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Why Counterbalance Bicycles is closing their iconic trailside shop

Screenshot of the Counterbalance Bicycles website with a photo of the red shop with its bicycle mural facade.
From the Counterbalance Bicycles website.

Counterbalance Bicycles is closing, ending a 16-year run in a trailside space that has become almost a part of the Burke-Gilman Trail itself. The shop is just barely off the trail where it crosses NE Blakely Street near U Village, a post Counterbalance has held since moving there from its original namesake location at W Roy Street and Queen Anne Ave (AKA the Counterbalance).

“The bike business has been amazing for me,” said owner Peter Clark, who has been in ownership of the shop since the beginning. “I’m super grateful I’ve been able to do this for as long as I have.” But after 20 years owning a bike shop, Clark said he is “just ready to do something else.”

Most everything in the shop is on sale, and they are tentatively planning to close for good on or around November 11 and be out of the space by the end of the month. They are currently open Tuesdays–Fridays from 10–6 and Saturdays from 10–5. Clark is seeking to sell the business to someone with “a serious offer.”


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This a tough time for bike shops. The first couple years of the pandemic led to a huge spike in demand for bikes and parts, but supply was limited. Now supply is available, but demand globally has come down hard from its pandemic peak. Meanwhile, competition from online-based direct-to-customer companies keeps growing, a trend under way long before the pandemic.

“Universally everybody agrees this is a great place for a shop, but universally everyone agrees this is a terrible time to try to open up a retail shop,” said Clark. “It was a lot easier to get in 10 or 15 years ago,” but now “it’s harder to find competent staff and margins on items are chopped well below the operating margins as rents go up.” These are trends affecting bike shops everywhere, not just in Seattle.

Especially for general purpose cycling shops, it is difficult to convince customers to pay the premium needed to offset all the other costs associated with operating a physical space with knowledgeable staff. As Clark put it, “Consumers’ understanding of the value of things is informed by the internet.” This of course is a problem for many retail businesses, not just bike shops. And Clark said he understands people trying to save money. “It’s tough times for a lot of folks, and I don’t blame them.” But bike shops are so much more than just a place to buy accessories or even full bicycles. They are essential bicycle infrastructure for their communities. Their mechanics are capable of keeping people’s bikes rolling, and this is a vital service that no online retailer can provide. To put it somewhat bluntly, “They’ll miss us when we’re gone,” said Clark.

Break-ins are also a problem not just due to the loss of product but also because fixing damage gets pricey. For example, someone broke their door requiring a $10,000 fix. “You know how many tubes you have to sell to make up for a $10,000 loss?” he said. These kinds of unfortunate costs of doing business wouldn’t be such a big problem if the core retail business were booming. But with shrinking margins on each sale, all unexpected costs hit that much harder.

However, Clark is not entirely pessimistic about the future of bike shops, though the traditional retail-focused model needs a rethink. “There’s no shortage of ideas,” he said. “The question is, ‘Are there energetic and enthusiastic people who have the appetite for it and are willing to follow through?’” For example, he thinks there’s “a model for bike shops that are ready to address service in a serious way.”

But at this point in his career, Clark is not interested in being the person who puts their all into finding a new path to bike shop success. He doesn’t have any specific plans for what he does next, saying he is making “a big leap of faith that something will come to me.”

Seattle has seen shops innovating new ways to find success. Niche and specially shops can charge a premium for their specialty service and expertise. Other shops have attached bike services to food and café service, which not only provides a second source of income but also provides an excuse for people to visit more often. I have made many purchases from Good Weather, for example, just because I was there to get coffee and pastry and then remembered that I needed a tool or brake pads or whatever. Getting people in the door is much of the battle for a brick and mortar retail business.

It’s certainly worrying to see long-lived general purpose bike shops like Velo and Counterbalance closing. These were shops for “normal” bikes, for lack of a better word. They were places to get a new bike that was good enough to last a long time (unlike many very low-end bikes from big box stores) but was not a high-priced specialty item. It’s going to be harder to grow cycling in Seattle without shops like Velo and Counterbalance.

Luckily, Seattle still has many excellent shops you can support. It will be exciting to see how people try to innovate different bike shop business models. This is also a great time to pick up a deal from your local shop, many of which are still sitting on inventory they hoped to sell during the summer.


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13 responses to “Why Counterbalance Bicycles is closing their iconic trailside shop”

  1. Raoul Duke

    Don’t know about this particular shop, but I’ve stopped visiting more than a few local bike shops because the owners and staff are more concerned with politics and projecting virtue than they are providing quality service. The good news is that these folks provided the impetus for me to learn how to work on and later build my own bikes. Now I have a workshop at home and now how to do all this stuff. I save a ton of time and money, but even better my bikes are tuned up correctly and consistently by somebody who actually cares.

    1. Red Floyd

      First, taking the name Duke is an insult to the author. Second, if you think ANY local shops were more focused on virtue signaling than service . . . tells us more about you than the shop.

      Please be specific: What shops (you used the plural) “are more concerned with politics and projecting virtue than they are providing quality service?”

      You “now how to do all this stuff.” Sure, and you do grammer and spelling super-gooder too.

