Kings of the Mountain

For many mountain bike devotees, a “true mountain shop” is as much a part of their way of life as a bike and a singletrack trail. There, knobby-tire culture flourishes and riders can count on experts (and often friends) to keep their machines running perfectly, to show them the best new stoke-worthy bikes and gear, and to share and hear stories about the rides they live for.

Here are four shops that have established themselves as true mountain shops and have become synonymous with the names of the famous trails in their region. We asked them to tell us how they make life great for both their loyal subjects and travelers from distant lands.

Wes Dickson, Sycamore Cycles

Pisgah Forest, North Carolina

In 2000, I was tired of waiting tables and wanted to follow my dream, so I took out a furniture loan and opened a rider-focused bike shop in downtown Brevard, N.C. With hundreds of miles of rugged singletrack trails in nearby Pisgah National Forest and DuPont State Forest, the business plan was perfect. Two years later the shop moved down the road to the entrance of Pisgah to be closer to the trails.

In 2010 I expanded Sycamore Cycles by opening a second location in nearby Hendersonville. Today the shops continue to grow and evolve with an expanding local customer base and an enormous influx of out-of-town mountain bike tourists seeking the abundant trail systems of western North Carolina. Earlier this year the Pisgah Forest location expanded for a third time and is now subleasing a part of the store to Crank, a coffee shop serving baked goods, smoothies, and juices. The store has new expanded hours to help get our customers out on the trails earlier—with a coffee and Danish.

With the growth of Sycamore, a few things have remained constant. Sycamore Cycles has always been known for expert service, trail info, and trail-tested equipment. The technical aspects of the typical “Pisgah” bike (a 5-inch full-suspension trail bike with dropper post) and the local trails (rocks, roots, and lots of rain) mean our mechanics must be well versed in suspension service, pivot bearing replacements, and brake bleeds. Knowledgeable employees who ride and are familiar with the trails and the best equipment for the area are a cornerstone of what makes Sycamore a “true” mountain bike shop. Join us for one of our weekly Thursday evening shop rides or stop by for a coffee and some trail info.

Scott Schroen, Phat Tire Bike Shop

Fayetteville and Bentonville, Arkansas

Phat Tire is the area go-to shop for all things cycling, specializing in mountain bikes and the experienced service techs that keep them running. As mountain bike trails were being developed in the area, the need for a quality bike shop in town was a must. In 2007 two local riders, Tim Robinson and Chris Brosh, pooled all their savings and opened a small shop on the downtown square. Since then, Phat Tire has expanded to three prominent locations in northwest Arkansas (Fort Smith is in the works now).

The beauty of northwest Arkansas is the diversity of its trails. High-end carbon hardtails and six-inch trail bikes are right at home on favorite local trails Slaughter Pen (in Bentonville) and Mt. Kessler (in Fayetteville). Big tires roll: 2.25- to 2.4-inch wide tires dominate the scene. Most trails here are purpose-built singletrack with ladder bridges, drop lines, and tech features sprinkled throughout the trail, so we tend to see a fair share of taco’ed wheels and blown forks from riders who like to experiment with their skill level and with what their bikes can handle.

A “true” mountain bike shop comes from its roots. Phat Tire, as the name suggests, is built on and from a mountain bike lifestyle. We offer group rides twice a week, perform suspension service in-house, and have a full-on mountain bike race team (complete with a masseuse, tech support, and a beer sponsor—Pabst makes sure the shop fridge is full!) that is currently and proudly holding the number-one spot in Arkansas. We also rent out really nice mountain bikes like the Trek Superfly Elite and the Santa Cruz Tallboy carbon SPX.

Brock Webster, Orange Peel Bikes

Steamboat Springs, Colorado

We’re known for our branding, our crazy building, an amazing selection of in-stock service parts, and custom bikes. Orange Peel began in 1999 as a one-man repair shop, and has expanded every year since. Ten years ago we moved into a location that had housed a bike shop since 1979, and is most famous as the birthplace of Moots Cycles. When out on the trails around here, it’s not the bike, it’s the rider! Most locals ride some kind of full-suspension bike, but opinions vary greatly, with everything from older 26-inch trail bikes, to short-travel 29ers. Recently the 27.5-inch enduro-style bikes have been popular, and downhill bikes are selling fast with the addition of the Steamboat Ski Area bike park. And we have the requisite singlespeeders who manage quite well in their typical Luddite fashion!

The favored local trails depend on the season and snow line: At lower elevations, the Emerald Mountain trails that connect to the Beall-Ridge trails add up to an amazing 25-mile loop right from our door. In the high country, you just can’t beat the Continental Divide trail for miles of amazing singletrack followed by an almost 4,000 vertical foot descent back to town.

Living and understanding mountain culture in a broader sense than just cycling alone makes us a true mountain shop. We know and use what works in our environment. The big mountains, crazy weather, and summer “moon dust” spell disaster for bike parts. We do suspension and brake services, continually replacing brake pads and rotors. We replace a lot of chains and climbing gears, and clean and lube a lot of freehub mechanisms. We go out of our way to be friendly and fun, and not scary in the typical bro-dude manner. Having lots of local knowledge about trails, burritos, hot springs, and other local attractions doesn’t hurt, either.

Chris, Jay, Jeo, and Eric, Topanga Creek Bicycles

Topanga, California

We started as a bicycle touring company taking clients through the Hollywood hills and all over L.A. The touring company grew into a tiny bike shop off of Hollywood Boulevard that eventually doubled in size. Hollywood was fun, but in 2008 it was time for a change. We looked for a good spot to start a shop oriented toward mountain biking and adventure. We landed in Topanga and have been here ever since.

Our mechanic stands are set under oak trees, we’ve always got fresh banana bread, we barbecue regularly for lunch, and our customers enjoy the fun sense of community.

Out here on favorite trails like Backbone, Cheney, and Dead Car, it’s steep and dry, so we see a lot of drivetrains caked in dirt. Cross-country full-suspension and singlespeed hardtails dominate the scene, so seals on shocks, bearing surfaces, and chains need constant attention. With plenty of cactuses and thorns, nearly every bike leaves the shop with a tubeless setup.

A “true” mountain shop provides great service and engages customers. We make it a point to “walk the walk” and take our customers to races, events, bikepacking trips, and, most importantly, in search of adventure. We offer a group ride every Saturday morning through the mountains and fire roads near our shop, which can range from 10 to 40 people. We ride for two and a half hours and come back for the freshly baked banana bread and coffee.

Our shop motto is “UnPredict Your Journey,” so every Wednesday we close the shop to “UnPredict Our Wednesday.” We pack up Tuesday night and go bikepacking somewhere within 30 to 50 miles of the shop. We camp Tuesday night, ride all day Wednesday, sometimes camp Wednesday night, and head back early to open the shop on Thursday. A “true” mountain shop lives the lifestyle and promotes fun and involvement for everyone.

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