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Custom bike shop opens nearby

Local cyclist Doug Rappaport is a big fan of Bespoke, a new neighborhood bike shop.

FIRST PERSON | Doug Rappaport

Offering handmade bicycles and promising precision maintenance services, Bespoke Cycles is now open at 2843 Clay Street, near Scott, the storefront previously occupied for many years by Tony Kitz Oriental Rugs. As a nearby neighbor and an avid cyclist, I’m excited — because in addition to selling custom bicycles and top-end equipment, Bespoke is quickly becoming a hub for local cycling with bicycle-related events and rides.

I met the three owners of the shop about a decade ago when they worked together at City Cycle at the corner of Steiner and Union. Back then, City Cycle was owned by Clay Mankin, a charismatic character who loved cycling and life. His shop was known as a great place to work and became a gathering point for local cyclists, especially on Saturdays for the weekly 9 a.m. ride.

We’d meet in front of City Cycle and, even though the shop didn’t officially open until 10, Clay would always be there just in case someone needed a quick fix — which was most often on the house. He rarely rode with us because someone had to mind the store, but his easy ability to get along with everyone went with us on the ride. We had as much fun talking as we did challenging each other up Mt. Tamalpais, and I’m fortunate to have made some lasting friendships from that group.

Sadly, while riding his bike from San Francisco to Santa Barbara in celebration of his 50th birthday in 2005, Clay suffered a fatal heart attack in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Clay’s “memorial and celebration” filled the Great American Music Hall. I was amazed by how many lives he touched and I left that evening reminded of the personal mantra Clay and I shared: Enjoy each and every day.

The weekly rides dwindled and came to an end after that. And ultimately, Clay’s influence on City Cycle faded and the core employees left as new management turned it into a more traditional bike shop. Not only did I sorely miss Clay and our talks about life, but I knew of no other bike shop that sold only products it believed in, had perfectionists as mechanics and employees such as Ari Bronsztein, who — like a mad scientist with a tape measure, plumb line and computer imaging — spent an hour adjusting my position and alleviated the knee pain that had plagued me for years.

Eventually rumor spread that Ari and two of Clay’s other former employees, Aaron Allen and Stefan Paszke, were contemplating opening their own shop to carry on where Clay left off. Fate first brought those two together in 1999, when Aaron broke his ankle during a mountain bike race and Stefan stopped to help.

None of the three friends had any retail experience, but with the help of a number of Clay’s former customers, who pitched in to help draft business plans, negotiate leases and secure funding, they got Bespoke Cycles up and running.

Bespoke — offering bicycles and accessories — is located at 2843 Clay Street.

The new neighbors have been supportive, too. “All we’ve received is warmth,” Aaron said recently, noting that many locals have stopped by to offer welcoming good wishes — and even homemade meals — since they made the move to Clay Street.

Bespoke continues to focus on custom and semi-custom bicycles and other top-end equipment and clothing. It also offers a host of bicycle-related services including routine maintenance and repairs, custom-made orthotics and computer-assisted bicycle fittings. Future plans include group rides, community cycling events and even yoga classes for bicyclists — all activities Clay Mankin would have been proud to support.

Doug Rappaport, a criminal defense lawyer in San Francisco, lives in the neighborhood.