Al’s Cycle Solutions
693 Tenth Avenue (between 47th and 48th)
New York, NY, 10036
While riding up 10th Avenue a couple of months ago I noticed a sign for a new bike shop. I was pleased at the prospect of a new store in my neighborhood and, when the store opened in May, pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of its proprietor, Alain Guillerme. Al’s Cycle Solutions is a modest-sized store, cheerfully jostling for space with pizza joints and Mexican delis on a modest block in Hell’s Kitchen. It’s friendly-looking—there’s a dog! there’s a baby!—and clean. And, at only two blocks from the West Side Highway bike path, it’s easy to get to.
Situated on the west side of 10th Avenue between 47th and 48th, the storefront opens into a main room with bikes and accessories—pedals, pumps, locks, and more. The next room has helmets, shoes, and clothing, followed by a large nook with kids’ bikes, bells, and a few assorted adult bikes. There’s a bathroom for customer use and, in back, the workshop, with bike stands, tools, more bikes, and the obligatory wheels hanging from the ceiling.
Al’s always in the house, as is his laidback black lab, Lance (ahem), and typically one or both of his assistants helping out up front or wrenching in the back. Al’s wife, Marci, is there on weekends, and the baby is their nine-month-old daughter, Lia. (It’s amazing how a little kid can add humanity to a retail operation.) My first time in the store I felt welcome and comfortable—not something to take for granted in a bike shop, where all too often “surly” is not just the name of a brand . . .
It just so happens that I recently lucked into a good deal on a new (to me) frame. I considered taking it to my usual shop, but after several good interactions with Al I asked him to build it up. He did a terrific job at a very reasonable price (I called around and got several other quotes that didn’t come close). He even touched up one spot on the frame that was scratched, without my asking. Overall, I’ve been very impressed, so I wanted to share what I consider my lucky new discovery with NYVelocity.
KS: How long have you been interested in cycling, Al?
AG: Probably since I was around 6. My first bike was a light blue Schwinn with 20” wheels. My parents were always working so I had to teach myself how to ride it. I also loved taking bikes apart and putting them back together, even as a kid.
KS: What brands do you carry in the shop?
AG: We currently carry Cannondale, Jamis, Bianchi, Dahon, SE, Electra and Redline. And kids bikes to boot. For helmets we chose to carry Uvex and Louis Garneau—I thought both of these brands provide a good bang for the buck—and Uvex eyewear. We chose Yakima for car racks, and are one of only two authorized Yakima dealers in NYC. We try to sell brands that we believe in, and we’ve chosen our current inventory based on quality and value, making sure we can cater to customers of all economic levels. We currently have limited clothing but plan on expanding in that area soon. Oh, shoes also, and tools, glasses, bags, locks, lights, and on and on. We try to carry a bit of everything, and if we don’t have it we can probably get it. We try to sell people what they need, and don’t oversell just to make a quick buck. In our store, anything we can do to make the customer happy (within reason, of course), we will do.
KS: What’s your average price on, say, an Ultegra 10-speed cassette?
AG: It runs about $99.99. It’s probably one of the better steel cassettes on the market.
KS: What can you tell us about your wrenching experience? Have you worked as a bike mechanic elsewhere in the past?
AG: When I met Marci, my opening line was “I’m not your typical Jewish guy. I can fix things.” That’s pretty much it: I’ve worked on every type of bike under the sun, and can fix almost anything. If I can’t fix it, I’ll admit it. Years ago I worked at Enoch’s bike shop here on 10th Avenue. I also worked as the service manager at Greenwich Bicycles, a high end bike shop in Greenwich, Connecticut, and was a manager at Larry’s Bicycles Plus (formerly Larry & Jeff’s) on 2nd Avenue. I have good relationships with all of them—all great guys—it was simply time for me to go it alone!
KS: Do you do all your repair work?
AG: I do all the major wrenching, and I oversee everything that comes out of the back. The reputation of the store is at stake, so I always make sure all of the repairs are double-checked before the customer leaves the store. Chase and Nelson [his two colleagues who help with repair work] are young, smart, and driven, and they love bikes. I hope to have them around for a long time.
KS: Do you rent bikes?
AG: We currently rent Cannondale mountain bikes and hybrids for $10/hour ($40/day). We also have a few road bikes for rent and a tandem bike, but the prices on these are a bit higher. We include helmets with all rentals, and will try our best to accommodate special requests. We do take reservations for rentals, which is especially good in the event someone needs to reserve a bike for a race.
