Bicycles and Coffee
When you pull into the parking lot of Gravelo Workshop in north Asheville, NC you’ll likely notice the awning over the door that reads in colorful letters “TOY BOX” before you see the sign on the door that reads “Gravelo Workshop” – and though the awnings dates back to the byegone toy store that inhabited this space before the shop moved in, I wouldn’t argue it is false advertising. This shop is full of drool-worthy, beautiful, custom built bicycles in steel, carbon and titanium; custom anodized, USA made components, and high end tools. But when you cross the threshold, what you see front and center when you walk through the entrance isn’t a bike at all, it is a gorgeous, turquoise espresso machine.
The space feels different than any shop I’ve come across so far. The bikes and coffee concept isn’t a new one to me but the execution of the format presents in a unique way here. It comfortably works as a cafe, and coming here just to sit with a coffee is a totally viable reason to drop by. Though it doesn’t occur to me as a coffee shop AND a bike shop under one roof, with a separate area for each; the tables, stools, tire racks, bikes, espresso machine, even service desk are commingled.
The space is pleasant to pass the time in and that the vibe encourages casual drop byes and extended hangs. The shop centers on a big overstuffed couch and a flat screen TV. The shop is taken care of by Matt Ball and a staff of three: Lyle, Ana, and Sam. All the folks I’ve met at the shop are lovely, and Lyle and I go way back to the NC Hardcore scene of the early aughts, something I also share with a handful of other good folks in the bicycle industry.
Can a bike shop be “beautiful?”
The vast majority of the builds and components adorning the shelves and floor space are the highest of the high end, titanium, MUSA machined aluminum, custom anodized everything. For those who get cranky about unobtainable high end bikes being showcased on the internet, sorry, I couldn’t afford these builds either but I am more than happy to gawk at them. I saw all manner of different bikes coming in and out the door, from rim brake beaters to carbon wonders, but every bike was built with an eye to the aesthetics. A warm turquoise visually ties the shop together but the full spectrum of jewel tones adorn every shelf and corner of the space.
The space is well stocked but not cluttered. An aesthetic that is carefully curated without feeling intimidating or pretentious, even despite the high end componentry and bicycles. It’s a nice place to sit around and hang out. There are plentiful reading materials if you’ve got no other reason than to come here and have a coffee and read a back issue of Rouluer, which is a perfectly good reason to come here. Magazines and books scattered about the store alongside the typical trail guides and regional maps. It helps that the coffee is very, very good.
Linger here long enough you begin to notice signs of the building’s long history. The marking on the floor where the soda fountain sat during its early days as a pharmacy and soda shop, the tin paneled ceiling. When they opened the walls during construction they found old dry wall panels covered in vintage decals and stickers with names like Salsa and Panaracer from a years prior bike shop that had once occupied this space.
Can a bike shop be “Gravel Specific?”
The popularity of “gravel” bikes and riding flummoxes some shop owners I know in areas where there aren’t more than a dozen miles of gravel roads for hundreds of miles around, but for the patron picking up a fat-tired road bike here, they have a choice of not one but two winding gravel switchbacks practically out the shops back door, and hundreds of miles of rugged forest road in the surrounding hills. I managed to catch a post-thanksgiving group ride at the shop that adopted an atypically chill pace and shorter route than usual, which meant I got to treat my viewfinder to a variety of fun customer rides you’d not see for the usual high paced sunday ride. The abbreviated route was a “just play the hits” route that took advantage of the two sets of gravel switchbacks in the neighborhood.
In choosing to combine the words Velo and Gravel into the name of the bike shop, Gravelo has committed to a sub-genre to a certain degree. With a name like that you have to be comfortable with the idea that customers can expect a certain type of bicycle to dominate the shop floor, despite Asheville’s dominantly mountain biking oriented scene.
In fact, the focus on gravel surfaces, drop bars, and espresso probably helps Gravelo stand out and avoid eating slices of the same pie as their near neighbors. Merrimon Avenue now hosts three bike shops on a two mile stretch, of which Gravelo is the newest. Asheville has always been a mountain biking town for as long as I can remember, so while racks and racks of fat tire, drop bar bikes dominating the shop floor of your local bike shops feels very normal these days, Gravelo is doing something different here by committing in name and concept to gravel bikes.
Gravelo, as a name, is a portmanteaus: a single word made by smushing two others together. In this case gravel, and velo. But the concept extends to the shops aesthetic and vibe as well. It is tidy but well stocked. Clean but not clinical. A balanced place. It’s part coffee shop, part bike shop. A store that isn’t transactionally retail. Not a CVS with carbon handlebars. It’s a place that you can buy a bike but is also pleasant to spend time in, a place yoy would want to linger. In fact, I’ve written the bulk of this article doing just that. Enjoying an americano at the communal cafe table, bicycles all around me.
793 Merrimon Ave, Asheville, NC 28804
Tuesday 8 AM–6 PM
Wednesday 9:30 AM–6 PM
Thursday 8 AM–6 PM
Friday 8 AM–6 PM
Saturday 9:30 AM–5 PM