Story and photos by Teresa Schmidt
Kona Bikes, a Whatcom County-bred manufacturing company with a global following, is several months into its bold decision to open a flagship retail outlet in the heart of Bellingham.
The Kona Bike Shop opened in June at 1622 North State Street, close to downtown and just a few miles from the world-class trails at Galbraith Mountain. “So far, so good,” said store manager Matt Hoffmeyer. Shop staffers are still adding some finishing touches, including installing a large-screen TV to stream inspirational videos of locals and legends shredding trails, all with their trusty Konas between their knees.
According to Hoffmeyer, launching the bike shop in Bellingham just made sense, mostly because Kona has been headquartered up the road in Ferndale since 1988, the year owners Jake Heilbron and Dan Gerhard founded the company. Hoffmeyer happily moved up from Seattle to run the shop, which serves as a showroom for the entire Kona line and is emerging as a de facto Bellingham welcome center for mountain, road and cyclocross enthusiasts eager to check out the local bike scene.
Walking into the brightly lit shop, you might be struck at the sheer size – with 6,000 square feet of retail space, it has room for more than 70 models of Kona bikes, arranged on handcrafted yellow cedar displays. The walls feature big, colorful graphics designed to get you in the mood for riding, and bikes are everywhere you look.
The Kona Bike Shop also features a full-on service and repair shop, where every brand is welcomed for tune-ups, suspension service, overhauls or whatever you may need. So far, the new shop has been plenty busy. Staffers are seeing lots of Kona brand loyalists, who are jumping at the chance to check out a top-of-the-line Supreme Operator ($7,599 retail), a mid-range Process 134DL ($3,799) or the new Private Jake cyclocross racer ($1,999). They’re also welcoming local and regional dealers like Jack’s Bicycles and Skagit Cycle Center to demo Konas on the trails, so they can provide firsthand reports to their customers.
Whether you’re a pro, a fanatic or a beginner, the Kona Bike Shop is a wide open and inviting place to explore the possibilities presented by two wheels, a frame and some handlebars. Wherever and whatever you’re planning to ride, The Kona Bike Shop is where you can see, touch, compare or test ride the goods.
Whether you end up buying a bike there or not, The Kona Bike Shop has fulfilled its mission: you got to see their entire line in one place. This showroom concept is not new – Giant has such a store across the border in Vancouver – but it’s new for Bellingham, and Kona isn’t alone. Transition, another well-loved bike company that was born and raised in Ferndale, is also bringing a showroom to Bellingham. The build-out of its Bellingham shop and demo center should be wrapping up this winter.
Kona’s brand has always been about people who love bikes and love to ride. The owners and employees build bikes that work for them, which translates into bikes that work for all kinds of people.
The Kona Bike Shop staffers are experienced riders, and each brings his or her passion and deep product knowledge to work every day. They have different backgrounds and expertise, from downhill mountain riding to touring and bikepacking. Hoffmeyer, a Kona brand loyalist since 2003, said he rides in the Chuckanuts four or five times a week. He recently rode Squamish, B.C. and reports it was “one of my best times ever on a mountain bike. And the scariest!”
You don’t have to be an everyday shredder or a racer to feel welcome at The Kona Bike Shop; but there’s a good chance the staff’s enthusiasm for getting outdoors, getting dirty and having fun in the woods or on the road will make you one, even as winter rolls in.
Winter riding brings its own fun, as well as a few challenges. But according to Hoffmeyer, as long as you’re prepared with the right gear, you can ride every day of the year in the temperate zone that is Whatcom County. True, as the days get shorter, it’s not as easy to pedal up to Galbraith after work and hit Cedar Dust, Golden Spike, SST and Back Door Descent. But we find solace in knowing the weather shift can make for muddier trails.
Opening the retail shop brings opportunities for Kona Bikes to become more involved in the company’s hometown cycling community. They’ve adopted the Devil Cross trail on Galbraith, and are looking forward to sponsoring workdays this winter.
Future plans call for more service clinics and classes, including women’s riding nights led by staffer Amanda Bryan. Hoffmeyer said the company also wants to increase its support of junior cycling development with Rad Racing; and for grown-up racers, the shop will be taking its demo show on the road to the MFG Cyclocross Series, offering support, answers and opportunities to ride the 2016 Private Jake.
It looks like mountain biking in Bellingham is only going to get bigger, and the ability to nerd out over so many Kona models in one place will certainly help draw additional attention to the area. Bellingham has a nice selection of bike shops, each specializing (forgive the pun) in a much-loved brand or two. When you add in epic trails and scenic roads on which to ride, as well as Bellingham’s growing craft brewery scene to fulfill every possible hydration need, it becomes obvious: it’s been built, and they will come.
And if the new Kona Bike Shop has any say in the matter, Bellingham will be joining Moab, Tahoe, Sedona and Bend as a premier mountain biking destination. Some would say it already has. x