Life beyond the automobile in Southern California

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Topanga Creek Bicycles

TCB entry

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).

TCB shop

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.

Jones loop H-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).

TCB interior

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.

Christmas by Bike


It’s been perfect weather for bicycling here in Southern California lately, and I’ve done almost all of my Christmas shopping by bike this year (with the exception of a few things I’ve ordered online or by catalogue).  For the most part, it is an enjoyable experience.  The shopping center shown in the picture of my Salsa Fargo and Croozer cargo trailer (above) has a number of well-placed bike racks, which allows bike riders to lock up directly in front of most stores and makes it safer and more convenient for people on bikes.  I wish more merchants and municipalities understood the value of good quality bike racks and bike access to add to their bottom line.  In the absence of a bike rack, the shopper is forced to look for a sign pole or railing on which to lock up her bike, and these aren’t always located in the most convenient or safe places.  The presence of a good bike rack says to the bicycling customer, “you are welcome here and your business matters.”  Moreover, designing or retrofitting businesses with bike access costs far less than providing access and parking for cars.


As for locks, I recommend a good quality U-lock or chain lock (shown above).  You should use the lock to secure the frame of your bicycle to a rack or other immovable object.  If possible, place the U-lock around your wheel and your frame for extra security, as shown in the photo.  Don’t lock your bike to a post unless it is high enough and there is a sign on top of it which would prevent someone from lifting your bike over it.  Avoid cable locks (except perhaps to wrap around wheels and secure to a U-lock).  Most cable locks are relatively easy to cut with bolt cutters, and I wouldn’t use a cable lock if I was going to leave my bike unattended for more than a minute. Good locks aren’t cheap, but unlike many overpriced bike accessories, they’re definitely worth the expense.  Locking your bike properly will avoid giving a bike thief a Christmas present.

Wishing all my readers a joyous holiday, goodwill, and a safe journey on your bike!

Summer Memories

As a tribute to summer, I thought I’d post some pictures of my recent bicycle wanderings in San Diego–especially the beautiful coastal route along Highway 101 between Oceanside and Solana Beach.  Above, a bicyclist enjoys the view and the bike lane on the Coastal Rail Trail, a beautiful ride.  North County San Diego has quite a good network of bike lanes, enabling me to go almost entirely car free during my stay there.  There are still a few gaps in the network, but by and large I was impressed with the number of bike lanes.  San Diego county has a growing bicycle advocacy movement, led by the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition.

Above, I stop along the ocean near South Carlsbad to take in the magnificent view and cool ocean breeze.

I really like this surfer’s rig.  Electra beach cruiser with a cargo trailer modified for hauling a surfboard.  I’m going to work on finding or rigging a trailer to haul my surfboards for next year’s trip.  Seems to me that surfing and bikes are a natural fit.  They both get you closer to the beauty of the natural world, they are both fun, and they both keep you physically fit.

As summer turns to fall, I’ll still be riding, but I’ll look back with pleasant memories of my summer cycling.

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