Nestled tightly on a small side street in Mill Valley, CA resides a bike shop that is as impressive as Marin County's mountain bike history. If you blink, you'll pass it, and if you're seeking a big shop with a huge selection you might as well pass it. But if you're seeking best-in-category products, an intimate setting, and great advice about rides, products, or training techniques, then this is your shop.
Above Category is our latest installment on the movement of smaller, more focused bike shops; it's a movement that reflects a shift in the industry and showcases passion and product in equal measure.
If it were not for the luscious Pinerello Prince shod in Lightweights, I would have driven right past the shop for a second time. Instead, I almost rear-ended the car in front of me while trying to take in the insane level of utter PROness.
As you walk into the shop it's tough to not be bowled over by the pure volume of exquisite Italian road products: Pinarello, Campagnolo, and Pegoretti adorn all vertical surfaces in the room. If the Italian flavor doesn't whet your appetite, then surely the Swiss style will. Apart from the Competitive Cyclist Web site, I don't think I've ever seen this much Assos gear in one place, let alone laid out with this much care. An element that makes these focused shops so cool is how condensed the inventories are. With less stuff to clutter up the space, the products themselves become artlike. Case in point: I found myself admiring pieces of the Assos line that I already own!
Like CBS, Above Category is staffed by a team of one. Owner Chad Nordwall is solely responsible your experience and, in the end, Chad has the most at stake. It is safe to say that your experience will be second to none. It also means you may want to call and arrange an appointment for your visit in order to insure your needs are met quickly and completely without interruption.
During my years in the bike world, it was always seen as foolish to build insanely expensive stock machines because it created a level of exclusivity that drove customers away. Today though, these smaller shops embrace it and, as a result, have created a niche experience. Let's face it: business in the road bike segment continues to stay strong. Business dipped following LA's retirement, but roadies are a loyal bunch and even more so at the high-end. A shop with less overhead can be profitable by catering to an exclusively road, or for that matter, high-end road clientele.
It's easy to feel that a shop filled with expensive bikes would do little for the cycling community as a whole. However, shops like Above Category provide a service to the entire cycling community. These shops and their owners are bitten by the cycling bug and their commitment to the game helps us to grow as cyclists by expanding our knowledge and exposing us the entire sport.
You don't need to buy an SRM or a set of Lightweights to benefit from Above Category. Hell, buy a tube and just enjoy the experience. The amazing thing about the shops featured on BKW is that not a single one of them had a "too cool for school" attitude. All were very welcoming and eager to be a part of the cycling experience, no matter where you are on the continuum.
Above Category has close ties to a number of PROs who are out there living the dream, which, of course, is great exposure for the shop but I was most impressed by Above Category's dedication to a local junior team ranging in age from 12-14.
All too often the junior programs are overlooked and, in my humble opinion, there's no program more important to the future of our sport than the junior programs. Chad's coaching advice to the team is some of the best coaching advice I've ever heard. In fact, they are words I still live by: Ride when you want and have fun. If you feel good, go fast, if you don't, go slow. Chad's coaching and support is providing the next cycling generation with a great introduction.
Whether your plans for the season include a bike purchase or some rancho relaxo time in California's wine country, bring a bike, drop into Above Category, and ask Chad for some routes he would suggest. You will not be disappointed.
38 Millwood St.
Mill Valley, CA 94941