This Is How You Build A Bike Shop: On Love


I remember flipping through 5280 Magazine‘s 2011 “Top of the Town” issue to the section where “Best Bike Shop” appeared, and seeing a full-page photo of my friend Scott Taylor sitting on a bike in front the south wall of Salvagetti Bicycle Workshop, and I started giggling like a little kid and pumping my fist in the air in my apartment.

It’s been a few years since I started going to Salvagetti to buy parts for my always-falling-apart used bicycles. I first went there because my friend Nick had bought his first road bike there, a rebuilt steel Miyata that Scott had resurrected, painted black and put his brand on in white letters: Salvagetti. The bike’s head badge was a trash can with two laurels on it, poking a little fun at expensive Italian bicycles. Rebuilding bikes and selling them was the beginning of Scott’s business — he built several dozen in the early years of starting the bike shop on a small student loan, the first one for a girl he was trying to impress. The girl was impressed, married Scott and rode home from the wedding on the back of his Xtracycle. Jennifer and Scott now have two children and a dog, and her bike, the original Salvagetti bicycle, sits on display at the shop.

 

In 2007 and 2008, it was just three guys running the shop: Scott, Greg, and Danny. It had to be one of the most loitered-in retail establishments in the entire city. People would show up just to sit in the back and talk to the guys while Danny tooled on someone’s bike on the stand. I would stop by to get a new chain, or a couple spokes, or something small, and it would take me an hour to get out of there.

But I never bought a bike there. I would walk in and say to Scott, I need a set of wheels I can’t break. And he would say get these, and I would wonder for a second about whether I should put a set of $400 wheels on a $200 bike, but only for a second. And I would buy them one at a time, layaway style, the rear one first, the front one a few months later when I had the money. And they would never break, even when I wore out and eventually snapped the steel frame of the bicycle they rolled on. Or I would buy a derailleur and say, I don’t know how to put this on my bike. Scott said, It’s easy, then told me the basic steps, and I went home and did it instead of paying Salvagetti to do it for me. And those were the earlier days of the shop, when maybe they could have used the money from a repair job like that. Now, Salvagetti sells a lot of bikes, a lot of Chrome bags, a lot of clothing, even coffee.

But in those first few years, and Scott never told me this, but once said to my friend Nick, “There were so many days where I’d be sitting there saying to myself, ‘If I don’t sell a bike today, I mean today, I’m going to have to close the shop.’ But someone would come in and buy a bike.”

At my friend Sara’s presentation about social media and retail a few weeks ago, she quoted a fishing shop owner saying something like, “People don’t come into my store because they want to buy a fly rod. They come into my store because they want to fish.” I think that’s incredibly poignant, and explains a lot about the way Scott has always run his business. Sometimes people just stop in to borrow a tool for a 2-minute repair, and they use the bike stand out front to do it. No money changes hands.

I walk into Salvagetti now and I don’t see bikes or clothing or bags that I need to buy — I see a bunch of awesome people I want to talk to: Scott, Nick, Joe, Hannah, Brian, Scott B., Ken, Philip, and Levi. A couple months before I left on my cross-country bike tour in 2010, I rode down to the shop on a winter Saturday and spent an hour and a half with Nick Soloninka, talking about what tools I should take on the road, staying as light as possible, but still having everything I needed to fix anything that might be a showstopper in the middle of, say, rural Mississippi. I might have bought a $25 multi-tool after we talked, but I can’t remember. I remember more about Nick and I trying to make each other laugh while I scrawled names of tools on a notepad.

It’s always been like that, and I think the place appealed to me because no one came in and wanted to buy the newest, lightest, most expensive bike to put on top of their BMW and ride 15 times a year. And that’s because Scott didn’t start a bike business because he likes to make money. He started a bike business because he loves bikes. Back when I first started riding my bike everywhere in Denver, Scott started doing this thing called The Breakfast Ride. Every Sunday, 8 a.m. It was not your standard shop ride. No one wore lycra. Messengers, commuters, mountain bikers, guys on dirt jumpers, parents with kids in bike trailers, people on cruiser bikes, fixies, whatever, we all showed up to ride together, just a little. Like 2 or 3 miles to Lucile’s, WaterCourse, Gaia, Snooze, or somewhere that would accommodate a dozen people and their bicycles. Then we’d ride 2 or 3 miles back, to Metropolis Coffee, and drink more coffee until about noon, when Scott would open the shop for the day. It was never a “real” ride, not 40 miles in a peloton, no drafting, nothing like that. A few times someone would show up in a full kit and wonder what the hell was wrong with us, a bunch of people with one pant leg rolled up. I remember one Breakfast Ride when Scott started riding an old BMX bike when we left the shop, and halfway to the restaurant, one of the pedals snapped off, so he just Fred-Flintstoned it all the way to Snooze, and back. Nobody really talked about the Tour de France much on those rides.

