Gene Wells is well… a swell guy (see what I did there?) He is active in many aspects of his community as a business person should, but you can also tell he cares about everything he does. He can also kick most of the people in town’s butt in speed and distance on a bike, yet he chooses not to. (sometimes!)
(I’ll let you know before this interview gets through that he is my main mechanic, I was sponsored by him during my tenure as President of the Cycling Club/Team at West Virginia Wesleyan College with the standard collegiate store discount. I have also purchased a pretty sweet rig from him, my ’09 Gary Fisher Cobia. All in all, we have a pretty good relationship by means of business and also friendship.)
With that out-of-the-way, let’s get to the Q&A!
1.) First of all, tell us about your history, how did you get into cycling?
2.) What bike(s) do you currently own? And what was the last bike you were on?
3.) What is the funniest piece of bike paraphernalia you own? (pink tt kit, bell-shaped like a kitty, etc)
I have a pink bicycle! When I ordered my Gary Fisher Sugar 29’er Full Suspension, I ordered it because I was racing competitively, and our team was donating proceeds to a cancer fund (My wife has had breast cancer twice). Trek said to me that I wouldn’t dare ride a pink bike, and if I would ride it in races, they would comp the custom paint job price. I like to call it Pinky!
4.) Tell me about your experience with bicycles. What stuff have you done that’s prepared you for opening a shop?
At first, no real formal training. I purchased brand name bicycles from two different dealers and they would not touch a bike that was not their brand(s) With this frustration and my engineering background, I started tinkering around on my own family’s bikes and eventually got serious enough about it.
5.) What did you do before starting up Fat Tire Cycle?
I was an engineer in the oil and gas industry, which gave me the opportunity to travel all over the United States, and many countries around the world. This was my main job for twenty years.
6.) What is the dumbest thing you have seen someone do to a bike that you had to repair?
Someone once brought in their top of the line mountain bike, with their handlebars cut to their shoulder width… I mean… Like twenty-two inches or something…
7.) Beyond selling bikes what else do you offer (repairs, classes, etc.)? How do you decide which brands to carry?
First, I am the lead mechanic at the store, and I also host field repair sessions when I get a group of new riders together. I also host spinning classes in the shop during the winter to avoid broadening waistlines!
I have chosen my bike brands mainly on the company’s offerings. Its kind of hard to put into words, but what the reputation and warranty of the bicycles are the most important thing to me. Of course quality, but most definitely reputation and warranty. Then throughout the years, I am capable of understanding seasonal trends of what bikes to get when. For example road bikes sell better at certain points in the year, or do my general consensus customers want bikes at a certain price point, etc. There is a lot of things that go on for my decision-making process.
8.) How much does it cost to open a bike shop? (Today vs when you started)
Back when I started in 1998? $20,000-$25,000? Now, I don’t think it would be possible to start a respectable and well stocked store for less than $300,000… or at least something comparable to what I am running now.
9.) Talk about hiring staff for your shop. Should you look for bike enthusiasts?
Of course you want the bike enthusiast. You want someone who can work on bikes, as well as be knowledgeable enough to sell bikes. Then again, you don’t want someone who is going to stick every single customer on a $6,000 Madone or carbon full suspension 29’er either.
10.) How long have you been living in Buckhannon, and why did you decide to settle in this area?
In 1985, 24 years ago, I chose this town because of the quality of the public school system for my children.
<ME> Things sure have changed a lot with that one 😛
11.) How do you find the general cycling vibe of West Virginia overall? How about Buckhannon?
I think West Virginia is at the lowest of the rankings of any state that I have been to for cycling culture and overall attitude for it. In Buckhannon, just like West Virginia in general. You see about 70% of your demographics Mountain Biking, and 30% Road Cycling, of course there are those that intermingle, but that is what I see.
12.) What are your top 5 cycling (road or MTB) locations in Upshur County?
- Stonecoal MTB Trails – You won’t see another cyclist here once, even if you came here every single day.
- My Local Training Ride
- Hodgesville Loop – It has everything you want on it
- Cecil Jarvis Ride – This is just a really fun and difficult ride.
- Walkersville Loop – 51 miles. Fun Ride.
13.) What kind of things involving cycling do you feel WV state/local legislation/culture get right? What needs to improve in this state, and why?
Route 33 being listed as a bike path/bike lane is one of the instrumental things of this township area. I’m not sure if the road was funded partially though listing it as a bike path also, but I see it as a great thing in this area.
What they didn’t or don’t get right is road reconstruction. Every time a road is re-done, they could fund a little bit extra and put about two extra feet on the shoulder to make it bike friendly and accessible. While designated bike lanes are great, I would take just an extra two feet of berm/shoulder space before a curb.
14.) In your opinion, what sort of things can bike shops do to cater for WV’ers better (or is there a difference between here and anywhere else)?
Ummm…. *chuckles* Well, Honestly I would have to say be more friendly to the average entry-level customer. I mean everyone has to start somewhere. I have seen or heard of many WV stores upselling or chasing off customers and ruining opportunities of future cyclists.
Elite cyclist attitudes?
15.) What do you think stands in the way between getting more WV’ers onto bikes for recreation/sport/transportation?
For transportation, I think it is a bit of impossible with the way towns and cities are set up and so far apart from each other. The travel is too far for work… and if work is close, the people are already too fat or lazy to ride a bike in the first place. Most people remember the feeling of riding a bike as a child, not how it feels the first time you get on as an adult and kick your own butt. They start-up and figure they can do this, but then soon realize that they are totally out of shape. That and sticker shock of a real bicycle that will last over time compared to big box stores.
16.) What type of cyclist do you see in your town the most? What ones come to the store the most?
Who do I see in town the most? The recreational or beginner cyclist. Who come into the store the most? The window shoppers, or our faithful weekend warrior types.
17.) What tip would you give to any WV’ers afraid to start cycling? And what bike would you recommend to them?
Start slowly, and work your way up from short distances. I would probably place them on a comfort or hybrid bicycle.
18.) How was the retail year of 2009?
*chuckles* Better than I had projected at the beginning of the year.
19.) Are you racing next year (2010)?
I haven’t decided.
20.) Top 3 goals for 2010…
- Ride More
- Ride More
- “…At least 12 Centuries”
21.) Best race experience ever…
It was at 24 Hours of Snowshoe 2000, It was during a night lap and having Sue Haywood coach me for half a lap…
*Gene and his wife laugh out loud*
22.) Favorite cyclist of all time…
Andy Hampstein *Points to his giant personalized, signed poster from Andy Hampstein. We’ve both met AH’s sister, and brother-in-law. They live about thirty minutes from the store.
23.) Any WV cyclists we should keep an eye on?
Morgan Miller. Seriously.
24.) How much time on the trainer during the winter?
Ideally? 10. Honestly? 3. I plan on having it around 5 soon.
25.) Final question; who inspired you to be the rider you are?
My son. I wanted to kick his bu-…. I wanted to be faster than him 😀
19.) If people have any more questions where can they get them answered?
Go to my website: http://fattirecycle.com/
What other blogs have said:
If you are ever around Buckhannon, WV stop into Fat Tire. They have a big selection of bikes and accessories. We were given a free bag of fresh roasted coffee when we stopped by. It is a new venture by the owner.