Many customers are greeted by name as they walk into Bicycle Works, a small bicycle shop located in Napa’s Redwood Plaza. The store, owned by Bob Hillhouse, is celebrating its 35th anniversary this month.
Somewhere between 100 to 150 bikes fill the shop, lined against the walls and hanging from overhead racks.
There are cruisers, urban bikes, urban city bikes, mountain bikes, road bikes, BMX and a few high-end racing bikes spread throughout.
“Our focus is sort of the middle-of-the-road, adult cycling,” said Hillhouse. “The adult that wants high-quality equipment and nice stuff but doesn’t want to spend $8,000 or $9,000 for a bike.”
Bicycle accessories such as locks and pumps are placed near one wall while helmets and shoes are stocked on shelves. Various clothing items are neatly organized on hangers.
One of the main ways Hillhouse says the bicycle business has changed over the past 35 years is by the new kinds of products, companies and technology.
“It’s just really hard to keep up with it,” Hillhouse said. “I think one of the biggest changes is that there are so many more options and styles than there used to be and as a result it’s harder to know all about it and how to stock it all.”
The store’s indoor repair shop is located on the other side of a small dividing wall selling nutrition bars.
Bicycle Works has nine full- and part-time employees including four mechanics. Hillhouse said the store is owned and operated by bicyclists.
“They don’t go out on Sunday and do 50 or 60 miles, but they do ride to work and school,” said Hillhouse of his employees.
Bicycle Works currently offers free, monthly flat tire repair classes. The shop also hosts a bike ride every Wednesday morning geared toward beginners.
Hillhouse has more than 45 years of experience in the bicycle business. He worked at two different bicycle stores in California before purchasing Bicycle Works in June 1979.
“It was a very small store, not really much there, so we bought it for practically nothing and spent a lot of time building it up,” said Hillhouse.
The shop was originally called Pedal and Jog and sold bicycling and running products.
Bicycle Works has been in business through tough economic times but Hillhouse said the shop never seemed to be affected.
“My theory is that oftentimes when there is a recession, people sometimes choose cycling over something that’s more expensive. Instead of a trip to Europe, they buy bikes and do a trip to Yosemite,” Hillhouse said. “So it’s not like we do better, but we don’t go down so low.”
According to Hillhouse, the bicycle business is not a huge moneymaking industry to be involved in but most people are in it because they have a passion for cycling.
“We’re the same as most stores. I don’t have a home in Europe, I don’t have a yacht, I just have my little home in Napa, I ride to work sometimes and you always have to pay close attention to bills,” said Hillhouse.
Hillhouse said he tries not to focus on competition. Instead, he likes to keep a good relationship with the other quality bike stores.
“The bottom line is to get more people cycling. As long as we can get more people cycling, I’m going to get a piece of (the profit),” Hillhouse said.
The store changed locations three times. Each move took place within Redwood Plaza. On the third move, the shop moved one space over, taking permanent residency at 3335 Solano Ave.
Hillhouse said he doesn’t plan on expanding or moving to a bigger space.
“I’ve always resisted expanding because you get so big and you start losing control. The quality goes downhill,” said Hillhouse. “I want to do what we do really, really well and not try to get so big and be too money-orientated.”
Instead, Hillhouse said he is focused on keeping his employees well trained by sending them to seminars so they are up to date on the latest products and technology.