The Funny-Named Weird Little Bike Shop That Changed My Life (for the better)

It was many things, to many, many people. Here’s what it meant to me:

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Salvagetti + Happy Coffee: a bike drive thru to by coffee + bike parts, open early in the morning. Another master idea by Scott. I borrowed those beefy tires from one of the mechanics of Salvagetti to try to ride this beast of a machine on some of the more technical parts of the Colorado Trail, in hopes of bagging some 14ers. Long story short: unsuccessful trip in many regards (Trailer?!), but I learned a lot and vowed to try again. September, 2010

I think I was on a date. We had just visited The Denver Art Museum. Practically across the street, there’s a block of row houses converted into businesses. One was a bike shop, with a hand painted sign, illustrated with a bike, and an Italian flag.

 

It read, “Salvagetti“.

Walking in, the entire area constricted against you. Claustrophobic. This tiny space, filled with bikes and they were all poking out at you. Somewhere in the back was a counter and behind it, were two or three (or four?) people, wrenching on bikes, practically working on top of each other. Greg, Danny, Dave and Scott. Common names, but uncommon people. This was over ten years ago, now. Felt more like a skateboard shop, where you buy a deck for $50, or a set of wheels for $40. Not a multi-thousand dollar super bike. I had just recently given up skateboarding, so this atmosphere felt comforting – something I was accustomed to, already.

 

I had just gotten rid of my car. Still to this day, the last car of only two I have ever owned in my life – a period spanning less than a full year.

 

The first one threw a rod barreling down from the Eisenhower Tunnel, en route to Las Vegas to see a rare performance of one of my favorite bands at the time, The Breeders. I was listening to a side project of Kim Deal’s called The Amps on my stereo, loudly, singing along with much gusto. Their songs were all about riding in cars, fast.

 

So much, I didn’t realize that a piston was trying to break free from the engine block DANK! DANK! DANK! DANK!, it rhythmically, violently and noisily combusted in its soon to be released shell. Minutes had probably past since the incident started, but I was too oblivious, so pumped to be going on my first road trip, in a car I just bought from a coworker. I turned the volume down, and heard that the sound was not coming from my stereo. I got that sinking feeling in my heart as I drove around Breckenridge for a while figuring out what I was supposed to do. Didn’t seem like such a good idea to continue on, what with this snowstorm around me (it was February 13th), and I made it back towards the tunnel. That’s when the entire engine exploded, puff of smoke in front of me, I lost all power and found myself minutes later walking up to the tunnel at 11,000 feet, hoping for help.

The second car was practically given to me – $800 bucks – a Geo Metro, barely definable as an automobile – more of a motorcycle with everything uncool about a car sort of… attached onto a 1100cc engine with double stick tape. If you had more than two people in the vehicle, it just didn’t run! But you could park it anywhere, and that was important as I lived practically in the center of Denver – the baseball stadium was a block away and parking was tight. The former owner was giving up cars completely.

 

I thought that was weird.

 

I took horrible care of it. Welded the wheels to the axle – I guess I shoulda replaced the brakes when it made that funny noise that noise just continued to get worse and worse? Oil leaked from the engine into the air filter – I was out of ideas on how to medicate that. On its last leg, it would start only once a day.

 

I wanted to get rid of it so bad. I never renewed the registration, but just kept getting temp plates for it, hoping to find something else. That’s around when a cop pulled me over, not able to see those temp plates through my back window until I was quite stationary. Nothing was wrong, but he ran my plates anyways.

 

Seemed I had a bench warrant for failure to pay a ticket for being in a city park, after hours (another one of my dates, stupid dates!) and away to the Denver City Jail I went. I was on my way to see DEVO, another one of my favorite bands. My date this night – much younger than me, had to drive my car back, borrow money from her parents, and bail me out. Miraculously, the car started again for her. Finally I had had enough. I gave it away to a cars-for-cash scheme for NPR, and wrote it off on my taxes.

