Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

15 February 2017

We'll Miss Chris!

F. Scott Fitzgerald opened his short story Rich Boy with what has become one of the most misquoted lines:  "Let me tell you about the very rich.  They are different from you and me."

Well, not many people people in the bike business are among the very rich.  In fact, a joke I heard from people in the industry goes like this:  "You can end up with a small fortune in this business.  How?  Start with a big one!"

Don't get me wrong:  Some people have done very well for themselves, whether by opening a bike shop that offers the right things in the right place at the right time, or by being distributors or importers.  But whatever money one makes in the two-wheeled trade does not come easily:  Running a bike shop entails long hours (especially during cycling season) and the overhead costs are high.

So, the people who choose to go into the bike business are different, if not from you and me, then at least from people who go into other industries or professions.  I am thinking now of a shop in which I worked for a time:  One of the partners was a fellow who spent years working in shops, mainly as a mechanic, and decided that he wanted to open one of his own.  The other was a retired Wall Streeter who, after a couple of years, was unhappy that his investment didn't yield a bigger and faster return.  He didn't realize that such was the nature of bike shops, and the bike industry in general.

Of course, that former Wall Street denizen's motivation for opening a bike shop was entirely different from that of his partner.  He was not entering the world of cycling; rather, he thought he saw another business opportunity.  I can't really fault him for that:  All of his years on "The Street" conditioned him to think that way, if he hadn't already had such a mindset.  On the other hand, the mechanic genuinely loved bicycles and cycling. (I know: I raced against and rode with him.)  As some might say, cycling was "in his blood".

Chris, with his son.  From the Velo Orange blog.


Another such person, I believe, is Chris Kulczycki.  Many of you know him as the founder of Velo Orange.  As he often said, VO began with a "part time gig" after selling another business he'd started.  He brought it in some bike parts and accessories, mainly for touring and randonneuring, from Europe and Japan.  Some of those items had not been made in decades and, in some cases, the companies that made them hadn't been in business for as long.  

Then, of course, he started to have parts and accessories made after the designs of those vintage items.  The result of his work, and a few other like-minded people, is that we have more choices about the kinds of bikes we ride, and about the way they look, than we did fifteen or twenty-five years ago.  Gone is the tyranny of the racing bike/mountain bike binary that dictated most of what was made and sold during the 1980's and 1990's.  We also are free of the dictate that everything must look like carbon weave or be finished in black.  (Isn't it ironic that the most expensive bikes had such a palette decades after Henry Ford said that customers could get the Model T--the first car for the masses--"in any color as long as it's black".)

In other words, Chris not only has a passion for cycling, he also has a particular love of particular kinds of cycling (and bikes) that were all but unknown to most Americans when he started Velo Orange.  And it has paid off, for us and for him.  

As for him:  It's paid well enough that he's retired, after selling the company.  All I can do is hope that he and Annette enjoy their retirement, which they have certainly earned!  And that his cancer doesn't return.

2 comments:

  1. When I build a bike VO is usually one of the first places I look for parts. I hope their business model doesn't change. He will certainly be missed and I wish him the best of luck.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Chris--VO is also one of my "go to" places for parts and accessories. I, too, hope the new owners don't change the business model, and that Chris has a great retirement.

    ReplyDelete