I've never been to Bicycle Shop Santa Cruz aka "Fixed Gear Freak" before last weekend. There are a couple of other shops that are closer and more convenient to me, but half the kids I talk to in the South Bay with fixed gear bikes tell me they got their conversions from this shop, so I checked it out and talked with the owner, Eric, for a little bit.
Eric saw the market for fixed gear conversion bikes fairly early. When he first looked at it he figured out pretty quickly he couldn't make money spending $25 on a junk Univega, spend $125 cleaning it up and converting it only to see people willing to pay only $50 for the bike.
But then the market for fixie conversions started picking up, especially after the cruiser bike market "fell of a cliff," says Eric. "Back then you couldn't get a cheap track frame," he says, "and a lot of people noticed that these old bikes have horizontal dropouts. But the big bike shops wouldn't touch this stuff."
For many bike enthusiasts, it seems like simple work, but Eric tells me that word got around about his little shop on Mission Street. "People came from all over just to buy my bikes. I had two ladies from Seattle fly into San Francisco, rent a car and drive here to get bikes. They picked out their frames, we built them up overnight, boxed them up and they flew back to Seattle the next day."
The one thing you notice about the shop is the amazing selection of Velocity rims hanging from the ceiling like so much eye candy.
The Yelp reviews are interesting -- people either absolutely hate them or love them. The complainers either complain about the service (seemingly at or below par for many other bike shops, though I found Eric and Chris to be friendly and open in spite of a busy weekend), or the prices are too high for old 70s & 80s bikes. My opinion: $600 for a tarck bike conversion does seem a tad high, but there's a market for their wares, and not everybody is willing or able to do their own conversions. Think $120 for the frame, $120 for wheels, another $200 for other assorted parts, and at least another $150 in labor and their profit margin starts to look a little thin.
Bicycle Shop Santa Cruz seems to cater a lot to the UCSC college crowd. They're located at 1325 Mission Street about halfway between Bay and Laurel. And as you can see in the first photo of Eric, they don't just sell tarck bikes and accessories!
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During our 45-second fixed-gear boom last summer I did estimates for a coupler of seekers. They were discouraged by even a bare-bones price, but you can't turn loose a mechanical neophyte on some of the stuff we used to build for ourselves on the deep cheap from 1975-1985 when no one cared. Those tweakers took some attention and input from the builder/rider. You CAN put a fixed cog onto a freewheel-threaded hub, secured with a bottom bracket lock ring, but you have to know what you're done and what to watch out for. And there are other tricks not for the inexperienced or faint of heart. I wouldn't even do it that way anymore (much), but they kept costs quite low.