Bike Tech is located in a small retail strip on Vineville Avenue. Large bicycles line up invitingly under the front awning, paper tickets attached to their handlebars announcing that they are for sale. The front windows on either side of the entryway are plastered with stickers for various cycling products and manufacturers, local restaurants, and noteworthy attractions like the Big House, plus a reminder: “Have you hugged your mountain bike today?”
Inside, Bike Tech reminds me of the bicycle repair shops my dad took me to in the 1980s: the atmosphere here is distinctly different from trendy shops in other locations, where accouterments for the cycling “lifestyle” overwhelm the actual bikes. Although there’s some cycling apparel in the front window, and accessories for both the rider and the bike line the walls, the focus at Bike Tech is clearly on the machine.
The place is clean but well lived in. The floor is wide open, ready for customers to roll their bikes into and out of the shop. As I arrive, one of Bike Tech’s employees, Christyanne Gaspar, has just finished changing out the saddle of a woman’s bike for a wider, more comfortable seat, and the customer is trying out her new saddle by pedaling across the shop. She’s pleased with the improvement, and she dismounts to walk her bike out.
As the happy customer exits, I evaluate the loft above the floor of the shop, which has mounts holding everything from street cycles to mountain bikes, at least half a dozen hanging, waiting for their turn under the mechanics’ expert eyes. A sign on the loft thanks Macon for giving Bike Tech 35 great years.
Behind the counter, the walls are lined with row upon row of tools, enough to rival the collection of an auto mechanic. Classic rock-n-roll plays from the back.
Owner Bobby Schorr is younger than I anticipated, given the age of the business. The Macon native responds jovially to my surprise at his youth, and he explains that he purchased Bike Tech in October or November of 2016 from its previous owner. “I don’t know exactly,” he says, “but I might be the sixth or seventh owner of Bike Tech in its time.”
Two years ago, Bobby, his wife, and their small children moved back to Macon from Savannah so that they could live closer to both of their families. One day, not long after their return, Bobby was riding on Vineville Avenue and saw that the old bike shop was for sale. The business had fallen on hard times and taking it over was somewhat of a salvage job. But on a whim, Bobby decided to buy it.
“As a child growing up in Macon,” Bobby explains, “this was just a place where we would come and hang out. We would ride mountain bikes as kids, and we spent a lot of time here. So I think it was a little bit of sentimental value. I just wanted to keep the business open.”
Bike Tech is Bobby’s first business. He didn’t necessarily set out to become a business owner, but as he says, “I want to live in a town that has a bike shop.” His wife and family supported him in putting forth the effort to revitalize the shop.
One of the shop’s mechanics, Lucius Hawthorne, has been repairing bikes at Bike Tech for nearly all of the time that the shop has been open, and Bobby has known him since childhood. “He was still here at the time, and I asked him, are you going to stay with me? He said he would, and he did, and he’s still here today,” Bobby says.
Bike Tech is Macon’s only bicycle sales and repair shop. They sell a variety of sizes of bicycles, apparel, helmets, cyclist accessories like gloves and sunglasses, bicycle accessories including handlebars and saddles, energy replacements for competitive cyclists, and replacement parts. They also repair or replace tires, chains, brakes, and more. Finally, they offer a variety of different bicycle tune-ups and even a complete overhaul of the bicycle, which includes removal, cleaning, repair, and re-installation of all the parts from the frame of the bike.
Bobby has three full-time and two part-time employees, including four mechanics.
“As someone who rides more casually, for exercise and for fun, but not to race, owning a bike shop takes that whole hobby and the sport to another level,” he explains.
For Bobby, the most challenging part of owning Bike Tech has been keeping on top of the technology and trends in the bicycling industry. “Learning the intricacies of the cycling industry is a lot of work,” he says, “There are a lot of products, but also learning about the service aspect is a big challenge, and I’m still learning.”
Bobby believes that he’s been able to meet the challenges of his business because of his outstanding staff. “Part of it is having great people who work here [at Bike Tech], and they know what’s going on in the industry,” he says. “Part of it is staying on top of what’s happening in the marketplace. A lot of these manufacturers drive new innovations and new technology, so it’s our challenge to stay on top of that.”
