ZenCog(gin) business gets the fun between your legs

Spinnaker

One might say that downtown Jacksonville plays host to a neat little biking community, especially in the fixed-gear littered streets of Riverside and Avondale (and OK, maybe Jax Beach’s well-beach-cruised roads). One might also call this bike scene a pretentious one, closed off to folks not already within the “in” and without a messenger bag strapped to their unwashed, secondhand sweatshirt.

Unfortunately, upon arriving to the newly formed Jacksonville-based bike company ZenCog’s pre-opening party Jan. 24, this sentiment resounded loudly when a sour kid biked past the Spinnaker’s photographer and myself whilst unloading from a car ride from Arlington and snarled at our auto-powered entrance with a loudly whispered, “lazy.”

But fortunately, the single, snarled insult was the only word not echoing camaraderie and pep during Sunday afternoon’s well-attended event at the Stockton Street shop’s shindig.

About a month ago, two LakeShore Bicycles employees Garf Cooper and Steve Szilagyi, and a regular, Clark Schaffer, decided they had had enough of the snobbery. The trio of modest bikers surmised to open a bicycle shop that would “build real bikes for real people,” Cooper said.

ZenCog, seated just at the corner of College, a stone’s throw from the official Five Points neighborhood, emitted good vibes for all.

Cooper and Szilagyi struck up a friendship during their half decade or so working together at LakeShore, punctuating their days clocked in with complaints. Their most frequent gripes revolved around the sell-sell-sell aspect of a commercial bike shop and the sometimes inherent snobbery attached to the biking community.

“We wanted to focus on the fun part,” Cooper said. “We want to be able to service everyone.”

Cooper and Szilagyi arrived at the decision to open a cycling repository of their own that was “not gonna be like every other bike store.” Without much business savvy on their own, the two turned to a dude they got to know from time behind the counter at LakeShore — Bubba Burger’s CFO and their biking buddy, Clark Schaffer.

Schaffer, an ’82 UNF alum who went on to receive his Certified Public Account license, hopped on board to help devise a business plan … one that he completed before a week had passed, but only under the circumstance that Cooper and Szilagyi had let him toss some capital behind the endeavor. They obliged.

The shop specializes in steel frame bikes, which better absorb bumps than other materials. Plus, they’re classic, Schaffer said.

“It’s timeless,” Schaffer said of the trio’s frame component of choice. “Aluminums are more modern material. Old stuff isn’t so bad.”

ZenCog plans to sell not only bike parts, but they offer custom-built, complete bikes from low-maintenance brands like Surly, Selma and of course the brand Schaffer created in a warehouse whilst building bikes for the hell of it, ZenCog.

“The original ZenCog was made not to need a lot of service,” Schaffer said. “I’d rather have a lot of customers who we don’t need to see because their bikes are running than have a few customers who keep coming back with problems.”

Bikeheads can come into the shop and abuse the bike-brilliance of the ZenCog’s staff by having them help select parts from a few wall-mounted computer screens. Next comes a deposit, a few days pass and after a quick swing by the store, hey, you’ve got your new stuff. And with a much lower mark-up than some other joints in town.

“For me, it’s an experiment,” Schaffer said, explaining that most bike shops mark up prices 100 percent from cost while ZenCog aims to keep it around 20 or 30 percent mark-up.

Besides the killer deals, the shop prides itself on the positive ambiance swimming around.

“It’s a way better atmosphere than any other bike shop in town,” Alex Sprunt, a local bike polo fiend, said.

Mariah Fortune-Johnson, a UNF accounting sophomore, cited the non-judgemental climate as a major bonus of the new business.

“I like the community,” she said. “There’s no bike bias.”

That seems to be a big part of the point.

“Most of our money is made from service, we’ll service every kind of bicycle that’s out there,” Schaffer said.

Cooper said heck, they wouldn’t even mind fixing up a clunker-ova-Wal-Mart bike should someone stroll one in … whatever it takes to keep the wheels turning in the community. ZenCog just doesn’t play the snob card.

“We’re different, we’re human, we’re not a big corporation,” Schaffer said. “We just love cycling.”

ZenCog officially opens Monday, Feb. 1 at 883 Stockton St. They plan to keep their doors swung open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.