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Branford, Connecticut

The humiliation is still fresh. I never learned to ride a bike as a child. Fast-forward: I was almost 20, knew how to drive already, and was at a Sears looking for a bike. The salesperson laughed when I explained my situation, and worse, suggested test-riding in the middle of the crowded store. Eventually, I would learn how to ride—although I'm a bit shaky—but bike stores still give me clammy hands.

All that changed when I stepped into Zane's Cycles. Here, my late learning is taken seriously, and in mere minutes, I'm in an empty parking lot riding around on a perfectly sized bike. And I'm hooked. No wonder this single store just outside New Haven is a legend in its region and one of the largest bike retailers in the country.

The real experience begins after you've bought a bike from Zane's. The shop continually finds ways to best its big-discount competitors with lifelong care. In late 2004, Zane's launched a unique bike trade-in program for children: Full credit on a used model goes toward a new one, up to a 20-inch wheel. Currently, Zane's is working on an RFID program that will let it "know your bike," so the staff will have your bike's history the second you exercise your lifetime warranty. The box stores? "They can't know everybody," founder Chris Zane says. "We try like hell to."

A version of this article appeared in the September 2006 issue of Fast Company magazine.