Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Fridrich's: RIP?

Overheard when I was in Fridrich's Bike Shop in late January: The landmark store at W. 38th and Lorain will probably shut down this year, an employee told a customer.

That's kind of profound, if you think about it. The place once sold bikes to Civil War veterans -- it's been in business since about 1901. And I wouldn't be surprised if some of the inventory there now is that old, too. That is both the store's charm and its downfall: It is solidly stuck in 1977, or '67, or '57.

If you're a fixed-gear enthusiast, it's the place for you. Ditto if you're rebuilding your Schwinn Paramount. If for some reason you want steel rims, or 20 pairs of training wheels, or a real 10-speed deraillieur, it's indispensible. Not-so-big secret: When you go into Spin or Century to get 7-speed parts for a hybrid or maybe a coaster-brake hub for your kid's bike, those shops buy the parts from Fridrich's. Retroheads can have a field day there, because there's enough pieces-parts to fill an airplane hangar -- and that's just on the first-floor showroom. There's a whole 2nd floor brimming with even-more-obscure stuff, if I correctly recall what I read in a great story in The Plain Dealer's now-defunct Sunday Magazine about seven years ago.

In fact, Fridrich's has everything.

Everything, that is, except anything that any serious cyclist has wanted since, oh, 1983 maybe. Its flagship bike line is Raleigh, and it has about one or two aging Raleigh race bikes in stock. No real mountain bikes or cyclocross or touring bikes. Fridrich's doesn't know Ultegra from Ultrasuede, from a sales standpoint anyway. This is a shop where aluminum is the cutting-edge frame material and 700-cm. wheels are the "new" roadie standard.

I like going there. I replaced just about every component on my first "adult" bike, my beater/bad-weather/trailer-pulling hybrid, with stuff I bought at Fridrich's. The purists and tourists who need 27" tires or NJS junk or downtube shifters have no better place to shop -- maybe anywhere.

But by my guess, Fridrich's stock in trade is the kind of bike that bike shops are getting killed on nowadays -- kids' bikes and other stuff from the cheapo end of the spectrum that Wal-Mart sells for 50% less. Same thing for helmets, tire pumps etc. Low-margin stuff.

I wouldn't bother even trying to get, say, a new wheelset or a 100mm threadless stem or a pair of DuraAce-type brake pads there -- or anything else marketed since Greg LeMond, for that matter. I bought a Shimano crankset last year, with the external BB, that cost more than most of Fridrich's bikes. In contrast, at Fridrich's, the cartridge bottom bracket is still apparently considered innovative.

It's easy to say that that is my stupidity, my problem -- not Fridrich's. But the result of its failure to change with the times is that I'm the only customer in the joint about 90% of the time I go there.

That's too bad. If it closes, it will really be missed.

But its inventory would probably be worth more on eBay, or trucked up in its entirety to New York City, where dumbass hipsters evidently love to pay $1.25 on the dollar for old crap.


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