 

Just weeks before, I had just gotten a bike for $13 at a thrift store – an 80’s Schwinn Ten Speed – I kid you not. I put $10 more into it by way of a pair of on sale tires, and got my first taste of long distance riding – Denver to Boulder – all 30 some-odd miles that took me the entire day, and all my strength to complete. At the end of the ride, my legs cramped up at the mere thought of sitting down, and I didn’t have enough change for the bus back to Denver. Stranded, the busdriver took pity on me and let me on anyways. When I got back to Denver, I immediately pigged out on a large pizza I ordered right by the bus station.

 

Something clicked. I was hooked. Bye bye cars.

 

We met everyone at the shop. Along with Scott who owned the place and the mechanics, it was just the two of us. We were all breathing in each other’s faces.

 

“Hi Scott, looking for a red blinky light, I wanna be seen at night”

 

He had maybe two to pick from. I bought the cheapest.

 

It didn’t take long. I started riding everywhere. Started collecting beat up bikes (never anything new) and trying to fix them up. Found out that for me, there’s not too many things better than being young, living in the city, and riding a bike around. I felt invincible diving through traffic and running red lights with abandon. I started pretty soon going on longer and longer rides alone, hanging out with the messenger kids racing alleycats, and joining in on Critical Mass rides. There was a lot of overlap in those last two scenes, as many young kids like me didn’t drive cars, were politically active, loved bikes, and loved hanging out with other people who loved bikes. We had bike proms and I went on bike dates, holding hands while pedaling from the bar, to one of our houses. Every time I went to get groceries, I’d do it by bike. It felt more like a mission, rather than an errand – I would time myself and try to beat my last time. My left shoulder still rides lower than my right one, from all the stuff I put in my shit-cool black Chrome messenger bag, which I still use to this day (although now mostly for storing my climbing gear).

 

I’d stop into this funny little bike shop called Salvagetti (“salvage” with, “tti” added, to make it sound “Italian”) to pick up this or that, and quite often. An inner tube, a tool I didn’t have, some knowledge on how to fix this-or-that. If it was a Monday after a Critical Mass Ride, some of the cyclists that got arrested would be in there hanging out. You could tell they hadn’t showered in days and had slept on the floors of the cell (as I had). There wasn’t much you could hide in that shop. Scott would give discounts to Critical Mass ride
rs for things like lights, so that people wouldn’t get ticketed for minor infractions – the police were on the lookout for anything at all to shut the ride down. I thought that was pretty ballsy – rather than being professional and neutral, he would help out in these little ways, more like a friend, than anything. His shop was sometimes a checkpoint for the illegal alleycat races. Those things stuck in my mind. It wasn’t like Scott was all that older than all of us – maybe a year older than me? He just had passion for getting people on bikes and having a lot of fun, and boy did we ever.

 

It could have been my first time ever going into the shop, but what really changed my life – a no going back, complete 90 degree turn into a crazy, adventurous lifestyle, was meeting Fixie Dave Nice – one of the first mechanics working for Scott. I remember the conversation quite clearly – it was a pretty simple one (which helps):

 

“Hey Justin, this is Dave”,

 

“Hi Dave”

 

“Hi Justin! I’m Fixie Dave! I race fixed geared mountain bikes across the country!”

 

“That’s. That’s the most insane thing I’ve ever heard”

 

And really, it was. Any of those three things would have been pretty crazy, “race” “fixed geared” “across the country“. For a nascent bike rider, who had just given up cars, who was trying to figure out how to make his life work without them: it sounded impossible, and actually: up to that point, it was. Dave had tried twice, and failed twice. He tried a total of 6 or 7 times before completing the Tour Divide – a 2,700 mile race North to South across the country, on his fixed geared bicycle. I know this, because by the time he was on his successful ride through four states and two Canadian provinces, I was racing a single speed mountain bike across the country, on the same race! We even past each other in Wyoming – Dave was going North and I was going South.

 

A cornerstone of my life, meeting Fixie Dave. I’m not kidding.

