by Ross Duzenbery
Matty Shelton, an employee of Drop n’ Zone bikeworks, sits at the computer behind the counter greeting customers as they enter. Shelton’s blue jeans, brown Transition Bike Company t-shirt, and red backwards baseball hat immediately convey the relaxed atmosphere of the shop. The 29-year-old has been working at DNZ for the past year—one of the four the shop has been open.
Employees like Shelton epitomize the sense of community in the shop and, in a large way, directly influence the future of the sport of mountain biking in Bellingham and surrounding areas.
Shelton typically arrives to work by 9 a.m. each Monday through Thursday, beginning his day by checking the shop’s e-mail inbox for any online orders or customer concerns. If any orders come in, Shelton contacts the dealers and distributors of whatever brands are ordered.
The rest of a typical summer day is spent packing and shipping orders, putting bikes together, and helping customers with whatever issues they may bring in. As one of Transition Bike Company’s main distributors, DNZ usually takes about 30 to 40 orders a week in summer, many of which are international orders.
The rest of a typical winter day, when business is slow due to the dreary weather and popularity of winter sports like skiing and snowboarding, is spent “drinking beer,” says Shelton. “Sometimes we close early and go for a ride.”
Shelton walks over to the fridge and pulls out a chicken fajita and a beer. “This isn’t your typical work environment,” he says. “You get to drink beer on the job.”
Shelton says his favorite part of the job is being able to interact with customers.
“I took the job because I liked the shop,” he says. “Not because I needed a job. It doesn’t pay much; enough for the bills; but the hook-ups on parts is nice.”
Interaction with customers is generally lighthearted and cordial. However, Shelton recalls a time he was showing a customer how to “true” (align) a wheel during his third week of work. When finished, the customer went ballistic over DNZ’s labor rate. The customer shouted and cursed in his rage and told Shelton “I know where you work!” Shelton responded by throwing the man’s wheel into the street and telling him to leave. “I probably could have handled that one a little better,” says Shelton.
The bells on the door announce the entrance of a customer. “What’s up, Dale?” says Shelton as if he has known the man for years. The customer replies that his back brake isn’t working.
“I’m pretty stoked,” says the customer. “I think we’re going to go ride on Saturday because it’s going to be so nasty on Monday.”
“You mean you’re going to be too drunk on Sunday to go Monday?” says Shelton. “Well, it’s Super Bowl Sunday,” replies the customer.
The only part of working at DNZ that Shelton does not like is having to deal with the rivalry between competing bike shops in Bellingham. “We’re all here to ride,” he says.
“Hey, Matty,” says an employee. “Come here, I think I figured out the problem with the brakes.” Shelton lets out an amazed laugh as he sees what his co-worker is pointing out. “Oh my God,” he says. “It looks like you pushed the entire piston through!”
The customer soon has his bike back in working order and pays for the service at the counter by the door. He mutters something about how much his bike weighs and Shelton immediately retrieves a bike scale from the shop. “We call this the dream crusher,” he says. With dreams of a lightweight bike thoroughly crushed, the customer exits and is bid farewell by everyone in the shop.
The phone rings now and again, and Shelton is able to answer any questions the customers have. “We actually don’t have any of that stuff in stock right now,” Shelton tells one customer. “Be sure to let it out in small increments or else you’ll never find a base level,” he tells another.
Another customer fumbles around with a bike until he gets frustrated and asks Shelton for some help. “It takes repetition,” Shelton says as he skillfully pops the bottom bracket into place. “It’s not easy to just do something once.”
A large cardboard box sits on the floor in the shop. Shelton slices open the box and pulls out a brand new Yeti ASR-7 that a customer had ordered. “They’re good bikes but they’re super expensive,” he says. He examines the frame and explains to his young co-worker that the glossy paint they put over the carbon fiber can sometimes crack and chip off.
Shelton moved to Bellingham from Tacoma about 10 years ago to attend school at Western Washington University and go snowboarding at Mount Baker. Although he did get a degree (in fine arts), his snowboard became neglected as he was introduced to mountain biking.
“It consumed me,” he says. “I still love powder days, but there’s something about being on a bike in the woods.”
Shelton not only rides mountain bikes, but is a trail builder working with the Whatcom Trails CO-OP, which is dedicated to building and maintaining mountain bike trails in Northwest Washington.
Shelton has built many trails, including the raucous “Unemployment Line” on Galbraith Mountain. On the last Sunday of every month, Shelton and a crew of about 15 to 20 experienced builders head out to maintain the trails that so may people use and enjoy. “It’s easy to build something that hits well,” says Shelton. “It’s hard to build something that lasts.”
Shelton has had seven or eight bikes in his lifetime. His first bike was an old specialized rock hopper which he gave to his roommate because it had a flat tire. His current bike is a brand new Devinci Wilson, which usually sells for around $3,500 for the frame and rear shock alone. “I sold three bikes to build this one,” he says.