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The last bike shop on Capitol Hill (and another one on E Union)

Branford's Rodd Wagner (Image: CHS)

Branford’s Rodd Wagner (Image: CHS)

The Capitol Hill biking community is a little flat following the exit of the neighborhood’s most significant cycling retailer. CHS introduces you to two nearby spokes-focused retailers ready to help you keep a tight chain — including the last bike shop on Capitol Hill.

When you walk into Capitol Hill’s Branford Bike, you enter a space that’s about the size of a large bedroom. The walls are plain beige, the merchandise racks modest. It’s not exactly a luxury showroom. But don’t let the looks fool you.

The average road bike here – made of titanium or carbon fiber – will set you back about $5,000 and the more expensive models go for more than $12,000. Consider it the Ferrari of bikes.

“Our customers are willing to pay that. They seek us out because they’re looking for a certain quality,” said owner Rodd Wagner.

Steers at work (Image: CHS)

Steers at work (Image: CHS)

CHS visited Branford Bike on 10th Ave E, just south of 520, to learn more about what is now the only bike shop on Capitol Hill. As we reported last week, Velo vacated its shop at 11th and Pine and rode down the Hill to a new location in Belltown.

Chatting with Wagner and Doug Steers, the main salesman and bike mechanic, you instantly feel their love for two-wheeled transportation. Wagner owns 12 bikes, Doug has 8. (Jerry, the weekend shop manager, owns about 40.)

“I still remember when I was a kid and my sister steadied my bike from behind and then let go,” Steers recalled, his eyes lighting up. “I think the bike is the coolest thing ever invented. When you’re ripping down the hill at 40 mph, it feels like you’re flying. It’s awesome.”

It’s that same kind of love for cycling that steered Wagner into the bike business. For years, he had been a customer of BranfordBike.com, an online seller of high end bikes and accessories. In 2006, he decided to buy the company from a man in Montana.

Two years later, the storefront on North Capitol Hill opened up and Wagner just happened to know the owner. “Yeah, my business partner and I own this building,” said Wagner, whose main business is commercial real estate in Seattle.

Wagner said the brick and mortar business has been good, even outgrowing online sales. Bike enthusiasts travel from around the city to place orders for specially-customized bikes. They pick the wheels, the drive train, the brakes and other components. Wagner and Steers then build the road bikes according to the customers’ specifications.

Cyclists from as far away as Australia, France and Japan continue to place orders via branfordbike.com.

Ferrari-free in the CD
Alex Kostennik’s 20/20 Cycle
on E Union is a welcoming, laid back shop, and the people who work there are mostly just interested in getting your ride rolling again. The store seems fully interested in keeping costs down and cycling, affordable.

20/20 — named such because its address is 2020 E Union — might be the most likely to patch the hole left behind by Velo’s exit.

“We cater to moms with duct-taped Burley trailers with their kids inside on their way to Montessori school,” Kostennik told an interviewer recently. “People who ride in the rain, in the snow, it’s those people. Then it radiates out from there. If you were going to make a tree, the trunk of the tree is them. We’re super practical commuter people, me included.”

Branford’s focus
Back on 10th Ave, while the business is successful, Wagner said he doesn’t see Branford Bike expanding any time soon and it definitely will not replace Velo as the community bike store. It wasn’t designed to serve the mass market. “We’re not trying to be elitist. We’re just trying to do one or two things really well.”

Wagner and Steers say they don’t turn business away and have often fixed a flat tire or adjusted the gear for the many bike commuters who pedal down 10th Ave on the way to and from the University District.

“We want to carry really nice stuff but we don’t want to have an attitude,” said Wagner.

The goods at Branford (Image: CHS)

The goods at Branford (Image: CHS)

Information from our sister site Central District News was used in this report.

