1408 Bingham St., South Side
412-390-3590 or www.thickbikes.com
Thick Bikes' front door on South 15th Street doesn't look like it belongs to a public business. It faces a busy parking lot, and a helpful sign instructs you to walk around back. But even when you reach the Bingham Street entrance, it's not clear you're about to enter a bike shop. A sign next to a sliding glass door tells you to push a button. When you do, the door slides open -- whoosh! -- and, if you're sufficiently inspired, you're now cleared for arrival.
The store's interior is like a bricked cave ... with bikes everywhere, in all directions, shining, hanging from the warehouse-high ceilings, and stacked next to walls. As Paul Pojak, a 52-year-old veteran commuting cyclist and longtime Thick Bikes customer, puts it, "This place is the best bike shop in the universe."
He takes a quick glance around at all the fixed-geared bikes, the touring bikes, the mountain bikes -- the Surlys and Redlines and even the rare, handcrafted Intense mountain bikes. "Well," he says, "it's not like an REI, I can tell you that much."
He has a point. While REI has plenty to offer, its South Side location a few blocks away has much in common with REIs nationwide. Thick Bikes, by contrast, is one of a kind.
Chris Beech, Thick Bikes' owner, explains that when he first moved to Pittsburgh a decade ago, his plan was to start a niche shop that could fabricate custom cycles. He ran Thick Bikes that way for years. But as the business grew, he saw there was a market for something more mainstream.
"So we gave the people what they wanted," he says.
What they wanted, apparently, was a shop in the city offering new and used bikes, along with service and repairs that rival any shop in the region. In addition to simple fixes, Thick Bikes can perform complicated welding work on bike frames.
"We still do as much of the customized stuff as we can," Beech says. "But just helping people ride their bikes more often has worked well. I hear people every day telling me, 'This is the year I sell my car and commute by bike every day.' And that's a pretty good feeling."