It’s not every day you get a new bike shop in town – and definitely not every day you wander into said shop and barely recognize any of the bikes sitting on the floor. I think that’s part of what makes BikeBike so unique, it’s bringing something different to not only the bike scene in Calgary, but in all of Alberta.
I had a chance to sit down with Sean Carter, one of the owners of BikeBike and ask him a few questions:
Tell us about your background in the industry.
That is a pretty long story but I’ll try and keep it short! My first industry job was given to me by a fella named Mike Badyk at a store called The Bike Wizard in Etobicoke ON back in 1985.
I was this little rat-kid always hanging around his store looking at his bikes and listening to the guys that road raced for him always chatting about this race or that race. I just couldn’t get enough of that scene. Eventually, he said to me – “if you are gonna hang around here all the time, you might as well learn something.” So, the first thing he does is hands me a coaster brake wheel that needed a hub overhaul and a repair manual, and says “Go.”
That was pretty much it – I was hooked and had a bike shop job. Heaven! Oh ya, I successfully rebuilt that hub, first try. Since that time I have been a racer (22 years licenced, sadly not this year), a team mechanic for the OGC-Gary Fisher-ProFlex Team in the mid-90’s, service manager at a shop in Victoria, a warranty guy for a big Canadian distributor, a sales rep in the bike biz for 12 years, and quite a few bike retail jobs over the years – including a year at Bow Cycle – basically, I’ve worked at every level in the bike biz in Canada.
It’s not everyday a new bike shop pops up, what was the motivation behind BikeBike?
Since that time in The Bike Wizard I have always dreamed of having my own shop and about a year ago I decided the time was right for me to make it happen. The motivation comes from my belief that bicycles are the greatest human invention ever and I want to spread the “good word” about cycling to as many people as possible in an environment that is friendly, not intimidating to new cyclists and families, but still has the heritage and experience that experienced cyclists can appreciate. Also, I saw an opportunity in Calgary to create a bike shop that stands apart from the current offerings available.
What’s different about BikeBike?
Many things are different about BikeBike. Our products are focused on urban riding, community exploring, and transportation. Our aim is to help new cyclists enter into the mysterious world of bikes in a friendly, unassuming way. Our retail store design is simpler. I dont want to give too much away, you’ll have to come for a visit :)
Suffice to say, our focus in much narrower than other stores, allowing us to focus on our core message – Ride Everyday. Our primary aim is to inspire and empower our customers and employees to live healthier, fuller lives through the simple pleasure of riding bikes as often as possible – and have fun doing it!
In your mind, who is a BikeBike customer?
BikeBike hopes to appeal to all types of customers – racers, commuters, fashionable cyclists, total newbies, and families – everyone. Although we wont be selling road or MTB racing bikes, we will have products that all types of cyclists can appreciate.
What’s been the hardest thing about opening your own shop? The most fun?
Honestly, it hasn’t been very hard at all to make this happen. I just think that I am at a point in my life where I am ready to do this. I don’t want to seem glib or conceited but the shop has come together so smoothly, it almost seems like it was meant to happen now. The funnest thing is, and continues to be, sitting around with my girfriend and business partner Nadia, drinking wine, dreaming up ideas for the shop – ride ideas, display ideas, product ideas – all of it. Although the shop is almost open, the dreaming never stops!
Can you give our readers a preview of the products (or at least the bike) lines that you’ll be carrying? Was there a reason you chose the bikes you did?
We are going to be the exclusive retailer in Calgary of Batavus bikes from Holland, Pashley bikes from England, Brodie bikes from BC (not exclusive), Traitor bikes from Seattle – and a few more cool brands I can’t talk about yet. We choose these bike lines because we felt they offered something different and good value compared to the options currently available in the market. I can tell you this – no lycra! No clip-in shoes!
There appears to be a bunch of white stuff on the ground… Obviously some cyclists commute year round, but what advice would you give ‘seasonal’ commuters to help them give winter commuting a try? (Or should they?)
You know, Calgarians are really lucky, even though most aren’t aware of it. We have arguably the biggest pathway network in North America and huge sections of it are plowed in the winter making winter riding pretty easy. In fact, during the big blizzard event in December, the pathways were cleared before the roads and were in better shape than the roads (dont tell motorists!).
The city is adding more KM’s of clearing every year too. Many of my friends were telling me that they were beating their co-workers home when they rode because the roadways were in such bad shape! If I had one suggestion for seasonal commuters it would be this – drive to a spot close to the pathway system, hop on your bike, and ride the rest of the way to work. I know that not everyone works close to the pathways, but for people that do, give it a try. The beauty available to see during the winter is incredible!
You mentioned wanting to support if not a car-free lifestyle, at least a “car-lite” lifestyle. What does that mean? How would people benefit from that?
A car-light lifestyle means that you choose to park your car more often, in favour of walking, transit, or cycling. So as an example, maybe you live in MacKenzie Town and work downtown. Obviously, you’d have to be pretty serious to bike commute that distance, so instead of that, why not make a commitment to park your car when you are home and use your bike to go shopping, go to the park with the kids, or run errands. The benefits are huge – you become more connected to your community, your neighbours, your environment. The health benefits are obvious and so are the environmental benefits, including less cars driving around in your community. You become the change you want to see in the world – without much effort.
I notice that you’ve decided to forgo a car – what’s your ride of choice and why? What challenges have you encountered without a motorized vehicle?
I’ll answer the second question first. The biggest challenge (and it’s not that big) is planning. You cannot simply run out your door into your waiting car and drive off – you have to plan ahead. Thats about it. I was cycling on the roads during all the nasty cold weather (-27°C) and really, it was not that bad. In fact, I was overdressed more often than not!
My ride of choice right now is my Madsen Bucket Bike. I take my son to school in it, use it for shopping and errands – its my pickup truck! Beyond that, I have another dozen bikes to choose from depending on what I am doing. Everything from fixies to freeride to cyclocross to bikepolo – I am proud of my quiver of machines!
What could be done to make Calgary a more cycling friendly city? On the part of cyclists, motorists and the city itself?
Geez, maybe ask an easier question! I guess if I had my wish it would involve more education for motorists and cyclists as to our right and responsibilities on the roads, more on-street painted lanes and routes (with wayfinding signage and connections to other routes), and more pathways for new cyclists and families.
On-street routes are great for more experienced riders but we have to remember that most of the population thinks we are nuts to ride in traffic and they would never do it. Thats where pathways come in – they allow new riders to get their “feet wet” in a more mellow environment and maybe, just maybe, some of them will continue on to become more seasoned, well-rounded cyclists – confident enough too ride on the roads.
What are some of the benefits of being a smaller shop?
Focus. Attention to detail. Ability to react quickly.
I notice that you’re also offering some “Learn to wrench” courses – why do you think it’s important for people to know the basics of their bicycle?
Mechanical competence empowers people. The reality is most people that take a course will continue to bring their bike to the shop to get fixed but now they feel more confident while they are riding and if they have a problem, they can potentially diagnose it themselves and decide for themselves how they want to handle it.
What would you say to somebody who doesn’t ride, to try and get them to understand just how kickass it is?
Come ride with us along the pathways in the summer, have a picnic, play some bocce, eat some food, and pedal around. What is not to like about that scenario?
Where’s your favorite place to ride?
From my front door into the sunset man!
Cyclists tend to enjoy a beverage from time to time, what’s your favorite beer?
I love beer but beer doesnt love me. So I tend to drink a lot of apple cider like Strongbow, Blackthorn, and plenty of red wine.
Some shots I took around the shop are below, and if you can’t check out the new store (which I would recommend), you can check them out online at BikeBike.ca.