San Francisco - Above Category
I've only been to San Francisco a couple of times, once when I was a kid, and the second time at a bike race, so neither really count. Jason Norton (Brooks USA Brand Manager) had us staying in the centre so we could hang out in the city a bit, which was cool because we had a full day to burn through on arrival. We went and had pizza and Jason decided to actually get a picture of me with the Brooks Cambium C13 CHPT3 edition. So we could pretend we were working, we tried to make it look as unstaged as possible, because we're pro like that.
We went to Mission and did some shopping, I got some fantastic (in the eye of this beholder anyway) vintage Versace sunglasses and bought Nicole a load of clothes from a random sample sale, then we headed off to do bike shop business. Both the shops we were visiting were just north of SF, which meant crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, the super tourist in me came out and I snapped photos the whole way along it till I realised I wasn't actually enjoying crossing it. So I stopped taking photos. We were heading to Marin County, a mythical place to me as my first proper bike, the mountain bike that began this whole journey, had been a 1989 Marin Bear Valley.
There were two shops we were visiting, the first was Above Category, a shop I had been dying to visit. They had been one of the first shops in the US to stock CHPT3 and I had recently been in touch with their Brand Manager, Nate King, about working more closely with them as it seemed they really understood what we are about. Their name alone sums up what they're about, they operate at a higher level than nearly all shops, and choose only to work with brands that can match their, and their customers', expectations which they have set very high.
Weirdly we weren't doing our event there though, we were doing it at the nearby Studio Velo, a shop less than 10km away, and a staple to the Marin cycling community. Studio Velo is a great shop with tons of brands and stock, and a valuable dealer for Brooks, so they had been chosen as the destination of choice for our little travelling road show. It has to be said, Jason and I did a sterling job on the merchandising of our bits and bobs, even if I may say so myself. Unfortunately it was chucking it down with rain and the invitations had been sent out a bit late, so about four people and a dog turned up. Still, the CHPT3 and Brooks set-up looked money.
There had been a ride organised for the following morning at the ungodly hour of 7am from Studio Velo, thankfully the weather forecast was so bad it was decided to cancel it, which meant that Jason and I were going to have another full day in San Fran. Fortunately Nate and Above Category came to the rescue and organised a mini-ride for us in the afternoon when the weather was supposed to clear up. This ended up being a masterstroke, because sure enough around 2pm the following day the clouds parted and the sun began to shine. I arrived at AC (that's what we call Above Category from now on) and met the owner, Chad, he was cool, we talked about CHPT3 and SG3 and the fact Cal Crutchlow was a member which he thought was the best thing since sliced bread as his other passion is bikes with engines. The co-Founder of Instagram happened to be in there getting a bike built, and I convinced him to get a Brooks C13, so, you know, the whole trip to San Fran wasn't wasted and I was willing to take that as a win.
But then Paz appeared. Well, his real name is Michael Alvarado, and he's a surgeon and a loyal AC customer, it was his 50th birthday, and Nate had invited him along on our super-exclusive-incredibly-well-organised-and-advance-planned bike ride. Why Paz? Well he was decked out in Pas Normal Studios, a Scandinavianl cycling clothing brand, unfortunately often called Paznormal instead of Pahnormal. So he became Paz, and will always remain so.
Anyway, we hit it off straight away and the bike reaffirmed this. We rode to the top of some hill, but I decided I'd have a rest while they went to the top because I saw Jason nearby taking photos and figured it was the prime opportunity to get some solid brand work done.
Then the best thing ever happened, we rode back down the hill and into a beautiful small town called, Fairfax, within which was a bar called Gestalt Haus that specialises in Beer, Brats, and Bikes. The place was packed with people on communal bench tables and stacked with bikes hung along one wall. This was no normal bike cafe ride stop. Before long we were drinking beer making friends, I found myself buddying up to Ray Arata, who has written a book called, Wake Up, Man Up, Step Up, so we talked about manhood and stuff like that. I liked Ray… in fact I'm going to email him now as we need to organise something together.
Time sped up, as it often does when the beers and chat flow, and before we knew it we realised we'd better mount our trusty steeds and head back before the daylight dwindled to darkness. On exiting the Gestalt Haus we were pleasantly surprised to find it bright sunny daylight, so we relaxed our rush and stopped after only a couple of kilometres at a coffee van in order to let the light dwindle a little more and force us to up our game and rush back. We needed a performance objective, a goal to aim for, and simply riding back in our own time and completely in control of affairs didn't suit our mood. Coffees down, we set off and sort of tried to race each other, really badly, we lost Nate almost immediately to a puncture and due to our now tight schedule we had to leave him behind, SAS-style.
I won't lie, we didn't go fast, and Nate managed to beat us back somehow without us even seeing him pass us. Our arrival was Champs Élysées like in its euphoria, high fives all round, and I even managed to land mine which is an extremely rare feat for me what with being incapable of such American exuberance.
Paz was most certainly exuberant, going as far as claiming it to be, "...the best birthday I've ever had." Thank you, Above Category. It was, most certainly, a magic day.