Sunday, January 18, 2009

Shop Review: Cambridge Bicycles--They've Always Treated Me Well

Before I start this review, which I have been putting off, I need to state that I race for this shop's team. In fact, I am one of the managers of that team. But the team and the shop are administratively and financially separate. Cambridge Bicycles is my team's title sponsor. As always, I will keep my review honest. Luckily for me, there is nothing scathing to write.

As many of you know, I was a commuting cyclist long before I became a competitive cyclist. I used to smoke cigarettes and ride a fixed gear. My original commute was a daily triangle starting in Coolidge Corner in the morning to Harvard Square and then in the afternoon to Boston's South End and then back to Brookline in the late evening. I took Mass. Ave. on the afternoon leg of the commute and used to frequent Cambridge Bicycles. I been and on and off again customer of CB for 10 years. In those 10 years, I have always been treated well and found what I needed.

Cambridge is a great shop for getting supplies to facilitate urban riding and commuting. They have a huge selection of locks, lights, fenders, panniers and courier bags and winter cycling clothing in stock. If you are looking for a courier bag or backpack, they are the only game in town. While other shops carry some of the same brands and styles as CB, don't even try to find another shop in Boston that is stocking as many BaileyWorks, Chrome, Freight and Ortlieb bags. Furthermore, they stock stuff with style. Multiple colors are available in every variety of bag.

CB specializes in commuter and urban bicycles. They have plenty of commuter style bikes in stock, including a bright orange cargo bike with a dynamo front hub and integrated rear wheel lock which I would like to buy. They have everything from the fancy commuter to a college kid's cheap ride to and from campus.

CB also has plenty of stylish clothing and accouterments. They have handmade cycling caps, vintage wool jerseys and t-shirts gallore. It is worth a trip every couple of months just to see what is new in CB fashion.

Every time that I walk into CB, I am surprised at the sheer volume of customers in the place. There are college kids with rusted Huffy's looking to keep them running for another semester for under $20, crusty Harvard professors having their Sturmy Archer three speed tuned for the 50th season of riding, bike couriers who crashed their brakeless track bikes into yet another taxi and need a wheel quickly so they can get to work and people hanging just around.

The shop has buzz, it is a hangout. They always have good music playing and are cracking jokes. If I had to choose a bike shop to hang out in, I would always choose CB. The employee list boasts some of the most plugged in scenemakers, musicians, DJ's and even a magazine publisher amongst them. When you widen the scope to see who is hanging around the shop at any given time, you have a veritable who's who in Boston.

In hanging out there and being a customer there myself, I have watched the employees service some of the most difficult customers, scammers and neighborhood types with grace, treating everyone well. People who I would give the bum's rush to are loaned tools and conduct their own minor repairs while listening to indy rock. Neighborhood kids stop in to warm themselves up on cold days. Homeless people service their can collecting bikes.

Cambridge has the largest selection of used parts that I have seen outside of Bikes Not Bombs (review coming). They are always willing to dig around and find a creative solution to a vexing problem. When I was missing an adaptor for my early 1990's Shimano 600 front derailleur, Tom found me a suitable substitute off of a lower end derailleur of similar vintage, cost: $2. Currently they are helping me get a bottom bracket that will fit a 1970's French threaded track bike (not an easy feat). If your 7 speed commuter's cassette is finished, they probably have an inexpensive replacement.

Fixed gears. Everyone is waiting for me to talk about fixed gears. Cambridge is the best place the Boston area to buy track bikes. They stock more anodized track componentry than you can imagine. In fact they custom order much of it direct from manufacturers, so much of it is Cambridge Bicycles exclusive.

I race track. Every time that I have needed anything to keep my track bike running, they have had more varieties of that item than I could process. When I recently needed a 16 tooth cog, I was offered a choice of 4, all with different finishes and asthetics. I choose a chromed out Euro-Asia cog that matches my other components, though I was tempted by the gold one...

When I think of building a custom urban whip with colored deep V's and matching componentry (which is probably my next new bike), Cambridge is the only place that I would think of going.

Obviously, in the interest of my sponsorship, I should end there. But I can not. I started this blog as a service to Boston area cyclists, focusing on the competitive among us.

As a bicycle shop for competitive cyclists, Cambridge has some weaknesses. Stock is the biggest complaint. While CB has been incredibly supportive of our team, they are not really focused on servicing the competitive community. While a competitive cyclist could keep a bicycle running there, they don't have many drool factor bikes and components on the showroom floor. When you need a chain or a 10 speed cassette, they will have something to get you through. But carbon fiber is rare in CB.

CB actually has access to product lines that appeal to the competitive cyclist, but since they are not selling much of this stuff, they don't keep samples in stock. For instance they can quickly order Easton wheels (they got the team a set of EC90's tubulars). CB sells the entire Fuji and Bianchi line as well. Cambridge also is an Igleheart dealer. They have worked directly with Chris to market some track bikes as well as competitive level cyclocross bikes.

While Cambridge is not a uber chic competitive shop like Cadence, it is an honest community shop dedicated to helping cyclists. And, they are the only shop in the city where you are likely to hear Notorious BIG's B sides and Minor Threat played at high volume in the same day, perhaps back to back. I may not go in there to look at race bikes, but I certainly love to go there for bags, track componentry and atmosphere. And if you are looking for a stylish fixed gear, they are the only place to go, as you can see from the photos.

Photos courtesy of Cambridge Bicycles and/or Pedal Power Photography

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