Vancouver is a rainy city, and the corner of Main and Hastings attracts a pile of people waiting to buy more of, or come down off of, some dirty heroin. The sliver of downtown is given over to the junkies, and the alleyways contain them in various states of disrepair: lying down and nodding off, sitting up but nodding off, in the very act of injecting it into the fingertip but just about to nod off, and even a few standing/wobbling and nodding off. Crossing Hastings and continuing towards the water, the litter lessens and the sky emerges.
Tyler still has to chase them out of the shop once a day or so, and they still come back attempting to steal a saddle or sell a handful of used batteries, coffee grounds, or some other discarded bit of junk. He has taken to keeping three or four bummer bike-pumps out front, unlocked. This deters the junkies from coming into the shop and stealing the working pump that customers use, instead they take the bait and run off with a useless pump which stands guard next to the front door. It’s a good trick, they hardly ever lose new pumps these days.
The shop itself opened about 2 or 3 years ago, though I remember being shown photos of Tyler’s growing bike collection while the shop was still an idea in his mind. Of note were an astonishing Paramount, a very old Brittish racer, and even a nice red CCM. I’m into vintage bikes, but seeing the things Tyler was pulling up from the dead made me marvel and drop my jaw in wonder. He’s got some insane ability to find the old, the most hidden, the forgotten. Just look at the walls of his shop, which are meticulously maintained (“curated” would be a nice word, but it implies too heavy of a hand. This shop is not a museum that does no good work, instead think of it like a mechanic’s stand that happens to have a small gallery of bikes and bike parts attached to its front – the real heart of the shop starts behind the display cases, where the staff is.
Their main customer is a person who has $500 to spend and wants a complete bike that is functional and will stand up to the winter, which brings both snow and a super-abundance of rain. They try to get the most bike for their money. When Tyler explained this small detail to me, I was knocked off my feet for a moment — I come from San Francisco, where the weather is comparably mild if not “nice”, and the consumer mentality behind our American bike-buying impulses is a bit different, and a bit sad. It seems that we go into shops with unspecified budgets and unspecified needs, and end up walking out with a costly bike that does not really fit the purpose we intended to fill. It seems that we’re doing it backwards and trying to get the least bike for the most amount of money, one that shows nicely but fits poorly. Hense all the color-coded, mismatched parts that are constantly coming up for sale on our local internet forums, Craigslist, and the like – people resell because they did not make the right purchase the first time, and a quick look around at what people are getting rid of should illustrate this point precisely. In Vancouver, at least, people seem to be deciding on what they need then going out and purchasing it after saving for awhile – there is hardly no reselling, except among the smaller amateur road and track racing groups who commonly trade around parts trying to find the best set up for themselves. Tyler is there, though, for all customers; and so is Super Champion. They keep a full supply of all rims, hubs, bars, stems, saddles, and accessories that are on the market – from the mighty Nitto and Sugino down to the smaller and more boutique brands like Chub Hub. And, if looking keen is your wish, they’ve got a selection of locally made apparel from around the continent and abroad, as well as a fine choice of messenger bags.
Tyler and the staff participate in and support all of the local alleycats, as well as some abroad. He’s even been generous enough to donate parts and prizes to races I’ve organized here in San Francisco. The Super Champion track racing team is heavy at the Burnaby Drome, and each season they are all progressing up the ranks and becoming fine wheelmen. I believe Sam’s flying-200KM is clocking in at 12-13 seconds. So, not only do they support the average customer who wants to purchase a new bike, or piece together one of their own, but the shop also gives back to the racing community as well. The shop is also located close enough to the financial district, and the broader Downtown area, to be a hub for the couriers. They congregate there, change tires there, and have quickly made Super Champion their first and only shop. Also, with the new and thriving “Fixed Gear Freestyling” scene, the shop’s been on the forefront in stocking some of the more specific parts and frames needed for the new sport. They’ve got a bar-spinnable frame, and can make any size wheel you require. But, it’s not all just tricks and track there – while I was visiting, they were putting together a small fleet of comfort bikes, complete with twisty-grip-shifts, huge diaper-like saddles, and easy to step-through frames. The range really is wide — they can take care of my own mother as well as they can take care of the messenger, racer, or plain old person.
The strange thing that I noticed about Vancouver, at least on my first trip there, was that there are literally 100s of bicycle stores, all crammed into a somewhat small city. On Main Street alone, just out of downtown, I counted something like 10 shops in a span of just a mile or two. Now, some were junk-shops that happened to cater to bikes (meaning they only had rusted out, decade old “hybrids” and the stray children’s bike) or they were nice enough shops with new enough bikes that catered to such a broad range of people that they remained totally empty and lifeless. Tyler’s shop, on the other hand, was nothing like any of these places. His shop had a welcoming feel, an openness that was inviting (to both look at the pretty stuff with admiration, but also to chat with the staff who are only a step or two away at all times) and the time we spent there hanging out, laughing, sharing stories and talking shop, was quite fun. I’m lucky enough to call Tyler a friend first and foremost, so I may have received some special treatment — though I doubt it, he was just as happy to help a random customer who wanted a bike lock but did not want to spend more than $20. Tyler handled him with grace and care, and explained to the man the finer points of theft and how locks help, but more importantly he did this without sounding condescending. This is a question that must get asked a lot in bikeshops, and naive customers are quite hard to handle at times, but I got the distinct impression that Tyler is accomodating to all customers. The man ended up agreeing with Ty’s sage advice, thanked him for it, and purchased for himself a nice and secure lock for not much more than he intended to spend. He didn’t walk out of the shop with the most expensive, most fashionable lock that he’d never really need - and he didn’t walk out with the useless $15 cable lock he intended to buy. What the customer got, and what all customers get from Super Champion, is the exact thing they needed (without spending too much extra money) as well as a bit of advice that will go a long way.
If you are ever in the Pacific Northwest, or the greater Cascadia area, do stop into Brittish Columbia for a special visit to Super Champion. Don’t forget to grab a cup of coffee next door. And, if Ty is behind the counter, tell him I said hello.