Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Bike Nüt closed

I heard today that Bike Nüt closed a few weeks ago.

Sad news. I always enjoyed stopping there. It was a good destination for a long run, or a good place just to stop and say hello and see what new bike jewelery Huseyin, the owner, had inside his glass case.

Plenty of shops sell high-end stuff to build up a bike to the highest standards of the boutique fashion weenies. The number of shops selling custom Seven, Parlee, or Serotta cycles in or near San Francisco is nothing short of staggering. Bike Nüt, however, didn't sell custom frames. Huseyin's philosophy was that frames are commodity: that the Taiwanese factories have produced a high, uniform standard, so save your dollars there. Instead you want to spend your money on good wheels and quality parts.

On the frame area, until a year ago he was buying frames from Giant, then sending them out to have the paint stripped and clearcoat applied to reduce them to the raw, black bare carbon. In a way this seems silly: Giant was spending time and resources painting the frames, then Bike Nüt was spending time and resources to remove it. But the result, in my view, was a huge improvement.

The Bike Nüt Umlaut, produced by Martec

Later, though, he arranged with Martec in Taiwan to send him unpainted frames directly. These were under a kg without compromising reliability, BB30 bottom brackets, tapered head tubes, thin vertically compliant seat stays. Don't confuse them with shady eBay price-too-good-to-be-true deals which were salvaged from the dumpster after failing quality control checks: they were legitimate orders from the factory similar to those Leopard Cycles or other small-scale operators might make. They had all the right features which are in fashion now for "lateral stiffness, vertical compliance". After applying his "Umlaut" Bike Nüt stickers, he could sell these for not much more than $1k, allowing the customer to pick and choose parts, rather than relying on the set component groups provided by the big companies, who in many cases do little more than he did: buy a frame from China, apply graphics, and bolt on a few parts.

On the parts side, Bike Nüt sold a lot of Shimano, but where they really set themselves apart was on weight-weenie bits like EE, Camino, Tune, and the odd piece of AX Lightness. Nobody else this side of FairwheelBikes in Arizona dipped into this stuff, the sort of parts which set apart the sect of the Weight Weenie from those who simply wanted to drop their credit cards on whatever the pros ride. I'd been eyeing a very nice set of red-anodized EE brakes there. Sure, I could get them on-line, but isn't it better to deal with a local shop where I can see them before I commit? I waited a bit too long, it turns out.

While he certainly was up to the task of providing super-top-end parts to those with unlimited budgets, Huseyin seemed to really enter his element when someone not sure what they wanted would come in with a budget target. With the game thus defined, he would then put together the best bike he could for that person with that budget, focusing the most on the parts which were more important to function, cutting back on parts where the primary advantage was only weight. Honestly I think he got way more satisfaction out of the customers with limited budgets than those ready to drop whatever it takes to get "the best" of everything.

Sigh. There's other excellent shops in the City. Roaring Mouse, who sponsors my cycling club, is certainly at the top level, with customer support which is universally acknowleged to be outstanding. But I'll miss Bike Nüt for sure. Huseyin took a truly creative approach to running his shop, and nobody else has a jewelry case which comes close to the one which was there. I was impressed enough I even asked Cara to get me one of their kits for a birthday present a few years ago. Even though it's from a jersey manufacturer which doesn't fit me well, I like to wear it, and will still do so. I wonder if I'll ever see another shop like it in San Francisco.

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