  2. Demian

    Sad to see the shop closing. It was a bit far away to be my usual shop, but almost* always very friendly and helpful and had a good selection of bikes, accessories, and parts. Clark offers some intriguing ideas on future business models for bike shops being more service/repair oriented. I prefer locally owned businesses, but one option would be to have association with an online dealer and focus more on service/repair. Or maybe a more e-bike oriented shop.
    Additional historical note is that IIRC, Counterpoint moved in when Ti-Cycles shop moved out. Ti-Cycles had a framebuilding shop downtown and then opened a retail shop in u-village. Last I heard, they’re still going strong down in Portland: https://www.ticycles.com/.
    * I had one really rude phone interaction which I sent an email complaining about; never had any issue before/after that

  3. Conrad

    Sorry to see them go, this was a great shop. The larger bike industry is really unkind to your local bike shop, with many formerly great companies like Kona moving to a direct to consumer format. At the same time the bikes are increasingly complicated and not amenable to home service. In my opinion the best overall value, price per mile not to mention overall quality, service, and contribution to their community- is to support your local builder and shop. This goes for anything else too such as skis or fishing rods. The value of the knowledge of the people in the shop far outweigh the usually negligible lower cost of shopping online. Support them or they go away.

  4. Dirt McGirt

    Sadly, now that I know the ins and outs of how sole-proprietor bike shops work from behind the curtain, I’m not surprised shops like Velo and CB are closing. And unfortunately, greed is always the reason that these shops close.

    I’ve been in the bike biz in this town for over 20 years and 30 years counting my start on the East Coast and I’ve seen some things. Sole-proprietor bike shops tend to be the least forgiving as far as pay, time off, benefits and treatment of their employees. All while we work our fingers to the bone buying them houses and toys.

    It’s sad to me that this dude couldn’t figure out selling CB to his crew as a Co-op and could only see the quick dollar signs of another sole proprietor making him a “serious offer”. What a let down. he could help change the landscape of bike shops in this town and chose to tuck tail and get the hell outta Dodge.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll keep on saying it. Bike shop owners are some of the greediest sumumumabitches you’ll ever meet. But you won’t realize it till you work for em for a season or two, unfortunately.

    I wish his crew luck in finding work this time of year. That’s the unspoken part of all this is him leaving the people that ACTUALLY made his money for him in the lurch with a shrug and a rev of the SUV motor as he speeds away to a prosperous retirement.

    1. Red Floyd

      I gotta agree with a few of the commenters here:

      Bike shop owner is to blame? Bike shop owners are greedy? CB should have sold to the employees? Why so sure he didn’t try that?

      Methinks you don’t have the first damn clue of what you speak. Have you EVER actually spoken to an owner. Glenn, Pete, James, Neil or Gary? Who, exactly, is greedy?

      You’ve been here, ” in the biz,” for 20 years? Tell us more. Don’t hint at dirty laundry like you’re somehow in the know, then wet yourself when it comes to specifics.

  5. Eddiew

    Ty cycles was in that after they left their post alley space.

  6. Sasha

    Counterbalance used to be my main bike repair shop when it was near the actual counterbalance on Queen Anne. Adam, I believe one of the original owners, sold me my current bike, a used Bridgestone for $200, because I had worn out my old Trek to the point where he wouldn’t work on it. :) I am curious if there is more historical notes about the original Counterbalance. I believe Adam moved to New Zealand. He was a super helpful mechanic/bike shop owner for me for many years.
    Also, in my opinion, income inequality is the main problem. It contributes to the thefts mentioned in the article and to businesses not being able to afford high rent.

  7. Nick

    Sad to see the place go. I’m not much of a cyclist, I can count on one had the number of times I’ve been on the Burke, but even I recognized the red building in the picture. Any bike path is made better by stores built to service it.

    Also, Jesus, if the commenters represented my customers, I would close as well. Of the 6 commenters, one apparently can’t stand opinions other than their own and felt it was important to act on this by forsaking any bike shops and making un-related comments on bike blogs, and another commenter has apparently been gifted by 30 years in the bike industry with omnipotence, and knows with certainty that greed was the reason Counterbalance closed. I should work in the industry, I want to be omnipotent as well.

    Cyclists, best not to throw stones in a glass house.

  8. Tom

    Some of these comemtators sound, well, unbalanced. And not actually familiar with the shop.
    Counterbalance was a great shop and their people, consisently over many years of patronage, have been generous with expert advice and service. It was always a pleasure to drop in.
    Rolling by this afternoon I was deeply saddened to see the closing sign.
    Thanks for everything guys. Will miss you.
    Tom

  9. BK

    I agree with Tom above. Consistently friendly and helpful staff, many of whom have been there for years, encouraged by the owner. Not money-grubbing, typically will measure, say, the chain and tell me “you’ve got another thousand miles on this, come back in the fall and we’ll look at it again”.
    The owner is doing his best to get the present staff hired by the new owner.
    Dirt above is throwing around opinions that might apply to some shops but are wrong and unfair about Counterbalance. That’s the internet for ya.

  10. Red Floyd

    Yes, Tom, unbalanced is a good word to use. Dirt Mcgirt (above) appears seriously bent about local bike shops in general. A shop probably made him wait a whole 48 hours to get his BB replaced, his post reeks of little know-how and unreasonable expectations.

    I own a small bicycle business here in Seattle, (this is NOT a plug) and have met most of the owners of the north end’s LBS, used to work next door to Velo when they were on the hill. 37 years later, and I can still say Glenn is part of the reason I’m still riding today.

    My mantra for all, anymore, is BUY LOCAL. Did you buy your last helmet, tube or jersey online, and are now complaining about Local Bike Shops? Makes me go hmmm.

  11. Qmmayer

    Really sorry to see this one go. I got my All City there and always had good service (thanks Glenn!). Wallingford just lost School of Bike. Still have Free Range and Recycled Cyles within reach and really hope both hold on.

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