12 or 13, I guess) I looked up all the local bike shops that I could ride to and then rode to them and rated them. Ah, nostalgia!

    1. As a kid, 11-13 years old, I used to spend a lot of time going over the AAA “Bay & River” map which had these cities nearby that I could actually ride to! I lived (as I still do) in Redwood City, and you could add up the little distance markers and discover it was about 4 miles to this Woodside place, another 5 or so to Portola Valley. 10 miles or so up 84 to Sky L’onda. Since it didn’t show Old LaHonda, I didn’t know it existed; I’d ride with my friend (Rob Kriesle) up “regular” 84. You just ended up stringing new “segments” together for longer and longer rides. Eventually we began to head down to the US Geological Survey office in Menlo Park and study the topographic maps, getting a sense of how much climbing would be involved. I probably still have some of the old USGS maps from the 70s lying around somewhere.

      As far as bike shops went, the usual local hangout was Sugden & Lynch, followed by Wheeler Dealer in Los Altos (which was later sold to Dick Powell and became Bicycle Outfitter, which has changed hands again and is now very capably managed by Dave Prion). If we were into a longer ride, we’d head to Cupertino Bike Shop, run out of a garage at the time (and since changed hands at least once). And it took very little excuse for a side-run to Phil Wood’s place in Los Gatos, just to see all the cool machinery! –Mike–

    1. Brian: You’re right! I forgot all about them. They were in Redwood City for a number of years before pulling up stakes and relocating to Mountain View and San Mateo. I have mixed feelings about that; we got quite a bit of business from people who couldn’t get what they wanted there and heading in to see us. Also, that was in the 1990s I think, not the 1980s (and slightly earlier) that I was focusing on. Still, a significant fixture in Redwood City for a while. –Mike–

  2. I also worked at Menlo Sports Bike shop. I have forgotten the owners name. He put me to work patching tubes when he found me just hanging around. Later to find out it was just to keep me out of trouble. When I got to high school, I worked for him again. He used to listen to big band music all day. Anyone remember his name?

  3. Mike,
    You probably never knew Menlo Bike Shop and Lawn Mower Repair on El Camino where I got my first bike, a Phillips 3 speed. My first big bike ride was on that bike. Dick Woodhams and I went from Woodside to Saratoga and up Hwy 9 till we ran out of gas. No food, no water. Lucky for us it was apricot season and we stole enough to get home.

    Shortly after that I went to Josselyn’s (the predecessor of Sugden & Lynch) and got my Raleigh Gran Sport.

    Menlo Bike turned to motorcycles, Honda and is now Menlo Honda. Still there but different location different product.

    1. Yep, that was just slightly before my time. As much as I’m getting older, guess there should be some comfort from knowing there are a few even older still!

      Sadly there have been two additional absent friends added this month; Passion Trail in Belmont, and Calmar in San Jose. 28 other shops across the country closed this month too.

  4. Great article! My parents were the owners of Olympic Cyclery on Broadway in Redwood City from roughly 1971-1981. It was primarily a family-oriented Schwinn franchise although my dad also dabbled in Bianchis along with mopeds (Kreidler, Motobecane) and Lambretta scooters. My sister and I grew up spending our Saturdays either working in the shop or exploring downtown RC, watching 50 cent matinees at the Fox theater and moping around the Ben Franklin. I believe that the building is currently a health club.

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