Friday, April 23, 2010

A Nebbish In Nebraska

Our intrepid staff here at The Cycle headed west last weekend for a visit to Council Bluffs, IA and a cross-border excursion into Omaha, NE. Since I'm incapable of visiting a new place without skulking around its purveyors of bicycle (and coffee) products, here's my quickie rundown of the LBS (and LCS) situation in the land of our nearest Cornhusker neighbors.

First rule: If you're planning a group ride with me, DO NOT LET ME PREPARE THE ROUTE. I hit the streets with a sheaf of Google Maps printouts (I call it "GPS 1.0"), promptly ran into an unforeseen detour, got totally screwed up, and wound up starting at my furthest west destination working back east instead of the planned east-to-west approach. 

Stops 1 and 2 on my new west-to-east route took me to Bike Rack Cycling & Fitness and Trek Bicycle Store of Omaha. I'll admit, both stores were impressive in their size and scope -- Bike Rack was particularly disorientating in its hugeness. But they both reminded me of a trend I've seen in bike shops over the last decade or so... I call it the McDonaldsization (or Wal-Martization if you prefer) of the business. Sure, these big "factory stores" have brought a professional veneer to bike stores that had been lacking. Salespeople in matching polo shirts, clean, well-lit displays, non-surly staff... a far cry from back in the day. Heck, I think the mechanics even shower, if you can believe that. But there's a sameness to these stores that gets boring. I can see the same row of Madones, the same Shimano sandals, the same carbon bling under glass, and even the same "hey, look at this weird, unique city bike thingie!" right here in Des Moines. Or in Kansas City. Or in Minneapolis. Or in Topeka. Or in pretty much any town big enough to get the attention of one of the big brands.

Next stop was Blue Line Coffee, where I reset my inner GPS (and inner cynicism settings) with a delicious cuppa cold press. If you'd told me a decade ago that I should try cold coffee in warm weather, I would have thrown a cup of Folgers in your face (I always keep some around so I can make dramatic gestures without wasting real coffee). But there is just nothing like kicking back on a hot day with real cold-brewed bean. Blue Line did not disappoint there. There was even a vintage Bridgestone mountain bike parked outside, which I took as a good omen.

Okay, more bikes. I pressed on to the hard-to-find (for me, admittedly) Olympia Cycle. Now THAT is my kinda bike store. Dark. Labyrinthine. A bizarre violation of time and space that makes it look tiny outside and massive inside. Old wooden/glass cabinets. A freewheel cog board on the wall (probably unused in decades, but there nonetheless). Boxes of random decades-old detrius with "$5" or "$10" signs (did some spelunking in those puppies, believe me). And a staff that knew to say "hi" and get the heck out of the way. Note to a lot of shop folks... I came here to fondle stuff, not chat. Olympia took me back to the OLD location (not that silly new thing) of Russell's Cycling & Fitness in Washington, IL -- a favorite childhood pilgrimage for me and my dad. Russell's used to store rows and rows of used bikes in old, rusty tractor trailers outside their cramped little excuse for a main building. Friggin' bike-nerd Mecca, I kid thee not. Olympia isn't quite there, but it's as close as I've been since I was a goggle-eyed pubescent.

Okay, final stop: Greenstreet Cycles. Weird, weird vibe. Combine the shiny newness of one of those mega-Trek-marts with the too-cool-for-school bearded hipster zeitgeist I've only seen in Portland and Seattle and you've got Greenstreet. The place is pretty new, so maybe they're still getting it to the right level of scruffy (try harder guys... the Trek store, home of shiny lycra Lance worship, is out-scruffing you right now). All the crisp Chrome stuff and shiny ready-made fashion fixies just made me feel a little icky... like seeing a Gap mannequin in khakis and a Kurt Cobain t-shirt. Maybe I'm just a geezer, though.

So that's OMA NE as I saw it. Thanks to the friends (both virtual and corporeal) who suggested stops on my whirlwind tour. You're welcome to come over and make fun of our bike shops any time. I'll even get you lost if you buy the coffee.


Anonymous said...

The old location for Russell's set a new standard for funky and disorganized! I was only in there a couple of times before they moved to the current location, and it was very odd! It was almost like they converted a house into a bike shop. 3 different levels of rooms where bikes were stored.

I think a better standard for an old style shop is Illinois Cycle (also in the Greater Peoria Metro area). They moved in the last few years, but their old location had the style of an old Schwinn shop. A nice display floor, a work area, and a huge basement containing all sorts of wonders! If they liked you, they'd take you down there and let you root around. Sweet!

The really cool thing about Illinois Cycle was that even in the late 90's, they were still rooting out NOS bikes out of the basement! The NOS Raleigh Gran Sport, in the classic Blue Lagoon w/white paint scheme was perhaps the nicest I saw emerge from the dusty depths. They also had two pristine Paramounts from the early 70's sitting around (nominally) for sale. The chrome '72 Paramount is still there, but I don't think that they pretend that it's really for sale.

Illinois Cycle also claims to be the oldest continually operating bike shop in the USA. ..for whatever that's worth...
They are a good shop still... especially if they know you. :-)
They sold me a pair of NOS Mavic MA-2 rims for essentially original prices.

Steve K. in scenic Peoria, IL

Jason T. Nunemaker said...

Steve --

Man, Illinois Cycle does sound like my kind of place! Maybe I need to make that road trip to Peoria after all.

The other funk-fest shop I loved in my youth was Vitesse in Normal IL -- still have one of their coffee cups! Looks like they still know the way to my heart, too -- check out that vintage Bruce Gordon on the home page.