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  • Tue May 13 2008
  • Posted May 13, 2008
By John Wilcockson Paul Mason had just arrived in Austin, Texas, from his home in Auckland, New Zealand. He owns a “race-bred cyclewear” company called Solo, and he was delivering a first batch of retro racing jerseys to his first retail outlet in the United States. “It couldn’t be better,” Mason told VeloNews Friday afternoon, “than to have my clothing in a shop run by a seven-time Tour de France winner.” Yes, Mason was standing in Mellow Johnny’s bike shop — co-owned by Lance Armstrong and his business manager Bart Knaggs — which has its grand opening on Saturday, with morning bike rides, afternoon book and poster signings (including a limited-edition original just for the opening), and a late-night party. The store occupies a converted 9,000-square-foot brick warehouse just west of downtown Austin, wedged between a trio of banks and an almost-completed high-rise condominium building. It’s also a block north of the planned Lance Armstrong Bikeway that will run east-to-west on the left bank of Lake Austin past the almost-finished Austin Music Hall. With opening day fast approaching, Mellow Johnny’s — that’s Texan for Maillot Jaune — was a bustle of activity Friday afternoon. The art nouveau store sign had already been hung, and most of the large cardboard boxes that filled the floor a week ago had been unpacked, but an extensive inventory of clothing — including Mason’s Solo line — was still being laid out on shelves or hung on hangers in a part of the store overlooked by Armstrong’s seven Tour “mellow johnnies” and a giant blowup of the champ winning his “no gifts” stage into Le Grand Bornand, ahead of Team Telekom’s Andreas Klöden, in 2004. Just being hung from the north wall of the store was a massive canvas. A piece of modern art that resembled a late-year Picasso that on first appearance looked like the outline of an elephant embracing two Desperate Dan-type characters having a brawl — we’ll find out what it really represents over the weekend. Maybe it’s Mellow Johnny himself! But MJ’s is more than a store. On the south side is a coffee shop named Juan Pelota (is that Tex-Mex for Johnny’s Peloton?), where Austinites can get their morning fix after bike commuting into downtown and having a complimentary shower in the bike shop’s locker room at the northwest corner of the building. Armstrong is eager to promote bike riding for exercise and good health in his overall campaign of fighting cancer through preventative medicine. A week ago he was seen on the streets of Austin with a group of singlespeeders from the San Francisco group MashSF (they have a Web site if you want to check them out). In fact, prominently displayed above a book shelf containing Armstrong bestsellers, and the tomes of longtime coach Chris Carmichael and photographer buddy Graham Watson (there’s also a bunch of titles published by our own VeloPress), is the elegant (and very expensive) “naked” single-speed bicycle (the retro one with the wooden rims), which is believed to be the only bike that Armstrong has ever bought with his own money. Not surprisingly, the other “museum piece” bikes hung from the rafters of this too-cool building are mostly Treks: ones that Armstrong rode to victory in seven Tours. There’s also a Caloi (by Eddy Merckx) in the Motorola team colors of red and blue, which was ridden at the 1995 Tour — the race where Armstrong’s Italian teammate Fabio Casartelli crashed and died on a descent in the Pyrenees. As a mark of respect, Casartelli’s Caloi bike remained on the roof of the Motorola team car all the way to the Champs-Élysées. Mellow Johnny’s co-owner Knaggs was using the showers after a morning bike ride Friday before attending a set of meetings at his office at Capital Sports & Entertainment, a dozen blocks away from the bike store. The sales manager is Craig Staley, who was looking for a carbon lockring as he scurried off to the parts department. The shop is still hiring, but one member of the current 10-strong staff, Ted Arnold, said that those already working there are all experts: Arnold has a background in managing stores, wrenching, riding, repping and writing. “We’ve been working around the clock to get everything ready,” Arnold said. “Last week I was in a warehouse just north of here putting together 200 bikes.” Those machines are now sitting among the huge floor displays of everything from top-end Trek Madones to all types of commuter bikes, including ones with mudguards (fenders) and front baskets. Clearly, besides the racing set, the new store is out to capture a new type of cyclist, and Armstrong is hoping that his Mellow Johnny’s will be a catalyst for motorists to start switching to bike commuting as gasoline heads toward $5 a gallon. VIEW PHOTOS

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