By Bill Plock
November 9th, 2023–Forty years ago Campus Cycles opened its friendly South Denver neighborhood bike shop. Tens of thousands of bikes sold and serviced later they are still going strong. Think of the changes and challenges of bike retailing (any retailing) over the years. All the varieties of bikes introduced and the complexities of parts and service. Add in stiffening competition from online retail and consumer-direct bike sales mixed with economic challenges and the recent pandemic and any retailer in business, let alone after 40 years should be proud.
Campus Cycles, while a top-ranked Trek dealer focuses on the customer, not the bike, and is excited to celebrate its 40th Anniversary this year.
Longtime customer, Cheryl who has bought bikes for herself and her children and grandchildren when asked why she likes it so much said,” It feels like family when I go there.” Speaking of family, her grandson met legendary cyclist Jens Voigt at a store event and now has an autographed Trek!
But it’s not just loyal customers who feel this way. 85-year-old Barbara Campbell beamed with excitement as Key made the final adjustments on her brand new Trek FX+2 e-bike. She visited several shops looking at a variety of e-bikes. She kept insisting she wanted a good all-around city bike and many shops were trying to push her into bikes that accommodated a less ambitious type of riding.
“I got frustrated with shops trying to sell me what they had and not what I told them I wanted. Campus Cycles really listened and I am very excited about this bike,” said Barbara.
Any successful retailer is customer-centric most likely. What makes Campus Cycles a success in their minds is the family atmosphere they have developed. Their longest-tenured “family member” is Ned Grant who has worked full-time at the shop for 23 years. “They truly treat me like family and I have fun (mostly) working here and I have been here so long I even get weekends off,” Ned quipped. Ned is a fixture there and even has a sale named after him—Ned Fest.
As co-owner Micheal Bowers likes to say, “We’re big enough to handle all of your cycling needs, yet small enough to remember your name!” We work hard every day to make that statement a reality.” Campus Cycles has been awarded the coveted top “100 in the Nation” Trek store seven times, something they are very proud of.
Despite Trek opening more and more factory stores, Michael says the impact has been minimal. He adds, “We’re by no means the biggest shop in town, but we’re not tiny either. We strive to make our customers clients for life, whether that be commuting, racing, trail riding, or simply leisure riding around the plentiful trails and parks throughout the Denver area. Cycling is fun, and the bike shop experience should be fun as well!”
Michael became partners with Mark Velat in 2018 who purchased the shop (with Dylan Smith) in 2006. Coming from a toxic IT environment he says, “I thought working at a bike shop would be fun, and working here for the summer would be a chance to clear my head and figure out my next career move. I ultimately never left. When the opportunity to step in as an owner presented itself, I had to take the chance!”
When asked what surprised him about owning a bike shop he said, “It’s definitely NOT all about the bikes! Retail is retail, regardless of the product you’re selling. If you don’t have a friendly competent staff, it doesn’t matter how good the product is, you won’t have clients. Having a well-trained, well-educated TEAM is what makes everything work!”
Walking in the front door feels friendly and calm and not overwhelming. Some shops seem stacked to the hilt with bikes and it can feel overwhelming, especially for those not familiar with bikes. Campus seems to “ease you into the experience” and the first group of bikes you see is a collection of commuter and cruiser e-bikes. As you move deeper into the store you find a wide variety of road, mountain, and gravel bikes.
When asked how the e-bikes are impacting their business, co-owner Mark Velat says, “kind of an interesting observation I’ve had is that e-bike riders seem to be either young folks who are into the technology and looking for better transportation options, or older folks looking to maintain high performance. I think we will continue to see the bikes get lower in weight and higher in capabilities and integration”
Mark goes on to describe the store’s appeal with this scenario, “ One day I was walking down Washington street and saw a triathlete riding a sweet aero bike on one side of the street and a young lady wearing a sundress riding an equally sweet custom cruiser down the other. I thought, there’s Campus Cycles in a nutshell, a little bit of everything for everybody.”.
In general, there isn’t anything unique about Campus Cycles that is easily pinpointed. It simply feels communal and easygoing. But maybe that is no accident. They work with all kinds of bike and triathlon clubs and are active in the community. Michael himself races everything from crits to IRONMANS. But it doesn’t feel like a “race” shop. Quite the opposite.
Marketing Manager Kate Agathon says, “We integrate ourselves within the neighborhood (i.e. bike rodeos at Lincoln Elementary), we do know our neighbors! Furthermore, we know our customers from participating in the same sporting events or supporting their organized rides. We have customers as far as Eagle County who come in and share photos of their bike rides or bike vacations because they know we’re interested and love bikes as much as they do. We must be doing something right if we have generations of families buying bicycles for their kids and grandchildren.”
Kate captures many stories for their newsletter that contain some great features like when she interviewed Jens Voigt and Lael Wilcox while sprinkling in “where to ride” sections and helpful maintenance tips. They want to envelop you entirely in the cycling lifestyle with impeccable knowledge and aspiring adventures.
Like most bike shops, however, the heart and soul start with good service. Service Manager Brandon Sakelarides says, “I am much more interested in improving riding experiences through proper maintenance, service and knowledge. I truly believe that most of the good things in my life can be attributed to bicycles. My career, my passion, my work ethic, countless friendships, my transportation, my love of adventure, all of these things and more are direct results of bicycles. If I can improve someone’s riding experience with all of the knowledge and skills I’ve acquired along the way, that is the best gift I can give. I’ve learned the best roadmap to good service involves patience, listening, honesty and learning.”
With over 20 years of shop experience, Brandon’s opinion of what is special about Campus Cycles is, “We are just large enough to be able to have dedicated roles, be it sales or service. We can provide our best attention to your individual needs or direct you to the employee who is best equipped to explain to you the benefits of a new set of wheels, direct you to the best local trails, or turn your head-scratching mechanic problem into an easy fix.”
The bottom line is the Denver University neighbor has been an integral part of that neighborhood for 40 years. The feeling you might have walking in a local pub like the legendary DU bar Stadium Inn just down the street is similar—where you feel like a guest, not a customer.