EWB: The Beginnings

So many ideas, so many thoughts for the first entry.

Should I review a new state-of- the-art product and extol its amazing benefits over all the other competing products? Should I take a que from NYC Bike Snob and use this as my way of retaliating against all the jerk-off customers who have behaved badly in the shop? Perhaps a detailed explanation as to why Gilberto Simoni is as much artist as he is athlete, along with Museauw and so many others who have been paid to race. Should I try to start to explain why I love bikes, road bikes specifically?

No. I will tackle all of those and so many more in subsequent entries. The start needs to be why. Why leave behind a lucrative career with manicured cuticles and over the top paychecks to do something different. Very, very different.

Around 2003-4, I was living in NYC, Park Slope Brooklyn to be specific.

Commuting to Manhattan every day and clocking into a life that had its ups and downs. A few years had passed since the tragedy as well as my first “adult” trip to Los Angeles. I was wrestling with an internal debate to plod on towards twenty-five more years in the trenches doing something that was borderline bad to ok or take the biggest leap possible. A couple more years passed as this debate continued. How could I walk away from the comforts I worked so hard for? Conversely, how could I spend my life doing something that seemed blah? Am I working too hard without real payoff? Am I wasting my real talent? Do I actually have talent or anything to offer? Am I a drone? Am I worth the risk? What if it fails? What is the backup plan?

In 2006, I moved my career to California.

Orange County specifically. I knew nothing about Irvine except what I saw in Arrested Development and what I read about the homeland of the Master Planned Communities. On the one hand I was living in one of the most vibrant alive places in the world filled with individuality and incredible thinkers. On the other hand, I reminded myself that I had already checked out (perhaps never actually checked in) and was spending as much time as possible escaping from the city to find the countryside to click-in….to my Look pedals (what bike shop blog would be complete without a good product placement).

After a trip to Irvine and an interview (coincidently with an avid roadie himself) with my future boss, I saw beyond the stucco apartment complexes and saw hundreds of miles of bike lanes – a concept that I hadn’t yet really found NYC. I was in love. Year-round weather condusive to riding. Ocean on one side, Mt. Baldy on the other. In-between all sorts of riding to be had.

My career was focused on risk management and commercial insurance. I fell bass ackward into it and it suited part of me. Lots of interaction with people and lots of busy work. I was sometimes challenged and sometimes disheartened by my lack of ability to excel at the politics required to get ahead. I saw some of my collegues that weren’t as smart and didn’t have the academic toolbox I had acquired moving past me. I found the politics were overtaking the positives. Why not take the risk? Why not try? Would the opportunity to take such a risk be there ten or twenty years from now? Do not wait to find out.

After settling into OC, I found my shop and was as loyal to them as I now expect my customers to be to us. There was a young mechanic there who became my friend. We were different but we shared many things. Specifically the love of the bike. I expected him to be different. The racers I had interacted with previously couldn’t care less about the bike and wouldn’t ride but for the fact that they had to in order to be competitive. But he was different. He actually loved the bike. He had product knowledge like no one else I had ever met. But most important, he saw the bike as the pathway to happiness. It was very easy to find our differences for some, but I focused on our similarities. On one of our many rides he told me matter-of-factly that I was to open shop and we were to make to the best shop ever. We. Thanks Ashley. Now the idea itself was born.

I made the jump and quit it all.

Against the guidance of so many, against the logic of the world and paradigms I grew up with. The first night after I gave notice I wasn’t scared. I have been a few times since, but not the first night. I think it will be ok.

I had seen other people try what I was about to try. Most did what was tempting. Plunk down most of my savings and buy a shop. Open up someplace and be the boss. But I knew nothing. I was a home mechanic who was a loyal shop rat, but I knew nothing. And deep down I knew it. No thanks. If I fail, it will not be because I wasn’t patient enough to go through the training. Not how my Dad taught me. We work hard in the trenches…we do not get entitlements. I need to learn this business.