I don’t toss the word “friend” around too carelessly, drop names or whatever — basically, if I can call you to help me move a couch, or I will help you move a couch, we are friends. When Scott moved Salvagetti from its old location on Speer Boulevard in Denver to its current location on Platte Street in 2009, he didn’t hire professionals to do it — he called people he liked and bought a shitload of pizza. I moved bikes, sanded drywall, and loaded moving trucks until 10 p.m. because Scott is my friend. And when I pedaled my bike across the country the next year, every time something started to go wrong mechanically, I called Scott and he answered his phone and talked me through the diagnosis, in the few minutes he had between running a business and raising a family — even when it took 10 minutes of us talking to figure out that the creaking noise was not my bottom bracket, crank, or anything important. It was my goddamn seat.

I gave a slide show on bike touring with two other people at Salvagetti last summer, and one of the other presenters, Mu Son, addressed Scott directly at the end of his slides, saying in an incredibly eloquent way that he wanted to thank and congratulate Scott on creating such a great cycling community in Denver, and how unique that was. I wish I could remember his exact words. I think maybe what’s so unique about it is that it’s a community based around one common thing, and it’s a very pure, simple idea. The same way you met your friends in elementary school:

Do you like bikes?

Me too.

Wanna ride bikes? Let’s be friends.

In the last couple years, things have really blown up for Scott and Salvagetti, and it’s definitely not a struggling little bike shop anymore. Scott started a coffee company and had Denver’s only bike-through coffee window in the front of the bike shop. The coffee company, Happy Coffee, now sponsors a cyclocross team. Salvagetti sponsors a commuter team, which, to my knowledge, is pretty unique among bike shops. Scott’s going to open a full-size Happy Coffee shop on south Broadway early this year, with a small retail and maintenance space inside. And he has invited me to help paint the inside. Which I will.

-Brendan

Semi-Rad is brought to you by Outdoor Research.

Related posts:

12 Comments

  1. Jean
    February 16, 2012

    Thank you for the precious analogy about elementary school friends. I just moved to a new city where I have no friends from my previous lives. And I almost immediately have friends because I asked ‘Do you like to climb’.

    I’ve always thought the crag/rock gym is like a jungle gym for adults anyway. Oh, and a surf lineup is like a big bathtub…

    Reply
    • brendan
      February 16, 2012

      Right on, Jean! The bathtub analogy is great.

      Reply
  2. February 16, 2012

    Great article, Brendan – Scott is a great guy and I am thrilled that the business has grown and thrived the way it has.

    Reply
  3. Will
    February 16, 2012

    I haven’t lived in Denver in 3 years and I still consider myself part of that community, that’s how great it is. I can still walk in to Salvagetti’s on one of my rare trips to town, get a big welcome from Scott or one of the mechs, run into someone I know, and loiter for an hour. It’s as if I was there once a week still.

    I definitely miss the shop, there is nothing like it here in DC.

    Reply
    • brendan
      February 16, 2012

      All I’m saying is: come back, dude.

      Reply
  4. February 16, 2012

    I just got the Salvagetti name.

    I just realized I’m an idiot.

    Reply
  5. Chris
    February 16, 2012

    I can totally identify with the elementary school meet n’ greet. I’ve met a couple great climbing partners the same way:

    Do you like climbing?

    Me too. (insert Beavis and Butthead laugh here)

    Wanna go climbing? Let’s be friends.

    Keep it simple!

    Reply
  6. February 16, 2012

    Aw man! I pedaled in front of that shop when I was in Denver last summer, but didn’t go in because the thing I was pedaling was one of those sweet, PeeWee Herman-ish B-cycles you guys are so lucky to have available to interlopers. I thought, that shop looks awesome from outside, but those guys won’t take me serious riding this, so no going in there. I missed something awesome for sure. This summer if I get back, I’m all up in that place.

    Reply
  7. Maggie
    February 17, 2012

    Great article about our Salvagetti “family”. Scott and his crew do so many amazing things for this city! Also- Thanks for the plug for the CX team! We just so happen to have brought our quest to keep cross funky to the internets http://www.keepcrossfunky.com. Enjoy!

    Reply
  8. Dave Merry
    February 17, 2012

    Dude. Sweet collection of words on a page, this makes me want to visit Denver, buy a new suit and a fez. Not getting the name though…

    Reply

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *