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Editor’s Note: The Torqued Wrench is a look inside the mind of VeloNews.com tech writer Caley Fretz. Every other week he tackles the rumors, trends, innovations, and underpinnings of the tech world — or something else entirely. You can submit questions to TorquedWrench@competitorgroup.com. Be sure to check out Caley’s previous columns.
On the east side of Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall, sandwiched between a trendy new steampunk café, Will Frischkorn’s new meats-and-cheese shop, and an upscale French Provençal restaurant, there is a bike shop called Vecchio’s.
The Italian word “vecchio’s” translates directly as “old’s” or “ancient’s.” I have no idea what it connotes, or if that is an imperfect translation, as I don’t speak Italian. I’m simply handy with Google Translate.
“Old’s” is fitting, though. Vecchio’s peddles in metal bikes, sells books and magazines made out of old trees, displays a wall of tubulars and a ceiling hung with glorious, ferrous rides and jerseys of yore.
The shop is not particularly old, though its proprietors, Peter Chisholm and Jim Potter, are firmly grounded in history. They appreciate where this sport has been, and make every attempt to shape to their vision where it is now and where it is going. Their concept of the bike, and the role of a bike shop within the cycling community, and experience, is unwavering. Of this, they are unapologetic.
Chisholm, the mustached shop owner, has a Campagnolo “winged-wheel” tattoo on his forearm, and has been known to raise his voice from time to time, in all manners of bike-related discussions, which tend to turn into raucous debates. In the endurance-sports epicenter that is Boulder, where Olympians flitter by as commonly as pigeons, Vecchio’s is the proverbial old-fashioned barbershop, the gathering place of men with stories to tell, oftentimes with a cold beer in hand.
You have probably realized by now that I love this place.
I live and work in a world of “what’s next.” Carbon and hydraulics and electronics and aerodynamics and all sorts of other “-ics” take up the vast majority of my time. They do so because, on a grand scale, it is difficult to sell history. Selling the future based on history, sure, that’s done all the time. But the future bit is key — within the industry as a whole, people want what’s next. And at the end of the day, I like to think I work for consumers. I also love being at the forefront of “what’s next.”
But because I live and work in this world, it’s easy to forget what came before. I use Vecchio’s as a reminder. We head downtown at lunch, grab coffees at the spot next door and bring them to Peter and Jim as payment for a few minutes of time, a few minutes to wander and chat, and possibly argue.
For my line of work, and particularly given my age (not particularly vecchio), it’s grounding and informative. It reminds me of working on bikes with my dad, rebuilding his old Ciocc in the basement, and it reiterates that many of the trends we see today echo those of the past. We’ve been trying to go fast on two wheels since the start, after all, and there are only so many ways to do it.
Trends and transformation flow intermittently in the cycling industry. Technology moves forward in a series of fitful stops and starts, two steps forward and one step back. Fads ignite like wrapping paper thrown in a fire, capture the imagination of technophiles across the sport, then sputter in history; or they change the way we ride forever.
I start with the assumption of the latter. Vecchio’s, I imagine, usually takes the opposite stance, and in doing so they pull me closer to the middle, where most of you probably exist.
When some new piece of gear is launched, the brand in question emails me and asks me, in so many words, to “jump.” My natural inclination is to reply with “how high?” This is not out of some deference to the brand, or because they’ve purchased my adoration. It’s because I truly relish and appreciate innovation, and am as unapologetic about it as Vecchio’s is about the delight it finds in the sport’s rich history.
But it’s not very grounded, and it’s not very critical. I have blind spots brought on by a love of innovation, for companies that are doing what I think needs to be done to make bikes better, faster, more comfortable, and yes, more affordable.
Vecchio’s, which is really just a stand-in for historical context in this little essay, does not have those blind spots. It has spotlights. It sees new innovation for its potential to fail as much as I see it for its potential to succeed.
Vecchio’s sees a fad. I see the future. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. To borrow from Homer Simpson, “It may be a fad, but it’s here to stay.”