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20 thoughts on “The last bike shop on Capitol Hill (and another one on E Union)

  1. Pingback: CHS profiles Branford Bike, the ‘last bike shop on Capitol Hill’ | Seattle Bike Blog

  2. Okay, this is great information and it sounds like a cool shop, but what I really learned from this article is there are now NO reasonably priced bike purveyors on the Hill for we ‘normal’ cyclists. I don’t have that kind of passion, but still enjoy riding several miles on the Burke-Gillman during the summer time, for example. Doesn’t sound like this particular shop would suit my needs (or most peoples’) at all.

    • Seriously, 2020 E Union is close enough to CapHill to walk. It can’t be more than a 5 minute walk from Skillet or a 10 minute walk from Trader Joe’s, and right on the #2 bus line. The people there are super nice, and they have a wide range of VERY reasonably priced bikes and accessories.

      • I walk my dog to 2020 from Cal Anderson whenever I want a tube and to scope out bike parts. They have a bunch of commuter gear, mostly reasonable stuff but from time to time you can scout fancy touring/commuter gear. I like it.

  3. I went in to Branford a few years ago when I got a flat on 10th Ave on my way to the U District. I think they charged me $90. Then they lowered the price when they saw the look on my face.

  4. Those guys are nice, never overcharge, and just generally run a great bike shop. Everyone who isn’t riding in spandex should go there.

  5. I like 20/20 and they are really a community bike place. They saved me so many times when I needed a new tube or a bike light just because I forgot one at home. I bought a reasonable priced NEW Redline bike there and nobody is pushy or snobby. Even though Branford says they are not elitist they really are at that price point.

  6. Montlake is probably the best bike shop in the city and they’re reasonably close to the hill. They’ll listen to what you want and help you find it, sans-attitude, whether it’s new bar tape or a $10,000 Fred bike. I’ve had nothing but positive experiences there over the years and always found it was worth the extra 10 minutes it took to get there from the hill.

  7. Unfortunately, going to 20/20’s web page referenced in this article brings you to a page with a flashy headache inducing page with no information except a flashing picture of the ferry Stealth. Clicking on the web page you get a 404. Not very reassuring.

    • joseph, i bet you are correct to not feel reassured of 2020’s services as i too never trust anybody in real life unless their virtual branding is glam’d out and formatted for my i-phone, my i-pad, and my mac mini.

      i would also bet that if 2020 doesn’t have a highly interactive web page with hip fonts, well organized banner ads, and lots of digital images that make it easy to browse inventory – than they probably don’t know anything about bikes.

    • What’s not reassuring? That they spend more time working on bikes than webpages? Who cares if a bike shop has a webpage. When you walk in, you’ll see they’re more dedicated to actually fixing bikes than dicking around with webpages. It’s that kind of place.

      • it’s sort of scary that my comment was not taken as satire; that doesn’t really say anything about you, but rather the world we live in.

      • Oh c’mon. I’m not asking for a flashy web page. What I am asking for is some general information. Their phone number and address aren’t even there just an annoying seizure inducing page.

  8. Bike Pull Apart in Belltown on Third Ave. puts together custom bikes from recycled parts. They can do what you want based on price, high or low.

  9. REI is far and away the best shop in my experience, and I have plenty of experience with shops around here. I didn’t have great experience with 20/20 although they are nice folks. The price they charged and the skill level did not compare with REI.

    • REI (“Return Everything Immediately”) – just kidding – is the only place to go buy big-ticket items that may conk out!

  10. $12,000 for a bike….yikes! I guess some cyclists are rich.

    One person having 40 bikes seems a tad excessive, no?

  11. Branford is AWESOME! I had a custom bike built for just around $6000 and it was worth every penny. It took months to find the parts (all vintage/unused) and these guys helped at each step of the process. From ordering parts for me, teaching me how to fix my bike, letting me watch the build-out over a 2 month process, and really learn from them, I learned to love bikes even MORE than I already did! Even if you’re not up for an expensive bike or you want repairs on an existing bike, these guys are experts and will take the best care of your bike possible. No matter its price!