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Little 500 can jump start spring business for local bike shops

POSTED AT 11:36 PM ON Apr. 16, 2012  (UPDATED AT 09:24 AM ON Apr. 17, 2012)


For student cycling enthusiasts, the Little 500 bike race is like the holidays.

But for three bicycle shops in Bloomington, Little 500 season doesn’t necessarily inspire a clear business boom like the holidays do for shopping malls.

“It’s somewhat of a misconception that the bike shops are completely buried the week leading up to Little 500,” Bikesmiths Manager Adam Rodkey said. “The crescendo is not as hectic as everyone seems to think.”

Revolution Bike and Bean Manager Chris Wood agreed. Both men said their peak business months fall outside of Little 500 season, but they are still associated with the race to an extent.

“This week is not the biggest time of the year by any means, but it is for Little 500 repairs,” Wood said. “Every year, there are a lot of people in the fall getting their first road bikes, and in the summer people will come in to get new bikes, too.”

Both managers said that at their respective stores they see a lot of student traffic in the beginning of the school year when Little 500 teams are first forming and training is beginning. Each store also supports several loyal greek Little 500 riding teams.

Rodkey said business at Bikesmiths is almost unaffected during race week, with the exception of an increase in emergency bike repairs and a higher demand for certain parts, such as bottom brackets and wheels.

But Wood said business at Revolution is a little different.

“It does pick up, partially because of Little 500 and partially because of the weather,” he said. “It slowly builds to this week ... all our repairs that we are doing are little 500 bikes, and it’s a little bit of everything.”

Revolution adjusts its business hours during this week each year. Wood said most people don’t come through the shop on the day of the races anyway, so the staff migrates to the track to help with race-day repairs and enjoys the Little 500 tradition.

“It’s an exciting week for cycling enthusiasts,” he said.

A third Bloomington bike shop, Bike Garage, Inc., faces a different business model during race week because of its location and clientele. Bike Garage Manager Fred Rose said this week they will be swamped for a variety of reasons. He said the race plays a major role in their increased business, but storewide sales and mild weather have helped to keep the shop busy this spring. Rose said the company’s location on Kirkwood Avenue is helpful as well.

“What Little 500 does, it helps us jump-start our season about six weeks earlier probably than it would without the race,” he said. “I have been doing this for about two decades, and over the years, our location has always been an asset.”

Although a percentage of their customers are students, Wood and Rodkey identified their businesses as catering mostly to “townies” in the Bloomington community.

When it comes to Bikesmiths, however, Rodkey said they welcome any extra business they can during any time of the year.

“We appreciate and welcome all business,” he said. “We definitely benefit from Little 500 business, just not to the extent that people commonly assume.”


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