When it comes to mountain biking in Australia, there are several stores that lead the charge in knowledge, product and know-how. But what is it that makes a bike shop get that all-important edge? We caught up with three of the most respected names in the industry to find out more about them, and get the skinny on what they think is the hottest MTB product out there for 2014/15…
The Swann family has mountain biking in their blood. When we asked Ash how long he’d been riding for he answered 25 years.
‘Are you 25 years old?’ we joked.
’29,’ he responded. ‘And I’ve been racing since I was six.’
Along with his older brother Matt and younger brother Alex, all three Swann boys have raced XC at National level, and have (and still do) race downhill at Club, Victorian and National level. Alex (dubbed “the golden child” by his brothers) took the family talent up another gear and raced World Championships level.
It wasn’t until 2006 though that the passion fuelled a family business, and the Swann Family bought Yarra Valley Cycles. Born and bred in the Yarra Valley, it seemed like a natural decision for the Swanns to buy into a business that was a) local and b) all about bikes.
Up until then, the family had been entrenched in the local mountain biking culture and scene. There was hardly an event in which they didn’t participate or race. Ash’s dad was President of the local mountain bike club and would spend many an hour working to secure sponsorship for his boys or the events in which they were participating. It was a hard slog – MTB was still gathering momentum and brands with bucks to invest were few and far between.
The store was seen not only as a family business venture, but a chance for the Swanns to invest back into the mountain bike community. They could continue to attend the races, but also now take it up a notch and provide additional support by way of free mechanical assistance and sponsorship dollars.
Ash explains that the family’s intention wasn’t to break business records.
“Dad in particular was expecting to keep working his normal job outside of the bike shop, and work the weekends in the business. It was to be a humble yet successful local bike shop; a lifestyle business for retirement.”
However, just six months into owning the business life dealt the Swanns an unexpected blow.
Ash’s brother and dad ended up leaving their full-time work to manage the store when Ash’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was eventually confirmed to be in remission, by which time the whole family was invested in some capacity in the business. Yarra Valley Cycles was building momentum quickly.
So it’s no surprise to learn that Yarra Valley Cycles became the premium outfitters of the Ride to Conquer Cancer. Ash’s mum survived her cancer, and it made sense that the family invest time and effort in an event that helps fund research and education that helped save her life.
It’s a common theme that seems to revolve around so many business decisions made by Yarra Valley Cycles – give back to the community that looks after you.
To that end, you’d be hard-pressed to find a mountain bike event not backed in some way, shape or form by Yarra Valley Cycles. From the Granite Grind at Lake Mountain to Bike Buller, the Vic Downhill series and many Enduro, XC, and Downhill races, Yarra Valley Cycles is likely to be involved. Now days that might not seem all that alien, but back when the Swanns first took over the store you wouldn’t find a shop at many of the events. It was hard work attending locations all over the country every weekend, but they loved it.
Since then the same enthusiasm to attend races exists, and the business now manages the Giant Yarra Valley Cycles Downhill team, and is 100% behind them at every race. This has been a fortunate chance to offer Junior Development opportunities to young riders including Aiden Varley, who is currently racing at World Cup Level.
But what about the shop itself?
Well Kona and Norco have been a staple in the range since they took over the store in 2006, both brands have seen ups and downs, but Yarra Valley Cycles believes in sticking to the brands that have stuck it out with them. They are the biggest stockists in Australia for both Kona and Norco, brands that are synonymous with the shop. Over the years they have indeed added to their repertoire; Giant was a huge inclusion to the store in 2009 with a full comprehensive range from kids’ bikes through to high-end road and MTB. In 2012 with the expansion into a second storefront, two more amazing yet unique brands – Lapierre and Pivot – became worthy inclusions. Their arrival tripled the shop’s number of High End MTB offerings, and took their store offering to a whole new level. As Ash says “five strong MTB brands that covered price, technology and uniqueness in one place”.
And although the guys have an awesome reputation for mountain bikes, they have made it clear that the road scene for them is equally as important, and extremely strong. On the road bike front Yarra Valley Cycles has seen a huge increase in momentum in this area. The majority of the team at Yarra Valley Cycles rides on the road, and they have noticed that (just like them), most die-hard mountain bikers are taking to road bikes as part of their cross training. Customers say they’d prefer to buy their roadies from Yarra Valley Cycles, the store that has been building a relationship with them for years.
No surprises – this is a shop backed by a family that lives and breathes bikes, and is totally passionate about the sport. Ash’s mum and dad both work in the business frequently, whilst brother Alex and brother-in-law Joel help share the load with Ash. Ash mentions how fortunate he is to work with an amazing crew, most of which are family, “it’s what keeps it all together, and makes it fun to come to work”.
In the workshop you’ll find Taran and John. If there’s anything they don’t know about bikes, then it’s not worth knowing. These two are walking encyclopaedias about the latest technology, components, accessories, custom tuning, frames, inventions and bike setup – their finger is on the pulse. There’s also young road cyclist / uni student Jack, who helps out on the floor and completes the team of 100 per cent local, 100 per cent bike-loving characters. If you want knowledge, passion, and down-to-Earth attitude, then this is where you go.
So what’s the single greatest mountain bike product on the market, according to Ash?
“It’s got to be the Pike. I’d say it’s probably the biggest progression that has been made in a suspension fork. It is phenomenal. In fact, I can now say that many high end bikes for 2015 don’t make it onto our sales floor unless they have Pikes; that’s how integral they’ve become to the world of mountain biking.”