 

salvagetti-dave_nice_td.jpgBumping into Dave Nice, in the middle of nowhere, Wyoming. One gear is all you need!

 

I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. My bicycle life got bigger and bigger – enough to envelop most of my free time, and Salvagetti grew as well. The little shop must have been doing well, since they moved to a much larger shop a few blocks away, and then again just a few months later. And then, again. It seemed every time they packed up and moved shop, Scott had bigger, grander ideas and thus needed more space.

 

Scott is a rare bread of people who’s always looking for the next thing to tackle. Drove his employees crazy, as he could never just, I dunno: relax – but I understood his drive. He could quite clearly understand problems that were in front of him, and offer up a solution – something he could then explain to you with that same clarity. You’d be left after your conversation thinking, “why hasn’t anyone else see that?”. And Scott could see your (much slower) gears turning in your own head, and inaudibly gesture a, “I know, right”, with just widening his eyes, opening his mouth a little, and raising his shoulders slightly. He could explain how a cantilever brake worked, or the entire backwardness of how the local bike shop’s economic environment, works. It didn’t matter. I’m not saying he could do it for everything, but probably anything he was passionate about.

 

The shop was getting fans, and for good reason. Everyone who worked there was friendly, with little ego, and it didn’t matter how small your problem was, someone would help you. It could be a brake cable that needed adjusting, or help with building your own wheel. Someone would help. I would make sure to get there early, as lines would form. I didn’t mind waiting for them, or letting someone go before me. I knew it was important to have people happy on bikes. I was on the shop’s side – and I was happy – I was riding bikes all day!

 

salvagetti-stuck_wheel.jpgTypical visit to Salvagetti for me: Broken bike that needs that expert touch. Here, two mechanics elongate the fulcrum, to take off a stuck fixed cog. Scott and Nick have it out!

But, I too needed help. I wasn’t just riding to the next nearest city anymore, I was riding across the country – the Pacific Coast route in 2007 , or through countries Europe, 2008; New Zealand, 2009. My bicycle adventures turned from hell-bent rides through the city, to long distance tours around the world. My eyes were very much open. I met new friends, I learned new languages. And yeah, I came close to death once or twice…

 

After a few years of being a complete maniac for bikes and after Salvagetti itself grew and matured, I went into the shop – now at its third or fourth location and told them I wanted to buy my first new bike as an adult, and I wanted to race it in the Tour Divide (remember: Fixie Dave). Scott showed me a bike, said this is the exact bike I wanted, and I without question, I put it all on a credit card.

 

April 1st, 2011: my first Brand New Bike Day.

 

Two months later, I was in Banff, Alberta riding in my very first mountain bike race. It didn’t really seem weird that this race ended in Mexico. I’ve crossed countries before, I’ve lived off bikes for entire summers. How could this be any different?

 

Turned out to be a real eye opener. The snowpack that year was holding on well into the summer, and literally every single pass – probably around two dozen, that you had to ride over from the start in Banff to outside of Steamboat Springs, CO was unpassable, except by snowshoe – the snow was too soft for skis or any sort of motor vehicle. The race coordinator decided to make major detours of the route to keep it a mountain bike race.

 

Me? I just brought snowshoes and vowed to stick to the route. I tried to find people to go along with me, but no one would – the labeled me a little out there. I had entered myself in the first Mountain Bike/Snowshoe Duathlon. Across the country. After day two, I was literally out there, in last place, as I made my way up and over the first of many, many, snowed-in passes, pushing my brand new fancy bike, 1/2 mile per hour.

 

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Snowshoeing across the country. The bike gets used. Eventually.

 

Fast forward 30 days. I was nearing finishing the race, 130 miles to the Mexican border. And that’s where I crashed out. A mixture of complete and total exhaustion and screwing up literally the last bit of technical riding of the entire course. Hurt like hell.

 

My bike was destroyed, and so was my body: I had torn my shoulder. We were both inoperable. It seemed then – and still seems now, one of the greatest rides I’ve ever done, even though I couldn’t complete it. I was sad, but the only thing I wanted to do was to complete the ride, by starting all over again. How I was going to do that: I had no idea.

