Maybe you love your local bike shop. Maybe you don’t even know where it is. But chances are, your LBS is probably not where you go to while away a Saturday afternoon. When you’re there, it’s for a reason—to get that flat fixed, or to throw down some cash and ride out with a new bike. If you’re not considering a bicycle-related business transaction, most bike shops don’t have much to offer. Unless you’re at L.A.’s Golden Saddle Cyclery.
Golden Saddle is an institution in Los Angeles. In a city that’s known for freeways and mind-melting traffic, Golden Saddle is spreading the doctrine of cycling, celebrating the amazing riding the City of Angels has to offer. Since opening its doors back in 2011, the shop, located just off Sunset Boulevard in the trendy neighborhood of Silver Lake, has become a destination for cyclists in L.A. and beyond. It’s the kind of place you walk into because you need a part, and return to because you really like the people. The next time you bring beers. Pretty soon, you’re a regular. At least that’s how Kyle Kelley, the shop’s owner, describes it.
“We’re very friendly people,” he tells Men’s Journal on a recent afternoon while sitting in the sunlit alley next to the shop, where customers and friends frequently gather. “So we are constantly making new friends.”
It’s hard to pin down exactly what makes Golden Saddle so inviting. Maybe it’s the decor, which includes a lovingly curated selection of colorful water bottles, cycling caps, jerseys, and other biking memorabilia covering the walls. Maybe it’s the shop’s Friday group rides, where anyone willing to wake up early can drop in, meet other riders, and test their mettle on routes that include some of the best—and toughest—dirt and road riding in the city. Or, like Kelley says, maybe it’s just the people. Either way, Golden Saddle has attracted a devoted following.
“We call it the Los Angeles living room,” explains Ginger Boyd, brand manager at women’s cycling outfitter Machines for Freedom and a frequent Golden Saddle visitor. “There’s messengers that go there, there’s mountain bikers, there’s the roadies, there’s gravel riders, there’s just commuters who also sometimes ride dirt in the mountains.”
Kelley never expected to be the proprietor of a bike shop. He grew up thousands of miles away in Evansville, Indiana, and has been riding since he was a kid, mainly BMX and mountain biking. He continued biking as an adult, but focused on another passion, photography, which he studied in college. Eventually he moved to Los Angeles to work in the film industry, but it wasn’t a good fit.
“The hours were so long, and it felt like everyone was always against you,” he says. “I eventually decided to turn my hobby into my living and my living into my hobby.”
So it was back to bikes. He worked at a now-defunct L.A. bike shop called Orange20 for a few years, then founded Golden Saddle Cyclery with two business partners, Ty Hathaway and Thomas Wood. Kelley and his partners got the keys to the shop in 2010, and it officially opened in 2011. He insists he didn’t set out to create a bike shop that was also a gathering space. It all just happened organically.
“I just wanted to feel comfortable in the place I worked, and make it comfortable for everyone else.”
Nearly a decade later, it’s clear he was onto something. Golden Saddle now routinely draws cyclists from across the city and beyond. On one of my recent visits, two cyclists from Seattle were in town, checking out the store and getting taco recs from Kelley. On another visit, I met a guy from Japan who was living in L.A. for a month and wrenching at Golden Saddle just because he loved it so much. Boyd recalls going to a race in Seoul, South Korea, and noticing that all the local riders were wearing Golden Saddle socks.
“We call ourselves the Most Famous Neighborhood Bike Shop Ever,” says Kelley.
Closer to home, the store is deeply embedded in the community. People pop in to get a derailleur adjusted, or just to say hi to Kelley and his comrades. The long row of bikes parked in the store’s alleyway is a cross-section of cycling in Los Angeles: Hundred-dollar beach cruisers are mixed in with high-end road bikes and old-school single-speed mountain bikes.
“When you come into Golden Saddle, you see cyclists that come in from all walks of life,” says Cache, a Golden Saddle mechanic and street artist. “If it’s a cook or dishwasher that’s speaking Spanish, I want to give them the same treatment that I will give a guy that walks in here with a Cervélo.”
That inclusive spirit makes the store a meeting place for all kinds of riders, says Boyd. Roadies and mountain bikers; riders of all sizes, colors, and genders—the store’s clientele reflects both the huge range of riding available in L.A. and the diversity of the city itself.
“Every kind of cyclist can go there,” says Boyd. “I don’t know any other shop like that.”
Even the products on the shelves are unique. The store focuses on made-in-the-U.S.A. bikes and merchandise and also sources from boutique suppliers around the globe. When I first walked into the shop, I was amazed to find parts I had only seen on Instagram: colorful brake levers by Paul Component and beautiful hammered aluminum fenders from Japan. That’s all part of the appeal.
“We try to have products in here that people have never seen in real life,” says Kelley. “That’s how we stay in business.”
The best stuff on offer at Golden Saddle, however, is local knowledge. Kelley works hard to make sure that everyone who walks into the shop leaves with an appreciation for biking in Los Angeles. There’s a lot working against him: 19 cyclists died on the city’s streets in 2019. Bike infrastructure is few and far between. L.A. routinely gets portrayed as a terrible place to ride.
But at Golden Saddle, a different perspective holds sway. Los Angeles, with its flat terrain nestled between soaring mountains and its near-perfect year-round weather, is actually a cyclist’s paradise. Even the city’s sprawl can be a benefit, says Kelley. With so many roads, it’s possible to find a low-traffic route to pretty much anywhere.
“The groundwork that we do here is just getting more people on bicycles and teaching them how to be happy and safe riding a bicycle in Los Angeles,” says Kelley. “We preach pretty hard about how awesome it is.”
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Tomorrow…we party!!! We’re going to rock @young_hi_mito ‘s line in Elysian, then dabble in @cachicken ‘s secret forest, then hit Deb’s, before ending @bicyclecoffeela !!! It’s going to be good, it’s going to be wild! Bring a dirt bike and be prepared to get rowdy or you can chill. We love you all!!! Meet @intelligentsiacoffee Silver Lake 7AM and we roll at 7:30!!!
The shop is also not shy about getting people out on the dirt. L.A. has a wealth of fire roads and singletrack threading through the mountains around the city—something that most outsiders don’t know much about.
“It’s always been this low-key, locals only, type of vibe to our trails,” says Cache.
But the trails are world-class, and Cache has noticed that more and more riders are discovering them. They also feature prominently in the store’s Friday morning rides, which can be pretty brutal.
“The mountain biking is really hard here,” says Kelley. “It’s just steep climbing, then a really fast, technical rocky descent.”
Recent Friday rides have included crushing climbs into the Hollywood Hills, dirt rides in the canyons above Altadena, and even exploring hidden trails in Elysian Park, near Dodger Stadium. Every week, riders come back for more, and Kelley and the rest of the Golden Saddle crew are happy to share it with them.
“You can ride four different mountain ranges in a week in Los Angeles if you want,” Kelley says. “Biking here is so unlike anywhere else in the country.”
Perhaps even more than fixing and selling bikes, showing off the best of L.A. riding is what the store is all about. And judging by the stream of people flocking to the shop, it’s something a lot of people are looking for.
“You can walk in here any day,” says Cache, “have a beer, shoot the shit with people from your own community or other communities, and just be stoked on cycling.”
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