Some of the most iconic brands in the biking world came to life from humble garage beginnings; mechanic and maintenance outfits that soon grew too big for their modest spaces.
It’s actually a story that sounds a lot like For The Riders.
The Brisbane bike shop originally started in such a way when Michael (at just 17) began fixing bikes and selling spare parts from his parents’ home. Twelve months later and he was so flat out that Tim bought into the business, and it was expanded. But that was twelve years ago, and things have come a long way…
The name says it all, pretty much. For The Riders is the sort of bike shop that is 100 per cent about its customers. It’s also (to our knowledge) the only exclusively mountain bike shop in the country.
And what a shop it is!
Hands down this has got to be one of the most impressive shop layouts. Step in here and you not only get a feel for the bikes, you get a feel for the lifestyle they’re going to take you to.
For The Riders’ floor space is essentially segmented into the brands it stocks – Santa Cruz (which Michael and Tim have stocked since day dot), Giant, Yeti, Pivot and Niner. Each section has been styled to reflect the brand personality – so Yeti has its bikes sitting in stands that look more like moulded rock, whilst Niner is in a bar-like area (its stands look more like bar stools). Through the styling, a bit of the brand story starts to be told, and people naturally gravitate to the areas that trigger something for them.
The team at For The Riders is passionate about mountain bikes. If they’re not personally into the brand or the bike, then it never gets a look-in at the business. Custom building bikes is where this team gets buckets of credibility, too. Many a customer comes in with a dream and, a few visits later, walks out with reality. Just recently the guys were asked to custom build a bike that took about three months to source specific parts and build from scratch. It’s pretty much a two-wheel masterpiece.
All the team at For the Riders (Josh, Matt and Jesse are mechanics, Liam and Tim are in sales and Luke manages stock) are super keen mountain bikers and most of them, Tim and Michael included, race regularly.
Speaking of races, For The Riders sponsors and supports truckloads of events. They’re naming rights sponsor for this year’s Queensland State Downhill Championships at Illinbah, and they’ve sponsored the Off-road Triathlon series for the last three or four years.
So what’s the single greatest mountain bike product on the market, according to Tim?
Asked to name his stand-out mountain bike must-have for the season, and Tim takes his time – clearly going through a pretty impressive line-up. But it comes down to the 2015 Santa Cruz Nomad – this bike is setting the pace for mountain biking. Its cutting-edge geometry gears it for Enduro riding. It can only run one chain ring on the front (the design means that suspension is not compromised in order to get a front derailleur to fit). If you could get your hands on one item this year, Tim reckons this is it.
John Carney was President of the local Mountain Bike club when he first heard that Wembley Cycles (in Wembley, West Australia) was up for sale.
A few years prior he’d worked part-time in a London bike shop, and he’d been riding and racing XC since he was 15. He’d just set up a part-time business, Single Track Minds, which (to this day) rolls out three MTB events a year. But his main job was less than inspiring and it was time to bring back some passion into his work life.
So, after 40 years in business, the shop changed hands and John took over the reins.
Right from the get-go John wanted to create a shop ‘by cyclists, for cyclists’. He did this firstly by pulling together an awesome team. Jimmy, Mitch and Murray are the go-to bike mechanics for any problem, glitch or maintenance, and Justin and Brad are the super pumped duo on the floor. Along with a team of part-timers, these guys all live and breathe mountain biking. They’re the sort of gang that comes in on a Monday morning and immediately starts debriefing about the weekend’s riding – who went where, what happened, what’s new, what product or accessory was checked out and came up trumps.
In fact, in just a few weeks John and the team are off for a weekend Mountain Biking getaway to Margaret River. Wembley Cycles has organised the lot, and it’ll be top time-off for John and his staff to get out and enjoy their bikes and the rides, and just feed their passion. In fact – even the Barista rides, and he’s coming along, too. Yep – Wembley has a great little side café serving Five Senses coffee and light meals. Who doesn’t love quality coffee with quality bike porn? Winning combination.
The bike ‘destination’ has definitely built momentum, and was galvanised by the choice of brands John retails. Specialized, Yeti and Rocky Mountain Bicycles showed right from the start that Wembley Cycles was serious about mountain biking, and wanted to provide exceptional bikes for all levels of riding. Customers come to Wembley because they know they’re going to find the accessory they need, or have their question answered properly, or start zeroing in on the next bike they’re going to buy. They come to Wembley because they know it will take care of the lot.
The business also backs plenty of local talent, but not just the athletically elite. On the contrary, John likes to support cyclists who are great people, who do their best to promote the sport and share the passion. He has seven local riders he supports by way of the Wembley Cycles Racing. Whilst some are role models or ambassadors as exceptional people, others are genuine trail-blazers in their sport. In addition to mountain biking, Wembley also sponsors three local triathletes, including identical twins Katie and Michelle Duffield.
So what’s the single greatest mountain bike product on the market, according to John?
Well, interestingly enough it’s not a specific product per se. John instead says the must-have item for this season is suspension that’s right for the rider, the ride and the bike. According to John you can have the single greatest bike on the market, but if the suspension is not tailored to you and the type of riding you’re doing, then everything is compromised. John’s hot tip – get your suspension checked by your local mountain bike specialist bike shop.