Putting the pedal — and roots — down in the Smokies
What looked like a risk to some was a dream for Diane Cutler and Andy Zivinsky.
“If you have a love for the outdoors, this is the place to be,” Zivinsky smiled.
Owners of Bryson City Bicycles, the couple opened the shop in 2009. Together for the last seven years, they were living in Raleigh and eventually grew weary of the 9 to 5 office workday.
“We wanted to do something different. We wanted to leave corporate America and be somewhere we really wanted to live,” Zivinsky said. ‘We’ve been able to see a lot of places and do a lot of great things, but we knew we wanted to do something more fulfilling with our lives.”
In need of a vacation, they wandered up to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. On one of the days, they wandered into Bryson City. Meeting strangers that now became friends and enjoying all of the amenities of downtown, it was love at first sight. They then packed up everything, sold their house and decided to make their dream of opening a bike shop a reality in Bryson City.
“We’re really pleased at what we’ve been able to see and do here in four years,” Cutler said. “We’ve built a customer base from scratch, and have had a lot of loyal repeat clients. The community support has been incredible.”
And though they were nervous on that first day opened, the duo’s worries were washed away when a Tampa-based family entered in search of rental bikes. Cutler and Zivinsky correctly fitted each family member, making sure all the angles were right and that comfort was a top priority.
“They went out riding, came back the next day and said they wanted to buy the bikes,” Zivinsky chuckled. “So, we sold four bikes by the second day of being in business. With that, we knew we could do this and make it work. We love what we do.”
A competitive BMX racer in his teenage years, Zivinsky soon transitioned into mountain biking. Being out in the woods, on the trail, he felt at peace. And with the vast network of trails in the Smokies, he can head for the hills at a moment’s notice.
“Bryson City is a jumping off point for the national park,” he said. “All the things you can do outside, from hiking to biking, paddling to fishing, literally everything is minutes from your doorstop. It’s phenomenal.”
That love and accessibility of Southern Appalachia is a sentiment shared by Cutler.
“I love being outside and in the woods, being part of nature and exercising, getting away from it all,” she said. “I get out there because I love it. I love just tooling around the trails, working hard to get up the hill, then just coasting back down.”
Around Western North Carolina, riders will find an array of single-track trails and never-ending Forest Service roads. Hot spots include trail systems at Tsali, Fontana Dam, Deep Creek and the newly formed routes through the backwoods of Western Carolina University. The choices are endless, with more systems planned in the coming years within the state forests and national park.
“We’re working hard to tie all of the mountain bike organizations together, where we can move forward together,” Zivinsky said. “We want to expand the biking area and give back to the sport and people that come here to ride.”
Alongside their retail sales, the shop is also a full-service repair and rental establishment. They can find a bike for any budget, body size and type of riding. It’s about helping the customer, not trying to empty their wallet.
“We’re not about the all-mighty dollar, it’s about the joy of riding and being part of this community,” Cutler said. “Yes, we want to make a living with this shop, but we also want to making a living making people happy, too.”
Now with a firm foothold in the local business community, Bryson City Bicycles is aiming for the future. Sales numbers are climbing, with more and more curious riders entering stepping foot in their shop. It’s been a long road since sitting in the office in Raleigh, but a bountiful one for Cutler and Zivinsky, where their dream has now come to fruition. The sky’s the limit, with the trails eager and ready for riders and biking enthusiasts alike.
“We realize people only get so much vacation time, and we want you to come here and have a great time riding,” Zivinsky said. “We want to help you and send you out there to give you an unforgettable experience.”