I spent a year working in shops. Fixing flats, tuning bikes, selling bib shorts. I attended a couple of great trade schools. I started to feel smarter, but I wasn’t there yet.

I had met Banning Ostrow a couple of times. I visited his shop and finally saw the closest thing to my vision. A real boutique, without the snobbery (sorry Yelp, but go Fuck yourself). I was greeted, offered a drink, and felt warmth. I left and hit Ashley’s number on the speed dial. You need to see this amigo, this guy up in some town called Fullerton is doing it. And doing it right.

Coincidence or not, he put up a help wanted add a few months later. I was in a family shop at the time working in the Service Dept. I was called mechanic but it wasn’t going very well. Please G-d, let me get this job. The pay is irrelevant, the commute is irrelevant; but the experience will be the final piece of my training. Banning took a risk on me. On paper I didn’t have everything he was looking for, but we connected and WE knew it. I started work a couple of weeks later. I was Second Mechanic and it was the best job title of my life. Even better than that VP I fought so hard for years earlier at the Bank.

My first day I was asked to build a slightly older Pinarello with Campagnolo’s Veloce groupo. Pina and Campy on my first day. I built that bike as though it was about to head out on a 300K journey from Milano to the Via Roma in San Remo, with the potential to launch the winning move on the Poggio. It ended up going to a new rider that probably never really rode it (we found out later), but I poured myself into it and was having fun, finally.

Banning and I are now partners.

What was once the location of a shop called Banning’s Bikes sits a new shop we call Bike Mitzvah. Well, that name was over-ruled, but the real name, East West Bikes, is beautiful and special. I am so lucky to have met someone who shares my vision. We are so different but yet compliment each other in so many ways. Ashley is with us now too….a piece that was always part of my plan, ever since he helped me develop the plan.

I have so many bad bike shop memories.

What is the vision that Banning and I share? Why are we plunking our hard earned money into a seemingly dying model? How in the world can we compete in a world where MSRP is a faint memory that is laughed at? We are not kids. We don’t hire kids. And while that seems like our undoing, it is actually our plan and vision.

I have so many bad bike shop memories. I see shops all the time that suck. I know why people flock to Wiggle and PBK – bike shops suck. But we will bring those same people back to the retail environment. We can do so much more than some discounting source. We have life experiences, opinions, product knowledge, fitting expertise, wrenching skills and PASSION (another name that was a contender). We have a team that no one else has. We’re about to beat the odds, but in order to do so, we need to work our asses off. We’re never going to be filthy rich, but we will have rewarding lives. That is why I took the risk. That is why I left behind those paychecks. That is why I am more excited than I ever have been.

The subsequent Faye entry will appear in this Blog, but for now I will say that her support and love are as critical as anything I’ve detailed in this brief summary. Thank G-d I found her and thank G-d she rides.

Banning, myself, Ashley, Alex T, and Sally are the core team. We each have different backgrounds, grew up in different places, and offer the shop different skillsets. Its an amazing team. Brad (aka Blondie), Faye, Joel, Mikey, Team Velocity and so many others are part of our team too. Some of the great industry folk that we work with and their support is indispensible…QBP, Gita, Colnago America, SAC, Campag NA, Zipp/SRAM, VINA, Highway2, Assos and Capo are just a few of the many.

Our friends and customers are the final piece.

Thank G-d for our customers who overlook some of our faults and see our benefits. I can’t wait to grow this family even bigger. I can’t wait to be even better.

We named it East West Bikes, because that’s the name of the ride we do almost every day. We are part of the riding community and that’s never going to change. We may not be the first over Picachu each time, but we’ll never be the last.

Next entry preview: Why the Dogma2 is different than the Dogma 60.1. The following one will be a customer rant. JK on both. But check back on this thing from time to time as I really hope it will be a fun read.

Your surly friend,
Eric, Co-Owner of East West Bikes

Eric Popiel