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Wednesday, 18 January 2006 00:00

Two-wheel motion: Long-time mechanic opens bikeshop

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A new cycling shop opened in Waynesville just in the nick of time for Bob Gatis.

The notion recently struck him to take the parts of his Trek road bike and put them on a bare Jamis frame — a project that counts as building a bike from scratch.

Along the way he hit several road bumps and needed other parts to make things work. By the time he was done, he’d logged five trips to the new Waynesville Bicycle Company for tools, parts and advice, which saved a lot of driving time to the next closest bike shops in either Asheville or Sylva.

Waynesville Bicycle Company is the third bike shop to open in Haywood County in recent years. More than a year had passed since the last one closed, and members of the local biking community missed having the hub a bike shop provides.

Gatis said bikers were curious when a bike shop sign appeared in the window of a store on Main Street last fall.

“We were all kind of excited when we saw a bike shop was coming,” Gatis said. “We just didn’t know if it was going to be road biking or mountain biking or what. We kept driving by until we saw an ‘open’ sign.”

For Nancy Luxe, a professional road biker in Waynesville, the new bike store is more than somewhere to talk bikes or order tubes. For starters, it will free up some of her husband’s time. Her husband, Don, was still widely known in bike circles from working at Blue Ridge Cycle, one of the former bike shops. He became a de facto mechanic for friends in the absence of an official bike shop.

“People would call him and say ‘Don, I need my wheels trued,’ and he would try to get to it for them,” Nancy said. A biker getting his wheels trued is the equivalent of a tire allignment on a car.

The owner of Waynesville Bicycle Company, Ron Hight, 37, has worked at bike shops since he was 22 years old. Twice, he helped friends open bike shops and then ran them.

Hight said he hopes to serve the entire spectrum of bike needs in Haywood County.

“If someone wants a kid’s bike, I want to have a kid’s bike,” Hight said. “If someone wants a $6,000 road bike, I can build them a $6,000 road bike.”

Ron Howell, a long-time road biker, was also glad to see another bike shop had opened after more than a year without one.

“Every time there’s been one, it has always been a benefit, but it didn’t work out for whatever reason,” Howell said. “I’m really happy there’s a new bike shop in town. You can’t have too many of them.”

The owners of the past two bike shops had other interests that prevailed over biking, and that’s why they closed — not a lack of bike business. Howell said the most important thing a new bike shop owner can do is participate in the biking scene.

“If people see you out riding, it will get other people to ride,” Howell said. “You have to talk it up and get people to go on rides, and if you do that you will get people to patronize your business.”

Without a bike shop holding the riding community together, weekly group rides have become less formal over the past year. Hight said he wants the shop to serve as a meeting place for weekly road rides come spring. He also wants the bike shop to organize group mountain bike rides on the weekends.

 

Opportunity knocks

Hight still remembers one of his first bike shop experiences. He was looking for a bike rack for his Camaro. He went into one bike shop after another that told him “sorry, nothing fits a Camaro.”

Hight couldn’t believe the merchants wouldn’t take the time to walk outside the front door and at least look at his car— not until the fifth bike shop he visited.

“He took a rack off its box, took it out to the car, put it on my car and said ‘Here this will work,’” Hight recalled. Hight asked the owner if he needed a bike mechanic.

“At first I was just doing it on the weekend, and about a month later he was like, ‘You want a full-time job?’” Hight said. Thus began his bike shop career.

Hight grew up in West Palm Beach, Fla. Dismayed by the growth that had taken over his own hometown, he moved here four years ago.

“The mountain bike trail we used to ride all the time was bulldozed for a Toys-R-Us and a shopping mall,” Hight said. “It was getting overpopulated. The way it is here now is kind of like the way it was down there when I was a kid.”

There were no openings at bike shops when Hight moved here. Despite constant bike shop employment for the past dozen years, the owner of Waynesville Cycle, a motorcycle shop, decided Hight’s mechanic skills qualified him to work on motorcycles too.

Hight decided to open a bike shop almost as soon as the last bike shop in Haywood County closed but took a while to find a good location and to finance his own business.

 

Right answer

The first question biker patrons want to know is whether Hight is a road biker or mountain biker. Hight claims “yes” to both.

Hight started racing BMX bikes as a teenager. He dropped biking for a few years after getting his driver’s license, but at 21, he took it back up again. The local BMX track was only open one night a week.

“Everyone was just like, ‘Go to the mountain bike trails and practice your BMX on those,’” Hight said. “When I did, I saw people jumping on their mountain bikes and was like ‘Yeah, that’s it. Forget the little BMX bike. I’m going to get a mountain bike.’”

Hight’s new interest in mountain biking soon pedaled into road biking.

“Someone said if you want to get faster at mountain biking, get into road biking to build your stamina up,” Hight said. “So I built my first road bike.”

Somewhat by accident, Hight’s road biking soon got him hooked on time trials racing He and seven road biking buddies had too much wine at dinner one night and somehow convinced themselves to go to a time trials race the next morning.

“We showed up totally unprepared with just our regular road bikes instead of time trial bikes, but I came in just five seconds under the top guy, so I thought ‘Hmmm ... there might be something to this,’” Hight said.

Mountain biking didn’t fall by the wayside, though. His parents had a second home in Maggie Valley, and he regularly brought friends up for a mountain biking weekend.

Waynesville Bicycle Company is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. To reach the shop call 828.454.9898.

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