Talking about new technology and trends in cycling, Bobby becomes animated and his enthusiasm is infectious. “One of the most exciting innovations in cycling is electronic shifting. It’s a whole new thing,” he says.
Another new innovation in cycling is the E-bike. The “E” stands for electric because the bike has a motor.
“E-bikes are another up and coming trend,” says Bobby. “They have a pedal assist, which means that they have a motor that helps you along the way.” Bobby expects that he will have e-bikes in the shop later this year for customers to try out.
“What we’re hoping is that we can create a niche in Macon where we can use e-bikes to help people commute by bike a little bit more,” he continues, “especially during the summer season when it’s so hot and humid because the bike takes a little of the effort out of it so that it’s easier to get around. Theoretically, depending on where in Macon you live, you could become a one-vehicle family.”
Bobby excitedly shares that there are already a few e-bike commuters here in Macon. He has two customers who are using e-bikes to make their way to and from work downtown. As the cost of production decreases and more manufacturers begin using the technology, the cost of e-bikes will continue to become more affordable for the average family.
The greatest benefit of owning Bike Tech is that it’s a lot of fun and a great release for Bobby. “I’ve met so many people that I don’t know that I would have ever come across, both in employees and in fellow cyclists and people to ride with,” he says, “I’ve made a lot of friends throughout this piece of my life, and that’s one of the best benefits.”
“One of the other benefits,” Bobby continues, “is just being able to keep a bike shop in town in business.”
Bobby is as enthusiastic about living in Macon as he is about the bike shop. “It’s a great sized town, and we have access to many things, from shopping to dining and parks to fun places to take kids, and to have all of those things without having the traffic is great,” he says.
“Macon’s cycling community is also growing,” he adds, “and that’s the result of huge efforts downtown towards revitalization on the part of many groups, including NewTown Macon, Main Street Macon, and especially Bike Walk Macon, and all of these groups are doing everything they can do to push advocacy for cycling. So whether they are building the trail, or they are adding bike lines downtown and putting up bike racks, they are helping build that community.”
Bike Tech has worked with several of the advocacy groups in erecting bike racks and creating bike repair stations for cyclists. They have also seen an increased interest in their business and services because of the bicycling activities generated by these groups.
“The visitor’s bureau received a grant to put in Zagster bikes, which are part of a bike share program that allows you to go downtown and use an app to rent a bike for several hours. You can rent a bike and ride it all around downtown, which is not only great for people who live here and want a fun thing to do on the weekends, but it’s great for our visitors as well,” Bobby explains. Bike Tech mechanics service the Zagster bikes.
“Macon has a surprising amount of great places to ride bicycles,” he continues. “It doesn’t have to be just in your neighborhood or at Amerson Park. There are mountain biking trails—there’s a big trail within three miles of our shop. There are safe places to ride in North Macon for street riding, and there’s the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail.”
On Tuesday nights, a group of adventure cyclists meets up at Bike Tech with their off-roading bikes. Tripp Freeman leads them. “We get together at 6:30 p.m. at the bike shop, and then we make our way downtown or to various parts of the city. Sometimes we go to the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail. Our goal is to explore the area, and we never take the same route.”
The adventure riders cover 15 to 20 miles and they try to end at a restaurant or bar for food and fellowship.
Christyanne Gaspar enjoys working at the bike shop, where she’s been an employee for the past six months. Prior to working at Bike Tech, she worked with Bobby on several other projects. She is a lifelong cyclist, and she also participates in the Tuesday night adventure rides. She’s active in Macon’s cycling community and counts the adventure ride as her favorite excursion on her gravel bike, while Bass Road is her favorite place to ride her road bike.
When I asked Christyanne what she feels is the difference between big-box retailers and Bike Tech, she explained that it’s about community: “You cannot put a price tag on the value of the knowledge and the camaraderie that we have here,” she says. “So many people who come here are looking for basic information, and what they find is a cycling community that provides them with more than they asked for, but they find people to ride with and places to ride. It’s the questions you don’t even know to ask, but we can answer them.”
Bike Tech is located at 3003 Vineville Avenue, Macon 31204. You can contact them on their website, at www.biketechmacon.com, on Facebook, and by calling (478) 741-8356.