Recently, I got some new handlebars for one of my bikes, which also gave me an opportunity to visit one of my favorite bike shops: Topanga Creek Bicycles (TCB) in Topanga Canyon.
It’s a special bike shop, unlike any other I’ve been in outside of Portland or San Francisco. The shop is actually an old house nestled deep in a shady recess of Topanga Canyon, right next to whispering Topanga creek. It’s been converted into a bike shop by owner Chris Kelly, who moved the shop from Hollywood a few years ago, and kept the charm of the house as part of its homey appeal. But the delightful setting isn’t the primary reason I like the shop. They make my favorites list, because they’re extremely knowledgeable and they carry lots of hard-to-find, quality stuff I like, such as Surly and Salsa bikes, Brooks saddles, Schwalbe tires, and Arkel bags.
Chris and the rest of the gang at TCB are dedicated to first-rate customer service while preserving a laid-back, friendly atmosphere. Stop by on any given afternoon and don’t be surprised if they offer you some coffee or fresh-baked banana bread from their kitchen or maybe a hamburger if they’re grilling out back. The interior of the shop almost feels more like sitting in a bike-lover’s living room than a retail establishment. If the weather’s cold outside, Chris might have a fire going in the wood-burning stove that sits in the corner of the living room—uh, I mean showroom. If mountain biking is your thing, they lead a regular Saturday morning ride in the Santa Monica mountains for riders of various ability levels and they’ve built quite a loyal following of mountain bikers.
My initial reason for finding this shop back in 2009 was that I had been looking for a good quality, versatile cro-moly steel bicycle frame to use as a serious urban utility bike and wanted a shop that would take the time to make sure I was properly fitted and, because I wanted to make some changes to the stock components, would customize the bike for me. I also didn’t want a shop that was trying to push the latest carbon fiber fad or make me feel like I needed to buy clipless pedals and wear spandex if I wanted to be a “real” bicyclist. I wound up purchasing a Surly LHT from them which they fitted with Soma Oxford bars, racks, and fenders. Later I had them build a front wheel with a Shimano Dynamo hub that uses the energy of the wheel to power my lights without need for batteries or recharging (dynamo hubs are widely used in Europe where people use bikes for everyday transportation).
Recently, I had the shop order some new Jones Loop H-bar handlebars for my Salsa Fargo. I got the Fargo a couple of years ago as an on/off road bike for riding fire roads in the mountains above my home, but I’ve lately been using it more as a cargo hauler and commuter. The stock handlebars placed me in a riding position that was too stretched-out for me and was hard on my back, especially on longer rides. Once they arrived, I made an appointment to bring my bike in for the installation of the new bars.
The Jones bar allows me to ride in a more upright, comfortable position, while still affording me multiple hand positions for longer rides and is suitable for on or off-road riding. My initial review of these bars is that they are much more comfortable for me than the old bars, and as far as I can tell, sacrifice nothing in terms of ride quality. The Jones bar’s unique shape provides a way to get in an “aero” position when going into a headwind, for example. Overall, I’m extremely happy with these new bars (a longer review of the setup will be forthcoming).
An added plus was that I got to hang out and chat with the shop staff while my new bars were being installed. Tanner, the young mechanic who worked on my bike, also showed me how to remove a worn-out chain and replace it, offering a number of helpful tips on chain maintenance. I got my new handlebars, learned a thing or two about bike maintenance, looked at all the new bikes and gear in the shop, and talked bikes with Chris, Ryan, and Tanner, three really cool guys. All in all, not a bad way to spend a Friday afternoon.
I know this post sounds a bit like an advertisement for the shop. Well, in a way, it is—but not because I received any compensation or was asked to. Think of it as a way to share one of my favorite bike places with my readers. I wish there were more shops like it (I mean, where else would you find a bike shop with a kitchen?). But, then again, if there were, I wouldn’t have an excuse to see my friends at TCB.