Co-founder and longtime fixture at the Downhill Zone Darren Brown is leaving to do other things, primarily contractor work, having sold the shop to Adam Schaeffer.
Most of the “The Zone” will be pretty much the same, said Adam, who’s been wrenching with Darren for five years. Red-headed Adam’s hilarious riffs on everything from Jon Stewart’s Daily Show to “The Simpsons” are part of what makes The Zone the most entertaining bike shop on the West Coast to hang out at.
Recently I was in the shop when a Rocky Mountain Bikes regional rep walked in. Looking around, he spotted some vintage forks and frames decorating the walls, and from there he and Darren and Adam were off and running on a graduate-level “History of Mountain Biking” seminar.
Sensing a need for sales and support for high-end downhill, freeride and XC mountain biking in the Northwest, Darren and cohort Scott Bechtel started Downhill Zone with El Jefe in a tiny “closet” in 1999 at the north end of University Way in Seattle. The shop expanded several years back, but the ever-cheerful and newly married Scotty left three years ago to raise a family back East.
Darren, a font of “opinion and analysis” on the MTB scene, will be sorely missed, but says he’ll be around and may even be able to get in some riding. The curse of running a bike shop, as any owner current or previous can attest, is the dent it puts in wheel time. Darren’s face will probably be noticeable at the shop when crunch time hits and Adam needs a hand during the peak season. The Downhill Zone has carved out a loyal following over the years. I’ve bought so many bikes there that I’ve pitched Darren on offering one of those coffeehouse cards, buy 9 get the 10th free.
Adam is toying with the idea of new hours — noon to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, with 10 to noon on Sunday. He’d also be available by appointment for custom work. The Zone will continue to offer the best of the best, including Pivot, Ventana, Foes, Ellsworth, Santa Cruz, Magura and Fox. It’s an authorized service center for Fox but can fix anything thrown at it. Once I had a GT hardtail whose seatpost froze (seized) in the seat tube. I wish I’d brought my video camera to document Darren’s innovative “solution.” Suffice it to say that no rusted parts remain together for long in his presence.
The Zone is decidedly a specialty shop but I never saw anyone get turned away. You bring it in, they’ll fix it. Anyone who has worked on bikes knows they’re considerably more complicated, especially today, than they look. You can’t walk into the Zone and not learn something new within 5 minutes. Adam also is looking at updating the Zone’s Web site.
Darren’s departure might be suspected to say something about the bike business, which like every enterprise is feeling the economic downturn. New bike sales have slowed, but the upside is that people are trotting in stuff they own for upgrading, refurbishing or repair. Adam has all the work he needs, especially given the time of year. It’s what I hear from other small shop owners as well. The chains may be having a harder time, although some reports indicate otherwise.
You can put your used frame on the wall or used bike on the floor of The Zone and they’ll sell it, as they have for half a dozen of mine. Once I bought a Turner Six Pack at the beginning of the season and the Zone sold it for $100 less near the end, giving me four months’ “rental” of a rockin’ frame for $25 a month!
But by far the greatest thing about The Zone is personalized service, on the spot if you’re in a fix. How many times have I been ready to leave on a weekend or even multi-day bike trip, only to discover some horrific breakdown like a bent derailleur or squawky bottom bracket? Run it into the Zone, they slap it on the stand and 10 minutes later you’re ready to roll.
The first time that happened — after years of typically waiting two weeks to get my bike back, and even then not having it really fixed — it made me a Zone loyalist for life. I’ve left town for months at a time periodically over the years, and one of my great joys is to step back in the Zone, breathe deeply, and smell the bike love.
We’ll miss ya Darren! Thanks for carrying on the proud tradition, Adam!
The Downhill Zone is at 5236 University Way N.E. in Seattle, 98105. It can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 206 523-3337.