The Bicycle Trip Story

A Santa Cruz bike shop that helped change the world.

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As the oldest bicycle shop in Santa Cruz, Bicycle Trip’s history provides a fascinating window into the story of biking in a bicycle town—now home to big component and gear manufacturers (Fox, Easton Bell), high-end bike manufacturers (Santa Cruz Bicycles, Ibis, Calfee) and stars of the framebuilding world (Keith Bontrager, Paul Sadoff, Rick Hunter, John Caletti and Todd Ingermanson).

Read about Bicycle Trip today.

The story began in 1973, at a moment when opening a bike shop was an act as idealistic as it was entrepreneurial, a vote of confidence in human potential, healthy lifestyles and Whole Earth Catalog-style principles of self-sufficiency and energy independence.

The San Francisco Peninsula, with its postwar prosperity, Silicon Valley buzz and good weather, was in those days something of a bicycling hotspot. One local store, Los Altos’ EEE Cyclery (the E’s stood for “Exercise, Energy and Ecology”), had a mechanic, Pat Heitkam, who was eyeing Santa Cruz. Heitkam met another mechanic, Bill Menchine, at Menlo Park’s Sugden & Lynch Bike Shop and invited him to move to Santa Cruz for a job. Pat and his wife Nancy opened the Bicycle Trip on Soquel Avenue, next door to the Rio Theatre, in 1973 with Menchine as the mechanic. There was a bike parade to celebrate.

Mark Michel, a Palo Alto bicycle enthusiast and childhood friend of Menchine’s, hung around the shop a lot in the Bike Trip’s early days. He remembers that when you walked into the shop you could also buy eggs, goat milk and honey from the Heitkams’ Happy Valley homestead. “It tied into the whole back-to-the-earth thing,” he says.

In time Michel left his job doing drafting for a city planning firm and tried his hand at graphic arts. By the mid-1970s he was making ads for Bicycle Trip that ran in the succession of alt-weekly newspapers that kept cropping up in town, papers like Sundaz, Santa Cruz Express and The Sun. Menchine and two partners bought the shop from the Heitkams in 1978, as Michel recalls, and in March 1979 Michel moved down to Santa Cruz to start working at Bicycle Trip as a mechanic.

The Dawn of a New Movement

Right then something big was happening in the biking world. As cyclocross gained popularity in California, people were starting to take their bikes—road bikes, basically—on rides in the mountains. Naturally bad things were happening to those bikes, spurring game-changing innovations.

“We knew we were gonna ride it pretty rough,” Michel recalls of his rides in the hills with Menchine and other friends. “What actually was happening is we were doing mountain bike racing, and people were breaking bikes. So we were borrowing components from cruisers and BMX, even the motorcycle scene.”

Menchine left the shop that year, and Michel found himself working the swing shift at Bicycle Trip with an enterprising mechanic named Ross Shafer who was building frames under the Red Bush logo. The two would take dinner breaks at a harbor taqueria called Zuniga’s. It was there that Shafer decided to rename his side project Salsa Bicycles. Michel designed a logo and headbadge—the globe and lettering still used today (the cartoon pepperman would come later). Shafer headed down to Los Angeles a few months later for a job with Santana Cyclery, where he learned “lugless” construction and started experimenting with bike geometry on his way to growing Salsa Bicycles into a major national brand.

In 1981, Michel recalls, Shafer built his first custom mountain bike frame and came back up to Santa Cruz to present it to Michel as “payment” for the logo. “He was eager to see how it rode,” Michel says, then adds with a twinkle: “He was the first person to crash it.”

The same year, 1981, Specialized came out with its first mass-produced mountain bike. Within months it was on the Trip's showroom floor. “Even before I managed Bicycle Trip, we were the first shop to sell the Stumpjumper,” Michel says.

By 1985 Michel was managing the shop while owner Rick Stewart focused on the new sister location, Pacific Avenue Cycles. In 1987 Stewart decided to sell Bicycle Trip. Michel and his sweetie, Berri Herzenberg, borrowed money from her parents to buy the shop. They also got married. A new era for Bicycle Trip was underway.

A New Era for Bike Trip

In the late 1980s, Bicycle Trip carried a lot of Bianchi and Univega bikes. It was a Specialized dealer for a brief while. It sold Jamis and Yokota brands. It also resumed building on its longtime reputation as a community-oriented bike shop.

Berri Michel had grown up, like her husband Mark, on the Peninsula, the daughter of the famed immunologist Leonard Herzenberg, whose work eventually made stem cell research possible.

Undaunted by the obstacles, Berri Michel started working in the late 1980s to get bike lanes on Soquel Avenue between Ocean and Seabright, a process that took 10 years. In a 2006 interview with Micah Posner, then-executive director of People Power, she said, "I think all the work we did 20 years ago is finally making Santa Cruz an OK place to ride. In another 10 or 20 years it will be really great."

There was the Bike Safety Rodeo, which Michel eventually turned over to Ecology Action, where it became Bike Smart!, a program that partners with area schools to teach kids the rules of the road. Next came Project Bike Trip, which has worked through the county's Regional Occupation Program since 2006 to train high school kids in the art and science of bike mechanics. In late 2013 the program had 120 students at six high schools countywide.

Meanwhile the shop maintained its position on the cutting edge of Santa Cruz bike culture. Framebuilder John Caletti, a Bicycle Trip alum, remembers the shop during his UCSC years in the mid-1990s. “I lived in that neighborhood for a while, so we'd go in. They had Salsas and Bontragers when they were really hot, and some stuff made in Santa Cruz like Rock Lobster,” he says. “And Rick Hunter worked there, too, early in his building career. My impression was they were the place to go for high-end specialty mountain bike stuff.”

Well before he’d figured out his calling, Caletti joined the parade of talent trained at Bike Trip. “I worked there for a year or two beginning in 2000 as a mechanic,” he says. “It was a good opportunity to get a lot of experience working on bikes. It was my first full-time bike mechanic position.”

In 2003 the Michels separated, and Berri Michel became the sole owner. It was an amicable parting, and Mark Michel stayed on at the shop until 2008 as purchaser and wheel-builder.

In January 2014 longtime store manager Aaron Jacobs bought in, becoming co-owner of a legendary Santa Cruz bike shop he’s been helping to shape for 15 years. The shop carries mid-range and performance Giant mountain bikes, Cannondales and high-end bikes from Colorado mountain bike maker Yeti. Endurance road bike innovators Volagi and Giant road bikes dominate on the other side of the aisle.

Under Jacobs the shop has expanded its line of women’s bikes and apparel by partnering with Liv/giant, positioning itself to meet the requirements of a hungry new biking demographic. Bicycle Trip sponsors Velo Femme women’s road and mountain bike rides as well as Hilltromper’s own Girls Gone Wilder rides. And the shop has added high-tech Retül bike-fitting diagnostics and fitness consulting to its services.

The Real Thing

It’s been more than 40 years since Mark Michel first started bicycling down to Santa Cruz to hang with Bill Menchine and Pat Heitkam at the old Bicycle Trip. But he still sees continuity there, traces of the funky, ahead-of-its time mom and pop bike store on the corner with the goat cheese for sale.

“We were really always wanting to be progressive, and to get people to respect bicycles and the labor involved in making them, and educating people about bikes,” says Michel. “Before Berri got invited to the ROP program, we were trying to promote respect for bikes.

“It’s not a marketing angle,” he says. “We really believe in it.”

Read more about Bicycle Trip today.

Visit Bicycle Trip at 1001 Soquel Ave, Santa Cruz. 831.427.2580.