Flavor Crystals

My grandfather's life afforded few luxuries, save for one, at least in his mind. Instead of beginning each morning with a generic cuppa joe, he'd carefully brew what he believed to be, for only a few pennies more, an affordable peek into the lives of the rich and famous: Folgers. I worked with him at the shop on weekends, and would watch him measure out a heaping plastic spoon of grounds and flavor crystals and let the Mr. Coffee do its thing. "The secret is in the flavor crystals," he'd say.

I spent my middle school summers racing bikes and sneaking into the art cinema to watch the latest by Godard, Fellini, Rohmer, and Truffault. But it wasn't until Breaking Away came out that I decided my grandfather was an unfortunate American. A heathen. A peasant. A barbarian, for no other reason than his pedestrian taste in coffee.

Espresso. Illy. And then: Peet's. Blue Bottle. Stumptown. Italian Moka Pot. Aeropress. French Press. Japanese pourover. I've worked and consumed coffee in a dozen countries, and with each discovery experienced the mild euphoria of the illusion of tasting something Next Level. But that kind of leveled off ten or fifteen years ago. Leveled off, yet, like bicycles, never reverted. Once you get a taste for something better, you don't go back.

It took a few years, but I've found a kindred spirit to Tativille here in Wicker Park. Wormhole. Gram scales. Stereolab. Nerds. Toms Shoes. Deloreans. A Jiro Dreams of Sushi approach to barista artistry. I go to Wormhole almost every day now. And even though I'm pretty sure they don't have flavor crystals, they have the secret. Wormhole offers a premium product presented by skilled artisans, in a convenient, comfortable, and super rad location. The result is a wholly fulfulling experience. Though I go there almost every day, I really have no idea what anything costs. Which is as it should be.

This is pretty true at all my favorite places to spend money. And I wish it were true in Tativille, boy do I ever. But the fact of the matter is that we're in a rapidly transitioning, very competitive industry. And for those of us on the pro shop side of things, we're hocking luxury goods in a down economy to folks across the income spectrum. And so I completely understand why shops are discounting labor, experimenting with services like Groupon, and running increasingly aggressive sales promotions. Some claim that what we're seeing is a race to the bottom. Others observe that the new market entrants are simply nimbler and responding to customer demand. Personally, I'm bewildered by it all. I sat down this winter and thought a lot about this. I thought about the customers I have and the customers I'll have in the future. I thought about what my time is worth and what overheard costs are and all of that within the context of this Chicagoland bicycle marketplace. And just as I was about to pull the trigger on a big shift in the shop's pricing, a friend invited me over to Wormhole for a cup of Sulawesi.

As we sipped our coffees, homeboy told me about his new job at Saatchi & Saatchi, his apartment in Brooklyn, and how cool the guys are at Chari & Co. And then he ordered a pair of Di2 Serge completes complete with Tune hubs laced to Ambrosio Nemesis rims. We discussed my dilemma for a bit, and he offered some pretty good advice.

"Do both," he said.

"Wut." I said.

"Do both. Discount and don't discount. Yes, absolutely wage war. But don't devalue your experience or your skill or your reputation. You don't have to. There's another way." he said.


"Instead of trying to compete for the lowest price, why don't you offer the highest? Offer the best."

"You mean the bestest." I nodded.

"Exactly. The Bestest."


I won't bore y'all which what a proper tune-up entails. If you don't know, you wouldn't be reading this. The thing is, bicycle maintenance isn't rocket science. Heck, it's not even motorcycle maintenance. And some of the best mechanics around aren't young enough to legally buy their own Pernod. But suffice it to say that this particular service is one that's guaranteed to be proper sick. And you'll pay for it, yes?


At that price, I probably won't sell too many tune-ups, and quite honestly... that's a good thing. It means you'll get your bike back lickety split, and there will be no gimmicks, no shortcuts. Just plain, honest hard work. Slightly skilled hard work. And since this also happens to be the very best tune up service in Chicagoland, it also includes:


Imma quote Competitive Cyclist here: "No cable set we've ever tried -- not Campy, not Dura Ace, not Nokon, not Gore, nothing -- can match what we felt. What ceramic bearings are to your drivetrain, Yokozuna is to cables: An astounding reduction in drag, except unlike ceramics, the Yokozuna difference is one you can feel on a moment-to-moment basis. It's dragless." NE PLUS ULTRA, Ninjas. And so I won't do a tune-up without it.


Once upon a time, Tune of Germany manufactured the most Zef, insane hubs and superlight components in the world. It still does. What Tune doesn't manufacture any longer are its nutty $6 cable ends, which are stronger and lighter and sicker than any other anodized cable end you'll find. I bought box of them from a distributor in Switzerland, and you know, when they're gone, they're gone. Will your friends notice the difference? Will your bike feel lighter? Will they make you ride faster? No, no and no. But you will quietly feel superior to your riding mates knowing that you have them, that's for damn sure.


I hated the DSP tape when it first came out. I still hate the name Lizard Skins and I hate the stupid embossed reptile on the tape itself. But here's the thing: the tape is featherweight, insanely shock absorbent, very easy to clean, and kind of, mostly, a little durable. It's also hella expensive. But it's the best. And it's included in every tune-up in Tativille. But wait?! What if you have a bike that uses some type of handlebar grip, one that doesn't have drop bars? Ah, well, in that case, you should probably go elsewhere. Those confuse me.