 

Back in Denver, times g
ot tough. I wasn’t really making enough money to have an apartment and my art studio, so I got rid of my apartment. I didn’t have enough money to fix my mountain bike right away, so I boxed it away. After a few weeks of sleeping on the cold, concrete ground of my art studio, I moved in with a former girlfriend in her closet of a bedroom who took pity on me. I kept riding bikes, and when Spring came around, I grabbed my boxed bike from a friend – they threatened to throw it away and brought it back to Salvagetti. They were a bit incredulous. I’m hard on bikes, and the bike, well: it reflected that.

 

“I don’t have a lot of money, but I want to do the Tour Divide again.”

 

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Phillip, one of the mechanics @ Salvagetti, lent me his bike, when he found a crack in my frame, after I brought it in complaining of, “a funny noise”. I did unspeakable things to it during a long training weekend, like ride through Rocky Mountain National Park, when the road was closed due to weather. “Weather?”, I thought, “Whether or not I make it through!” I was stuck at 12,000 feet overnight in a snowstorm, but hell if I didn’t ride down victoriously the next day!

Nick was my main mechanic at that time. He rides bikes in dirt jump parks and knows a lot about making a bike withstand the type of love/abuse I often give them. We pulled everything off that was completely destroyed (the drivetrain!) and in its place put a 19t cog in the back, and a 32 chainring up front. A new wheel to replace the taco’d one he personally built up, and a new chain and I was good to go, basically. Two weeks before the race, I bought a ticket back to Canada, determined to race the route in full. I was successful. I came back, and the first thing I did – the very first thing was stop by Salvagetti and tell them I had succeeded. They took back the bike, and we put it on display for what seemed like months.

 

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One dirty bike, proudly on display @ Salvagetti. Photo: gypsybytrade

 

Salvagetti moved again.

 

So did I. Another girl, another bad breakup – one of my worst. I was living in Boulder now, after a ten-year absence. I had a crazy plan to ride my bike to all the 14ers in the state – around 58 of them. I needed a new bike, so back to Denver, back to Salvagetti. Mark was working there, and there’s nothing this guy likes to do at his job more than get crazy people like me outfitted with a bike to see them through their projects. With his help (and the rest of Salvagetti), we built up a new bike that would survive me, and that summer – they gave me a great deal – without which I couldn’t see this project through (I still wasn’t doing well financially).

 

I finished my project – my most ambitious to date. I had zero problems with my bike. I honestly couldn’t believe it.

 

This summer has been a bit quieter for me, when it comes to bike riding. Someone new is in my life, who’s incredibly sweet to me, and some new passions – running, and rock climbing now sit next to my fervor for riding bikes. I’ve learned to have all my outdoor passions intertwine with each other in uniques ways. I know not only ride long distances for speed, or to the grocery store, but also to mountains and trails. It’s amazing to have this opportunity to evolve and just see where bikes still continue to bring me.

I can quite honestly say that bikes will still be a big part of my life in the future. Those kids that used to irate drivers in Critical Mass a decade ago, now work for the city in reasonable ways with the community; the road right outside the house I live in has a bike lane – a protected bike lane. The state just pledged $100 million towards bicycle infrastructure and my Denver to Boulder ride that I still take will soon be much more easier, now that there’s 18 miles of bike path to utilize.

 

Salvagetti’s last days – Scott’s moving on to even more interesting projects with his patented laser-like-yet-brain-addled focus, are happening right now. Like many, I’m very saddened to hear the news that the bike shop will be no more, as its presence means so much to me. But as Scott himself has stated, he’s done his part, and his community is all for the better for it – every shop is a little more Salvagetti-like, and that makes him happy. It’s no wonder, as many who have worked for him have moved on into starting their own shop up. We’ve all grown much richer because of that little funny shop I myself happened to curiously stop by in, more than 10 years ago.

 

Thanks Scott, and thanks everyone who has worked for Salvagetti. See you on the trails,