SSC Dealer Spotlight: Sports Garage

Spotlight on Elorie Slater & Sports Garage

Name: Elorie Slater
Shop: Sports Garage Cycling (www.sportsgarage.net)
Founded: 1994
Doors: 1
Location: Boulder, CO
Employees: 9

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From the outside, Sports Garage Cycling doesn’t exactly appear to be a bike shop. In fact, the unorthodox facility, formed from two WWII-era Quonset huts slammed together, has a long-standing reputation for being a ‘speakeasy,’ says co-owner Elorie Slater. “Many people are not sure where to find us, or what we do. They often find us on a referral basis, and the reaction we get is, ‘I had no idea you guys were doing this in here—this is awesome!’” she says. 

What they are doing—as opposed to serving questionably-legal adult beverages—is serving Boulder’s cycling community as the only full-service, high-end bike retailer dedicated to alternative surface cycling.

“We focus on high-end mountain bikes, and our road bike program favors gravel grinders and dirt-compliant bikes,” says Slater. “Sports Garage was the first dealer in Boulder to carry Yeti, Santa Cruz, and Pivot. Over time we have developed a target demographic of what I call ‘core riders’—enthusiast mountain bikers who are looking for bikes built by experts.”

“We are obsessively committed to excellence,” Slater continues. “We challenge traditional bike shop models by narrowing our scope of business to key passion-driven activities, and then executing those at an extremely high level. Examples include our demo fleet, our custom gravel bike program, our history as a premiere it center, and—of course—we're the ‘dirt shop’ Shimano Service Center in Boulder.”

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They’re also super-advocates for advancing the sport. Sports Garage is the title sponsor for Boulder-based Singletrack Mountainbike Adventures (SMBA), one of the nation's premiere youth mountain biking programs. The shop works closely with SMBA’s elite junior race team to provide bikes, service, mentorship, and a community hub.

“As a local business, we have chosen to commit all our community dollars to teams or activities that fall under the umbrella of one of the three following core values: Youth, Mountain Biking Advocacy, or Education. SMBA has created a program that is the nexus of all three. We are able to take an influencing role with the next generation of trail stewards and mountain biking ambassadors. And nothing feels better than hanging out on the trail with some stoked kids!” says Slater.

Sports Garage’s community involvement doesn’t end there. Slater serves as the only local retailer on the board of directors of the Boulder Mountainbike Alliance (BMA, the local IMBA chapter). Along with providing program development, such as hosting an off-season BMA-sponsored yoga class at Sports Garage, working to build trails, and lending marketing support, Slater hopes that active involvement in BMA will allow her business to assist in crafting policy aimed at a more cohesive mountain biking community in Boulder. 

Additionally, the shop supports the work of Athletes in Action with a monthly financial contribution, and gives in-kind donations to organizations affiliated with the Boulder Valley School District, including the Boulder High School athletics association and Impact on Education.  

“Our passion is helping every rider discover his or her own cycling adventure,” says Slater. “We love chasing premium singletrack, mixing it up in a dirt road group rides, tackling long distance gravel jams, bikepacking, and sharing these experiences with our clients in a meaningful way. We believe in building the legacy of the local bike shop, knowing your name when you walk in the door, and providing unparalleled service. Where the pavement ends, our passion begins.”

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Slater and her husband and business partner, Brad James, did not grow up in the bike business, like many IBD owners. James was a regional sales manager and market developer for two different corporations—with a lengthy cycling, hunting, and fishing sabbatical thrown in the middle—and Slater had a long and indirect career path. She began as an international commodities trader, then stayed home with the couple’s two daughters, and for five years prior to purchasing the shop, she was an independent marketing contractor with several different clients in Denver and Boulder—including Sports Garage.

Yet she cites “the fact that neither my husband and I are from the bike business” as their reason for jumping on board. “Though I'm partly kidding, there is some truth in that statement,” says Slater. “As we each navigated our career paths—entirely unrelated to cycling—we always wondered how our life would be if we applied our skills to something that we care about. We care about our passion for mountain biking, our community, and adventure. We considered ourselves in the ‘friends and family’ circle at Sports Garage and it is the only shop we would have considered running. Our inspiration is our mutual desire for adventure together and our gratefulness to the mountain biking community in Boulder.”

What they each love most about the business is a bit different, but a perfect balance.

“For Brad, it’s helping people,” Slater says. “He is insanely good at it. Whether it's consulting on a bike build or being the shepherd on a group ride, Brad genuinely looks at his work as an ongoing opportunity to help someone. Me? I'm a kind of a geek. I have a degree in economics, and the challenge of building a small business—particularly in an industry that is transforming rapidly—is totally thrilling. Brad is front-of-the-house, I'm back-of-the-house.”

Their passion is renewed on a daily basis, and they wouldn’t have it any other way. “Every day, every hour, every minute that you spend doing something that you do not feel passion for is a day, an hour, or a minute that you will not get back. That's just a fact,” Slater explains. 

She admits to some embarrassing moments, though, due to her inexperience as a cyclist. Entirely self-taught, Slater had to MacGyver her way into the mountain biking community. “At the age of 30, I was living in the Midwest with no friends that were into mountain biking. So I bought a hardtail Mongoose with V-brakes at a yard sale for $25 dollars, and kitted up in a pair of Daisy Dukes. I think I probably even put silk underwear under my first chamois,” she recalls. “Until about six months ago, I though the Juliana Furtado was named after a singer-songwriter. I could keep going, but I think you get the picture.”

Now, though, Slater and James seem unstoppable in their pursuit of two-wheeled adventure. “Our next big passion is bikepacking! We got started a couple of years ago, and it will be worth keeping an eye on Sports Garage. We've got some great bikepacking projects in the planning stage,” she says.

The pair has explored the country and the world on bikes, seeking the dirt and gravel roads less traveled. “The most challenging place I've ever ridden is Guatemala,” says Slater. “The volcanoes in the western highlands are riddled with super steep trails that have been worn in over hundreds of years by the local people. The rains wash deep ravines in the trails, the donkeys kick up baby heads, and everything is straight up and straight down.”  

Her best memory on a bike is one that she and James cherish together. “Brad asked me to marry him at the peak of the Wyoming/Continental Divide Trail between Rabbit Ears Pass and Steamboat Springs. He was too nervous to haul a diamond ring in his backpack, so when he got down on one knee he pulled four gigantic, plastic vending machine rings out of his pocket and told me to choose one,” she says. “For the rest of the summer, I wore a glittery snow globe ring on all of our rides.”