Posted by Miles Arbour
The town of Bellingham, Washington, should ring a bell for some of our readers out there, especially those in tune with the cycling industry in the Pacific Northwest. Besides being home to bike brands like Transition Bikes and Canfield Brothers, Bellingham is surrounded by a huge network of mountain bike trails that lure in riders from all over the world. Besides the wealth of local riding, a tightly knit cycling community, and an already impressive number of bike shops, it seemed there was room for one more to be added into the mix: The Kona Bike Shop. The first and only Kona-specific full service bike shop offers everything your local bike shop offers, but with a huge emphasis on everything Kona. Miles popped by the shop on his way to ride the Oregon Timber Trail to see what all the hype was about, meet the staff, and to learn more about the shop’s involvement in the local bikepacking community.
I more or less stumbled across the Kona Bike Shop while I was in Bellingham. Although I’m also sure Hilary from Pack NW must have mentioned something about the shop as well, considering they stock some of her bike bags – which is pretty rad to see. It’s a great looking store, both inside and out, and for the Kona Bike lovers out there, it’s a real treat to be able to see all of the newest models on display, and backed by employees who live and breath Kona. After meeting Matt, the manager of the store, we were quick to diverge into conversation about bikepacking, tire clearances on the Kona Sutra LTD, and the unexpected appearance of some custom Porcelain Rocket bags on Matt’s personal bike. It was obvious that Matt knew his stuff, was definitely involved in the bikepacking community, and it appeared the shop was playing a major role in that as well. I tossed a few questions Matt’s way so we can all learn a little bit more about this unique shop.
A Kona-specific bike shop… how did that come to be? And why Bellingham?
Kona was founded in Vancouver, BC, but soon moved its US operations to Washington State. We have been designing and developing bikes in Whatcom County for 30 years now. Having our US headquarters located in Ferndale, WA, about 20 miles North of Bellingham, the idea of having a factory flagship in town just made sense. We can reach a larger demographic now that we have a store, and it’s one of, if not the only, place you can see every bike we make on one sales floor.
How does the shop connect with the local cycling community?
We offer group rides, clinics, women’s specific workshops, community trail build days, neutral support for the local Cyclocross series, as well as our first ever Whatcom Creek Trail Clean-up day on Sept. 8, which will coincide with our 30th Birthday celebration at the shop. We have such a tight cycling community in Bellingham, and being able to be really offer up our space and all our brand has to offer really makes my job extremely rewarding.
What is it about the Kona Bike Shop that gets you most excited?
The fact that I get to focus on a single bike brand that has been so influential in the bike world is really exciting to me. I think it’s also the people who work for Kona that help to make us what we are today. We have only been doing the retail thing for three years now and I can’t believe how successful this platform has been for us. I’m excited for what the future holds for us.
What led to your involvement with the shop?
I worked as a Kona Dealer in the Midwest before moving to the PNW, and in that time some friends and I started a grassroots mountain bike team. What started as a 24-hour race team as a pretty big joke that quickly developed some kind of cult following. We solely focused on Single Speed MTB racing and promoting unsanctioned races and events all throughout my home state of Missouri. Kona was one of our first sponsors, and was always hooking us up with swag for our events, but also bikes for us to ride and race. I wanted to do something bigger than just racing bikes, I wanted to create that sense of community in St. Louis. The team is still around has since decided to move away from its original name due to some poor life choices made by its owner, but its DNA is still the same. Though they’re currently seeking a new name, the superior attitude and superior state of mind behind what we built over a decade will never die.
I hear you successfully completed the Dirty Kanza. Any big plans moving forward?
I completed the DK200 in 2016 aboard my Kona Private Jake SS, and it still to this day was one of the best days I have ever had on two wheels! I am going to try and make another big gravel race happen in 2019, maybe the Land Run or Almanzo. I have some lofty goals set for myself over the next few years, starting with doing Oregon Timber Trail Route and The Olympic 420 route in 2019, then the Arizona Trail Race and Colorado Trail Race in 2020, then finally the Tour Divide in 2021. It’s great to be able to live what you sell and do it for the company I would be most likely be riding for on all these adventures anyway.
What influence does bikepacking have on the shop?
It’s as important of a category to us as anything. We had our first women’s guided bikepacking event this past spring and it was a huge hit. The access to bikepacking and touring from the shop’s front doors is also something that makes our location so unique. You can easily do a S24O that’s 80% singletrack right from the shop and shred trail for breakfast on the way to work the next day. We have so many great overnights right in our backyard, and I know we are far from the only ones doing them, but we are certainly leading the way for those who are looking for beta on bikepacking.
Make sure to check out both the Kona Bikes Store and Pack NW if you’re ever in Bellingham. It’s definitely worth popping into!