JRA Bikes & Brew in Thousand Oaks, California was born out of a desire for change, community, and something a bit trickier to nail down.
“A lot of us that end up owning shops, we’ve been cyclists for many years,” says Vince Gest, a mountain biker since the 1980s and now one half of JRA Bikes & Brew. “[With shops] you end up going from shop to shop until you find that place where you like the vibe, where you just fall into the group naturally.”
Vince was working in the medical industry but looking for a change. He wanted to create the kind of space that matched the vibe mentioned above that he’d found here or there during his decades of riding experience. A place where anyone can fit in, and where that family atmosphere happens naturally. After a lot of discussion and soul-searching it was his wife, Tamera, who gave him the push to go for the bike shop thing. Well, with one caveat. She wanted to open an attached coffee shop, too. JRA Bikes & Brew was born.
Coffee and cycling aren’t a new combination—cycling makes you tired, coffee perks you up. It’s an intuitive combination, and bringing them together in one space brings some clear advantages (and challenges).
“It was harder to get up and running than we’d expected,” says Vince of the brew side of JRA. “But it can bring in people who wouldn’t even consider going into a bike shop. They know somebody who knows somebody that is a cyclist, they come in to get a coffee. It really helps us get to know people and the community.”
That challenge has paid off—between the bustling local mountain bike scene and the influx of more casual and new riders, JRA has been integral in elevating the mountain bike community in Thousand Oaks. With so many new riders riding trails for the first time in the last 18 months, the brew side has helped create the connections and community that mountain biking relies on.
“We’re seeing a lot of new riders,” says Vince, “The coffee shop has opened up the opportunity to educate them on etiquette, trail stewardship and giving back to their new sport. We’re with the people a lot longer when they’re in the shop”
To keep that community momentum going, JRA hosts three group rides a week. Beginner rides on Tuesday often include a food or social stop. Thursdays are faster and more technical, while Sunday’s really dig into the “go far” adventure thing. JRA’s fall and spring campouts take this one step further, bringing together staff and “JRA Regulars” for a weekend of riding, shuttles and socializing beyond the walls of the shop.
When it comes to Vince himself, he’s made powerful use of his medical background in surprising yet game-changing ways. Case in point: bike fittings. The best shops take custom bike fits really seriously. Ride bikes enough, and you’ll come to understand pretty quickly that it’s way more involved than lazily adjusting seat height and calling it a day. For Vince and JRA, bike fitting is a point of pride—and essential in growing community. In particular, his background as a prosthetist finds him frequently supporting folks with disabilities or recovering from injuries to find the right fit to get them on two wheels. “Thank god for technology,” he says—creatively making use of components like electronic shifting, hydro brakes, and dropper posts has been game-changing, Vince says, for getting more folks than ever out onto trails or the road.
Fact is, almost every shop will say they care about community. But the best shops take that community investment to the next-level. And when you talk with Vince, it’s clear that that’s the really big JRA—create a space of genuine community that encourages and supports more folks than ever to ride bikes. The term didn’t come up in conversation, but Vince and Tamera’s commitment to inclusivity in riding of all disciplines is clearly at the forefront of their success. JRA—Just Riding Along—is a humble, fun name. But it’s crystal clear that Vince and Tamera are doing much, much more than just running a shop.