BEST BIKE SHOP Minneapolis 2005 - Behind Bars
New York in the '20s. Prague in the early '90s. Are we fated not to recognize the good old days until they've been bought and sold, co-opted and corrupted out of existence? That wistful preamble is a way of introducing the fact that we here in the Twin Cities are living through a golden age of the neighborhood bike shop. It flies in the face of economic reality, not to mention the proliferation of throwaway bikes at Wal-Mart. So how do we explain the blossoming of the One on One Bike Studio on Washington Avenue (a coffee shop/bike retailer/art gallery/repair shop with a blog and an elephants' graveyard of old frames in the basement)? Who's buying retro-styled Rivendells at Kenwood Cycle? How does the big boy of the bunch, Freewheel Bike Shop on the East Bank, make money by cleaning your gummed-up freewheel for free? We've borrowed a wrench at all these places, without the staff eying the cash register. Yet this year, we're picking the latest addition to the local bike scene, Behind Bars. It's a labor of love, this spacious garage showroom next to a funeral home in northeast Minneapolis. Former messenger Chuck Cowan is the proprietor and lead mechanic; his wife Stephanie keeps the books and works on weekends. The new stock is idiosyncratic and seems to follow the owner's tastes: They've got Nirve cruisers but no Surly bikes--local single-speeders may love them, but Chuck remains skeptical. That said, he'll special-order just about any part you can imagine. And he'll do an economical tune-up that will make your lugged, steel Specialized feel more special than whatever carbon Trek is pimping this season. Neighborhood kids wander in, and knock things over, and come back shamelessly the next day. It's that kind of place--and here in Minneapolis, chances are there's a bike shop in your own neighborhood a lot like it.