KS: What prompted you to open a shop now? Is it difficult doing so in the face of the current economic environment?
AG: I’ve wanted my own store for many years. When I met Marci in 2005 we started thinking about it together. We put it off for a while because we were trying to have a baby. Once Marci became pregnant we started looking again, but the rents were absolutely outrageous, so we both kept working in the hopes that the perfect space would come along. Then came a new recession, a new President, and a new baby. We were determined to find something reasonable so that our daughter could have a bright future. Eventually, Marci’s father came across our current location. It was love at first sight, and our landlord was pretty fair.
Now, the hard part: How do we expect to survive in a retail environment during a major recession when nobody is buying anything? All we heard was “this is not a good time to be starting a business.” Well, our entire relationship and all of the events leading up to the birth of our daughter were based on fate, so we told everybody to mind their business and signed the lease. You know: if you build it they will come! I started work on the store and, with help from family and a few friends, I built it up in about a month. We decided to remain in our one bedroom apartment in order to conserve funds, and Marci still works a full time job during the week. We gave up a lot. The bottom line is, Marci and I decided if we didn’t try now we never would—we’re not getting any younger. We are doing pretty well so far, but hope that word of the store will spread and we’ll build a loyal following.
KS: Why did you choose Hell’s Kitchen?
AG: I was born and raised in Hell’s Kitchen, and my mother still lives in the building where I grew up. Marci has lived in Hell’s Kitchen for more than 25 years, and Lia was born here. We’re passionate about the neighborhood and respect its diversity. This is our home, and we hope to be able to be a part of its growth. Also, the commute for me is pretty darn good!
KS: What are your hopes for the store?
AG: Plain and simple, we would like to achieve a comfortable level of success so our daughter can live happily without worry. As I said before, Marci is still working a full time job, and I would love for her to be able to spend more time with Lia. Maybe we will expand one day, but for now we just hope our customers leave happy and keep coming back. Our dealers are very supportive of us, so we also plan to get involved with some charities. I would also like to sponsor a team at some point, and we are now involved with Team in Training (The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society), and we have a discount program for Equinox members. We’re also running some corporate discount programs. If anybody has any ideas for us, we’re more than happy to listen!
KS: Out of curiosity, you had a good-looking Bottecchia in the window a week or two ago—was that your race bike?
AG: She was my race bike back in the ‘80s. I even won a few on her. Of course, I was 20 years younger then.
KS: And you’ve done some downhill racing, I gather, given that Foes for sale?
AG: I did downhill for fun, and it used to scare the living heck out of me. I never really knew what brakes were before I rode downhill. I’ve done a few cartoon moves while downhilling—you know, going straight into a tree and sliding down and melting into the ground… It was fun back then, but Marci won’t let me do it now, so the Foes goes.
KS: What sort of riding do you do now?
AG: Honestly, not much time to ride right now, although I miss it terribly. New store, new baby—big commitments. I am hoping to get out a bit one of these days, but right now my heart and soul is with my family and the store. Maybe I’ll organize an evening ride in the Fall. Interested?
KS: Sure. As an aside, you once mentioned an interest in archery, something I also enjoy. Are you a target shooter? Do you plan to expand from bikes to bows?
AG: I started shooting in 1991 at the age of 31. Back in 1998 I was ranked 93rd in the world for Olympic-style shooting. I’ve done a few tournaments here and there with a compound bow. As far as the mechanics of the sport, I cut my own arrows, build bows, and make strings for the bows. I have all of the tools. It’s a very relaxing hobby. I currently own more than 12 bows; they’re all great, but I may end up selling a few of them in the future for lack of space. We became an authorized Hoyt USA dealer through Lancaster Archery—a great company—and we can typically receive shipments the day after we order. Depending on how the winter treats us, I may bring in some archery equipment to supplement our bike business. In the interim, if there is anybody out there who needs any advice, or wants to order anything, they can certainly come and see us.
KS: I noticed you renting some bicycles to some tourists recently—you spoke what sounded like fluent French to me. And then I overheard you chatting with someone in Spanish. Just how many languages do you speak?
AG: French and English are my first languages. I spoke French growing up and went to the Lyçee Français. I also speak quite a bit of Spanish from my days in the restaurant and hotel business. Nelson, one of our mechanics, speaks Portuguese, and we can all say “hello” and “thank you” in quite a few other languages . . . and the smile is always universally understood.