Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Bike Route

Arkie Profile: Ben Upchurch

Ever find yourself walking around the local bike shop on a rainy day. You have no intentions. Just...wandering...looking at stuff. Me too! In the age of shopping online I am still a huge fan of good ole fashion brick, mortar & a handshake. I recently visited with Ben Upchurch owner/operator of The Bike Route. Hangout for a sec and find out a little more about Ben and what inspired him to open a bike shop.

About Ben

I've been racing bikes with Ben for 10 years or so. He's that guy on our cycling team that likes to stir the pot. Recently I was in the winning break at a local road race with three cat 1's and a fellow cat 3. In the end I finished 4th. In our post race team chat Ben asked, "At what point did you realize you were going to let the team down?" Bazinga! But that all balances out with a keen sense of humor. You see, he's also the one who keeps us laughing, making fun of himself just as much as he makes fun of us. It's this sense of humor that helps the guys not take themselves so seriously and eases pre-race nervousness. I really enjoy this fun-loving camaraderie. Several years ago we sat down and he shared with me his passion and vision for opening up a bike shop. Now known as The Bike Route.

The Interview

WHF: How long have you been involved (riding, racing, promoting) in NWA?
TBR:  I’ve officially been on a bike (taking it seriously, that is) since 1990. Started dabbling a bit with mountain bike racing and what I thought was training back then. Got into road racing/riding about 1993 with my college buds, John and Bob. The race promoting happened around 1999. I was a ‘taker’ of this sport for years and decided that promoting some small local races was a great way to ‘give’ back to the sport that gives me so much in life. So before TBR I was actually a ‘stay-at-home-dad’ for nine years. This was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. I was fortunate enough to hand-raise my three kids. That is something I am very proud to have done! And then before that, I was a sales rep. for a trucking company. I started that when I graduated from the U of A in 1995. My wife, Susan,  and I were married in 1997 and I knew my place with her quickly! She is much smarter than I, so I knew I would be chasing her career – which I had no problem with!

WHF: What is it about cycling that keeps the legs spinning all these years?
TBR:  Riding a bike has developed into my therapy session. All kidding aside, even my wife will tell you that it has been good around the house when I ride – in moderation! I love more than anything the camaraderie that develops among all of us. I love to be outside. I love pushing my mental and physical thresholds. I love suffering and love making others suffer. I love the technology. Where do I stop? It’s a passion that I never plan on giving up.

The 'glory' days. This little shrine hangs near the bathroom door. Is that a Litespeed?

WHF: Can you speak to what inspired you to start up your own shop?
TBR:  It was a simultaneous mix of things mainly driven by my desire to exit the stay-at-home-dad thing. I had kind of ‘checked that box’ and needed a new challenge. I also saw the need for something different in the market, not better, just different. Then there was another desire to give back to the cycling community. Give our community a store that offered things you normally only see online and see if I could capture that sale rather than some cute website in another part of the country or another country itself.

WHF: Tell us about the name and logo.
TBR:  That was difficult. The racer in me wanted something very unique and racer driven. Something Euro!  I knew that was for me only and wouldn't work for people that just wanted to ride bikes. ‘The Bike Route’ grew on me very quickly but I still needed that cool factor that I could sink my teeth into! I’m a huge fan of Belgian cycling and new I had to incorporate the Lion of Flanders flag into the logo and worked with a local graphic artist to start the look. We then threw in De Fietsroute (Flemish for The Bike Route). I know this sounds a little arrogant but, I love the logo!

WHF: What have been the biggest challenges so far?
TBR:  Two things. (1) Dealing with our growth has been exciting. We’ve already moved to another address with twice the square footage. When we opened I kind of envisioned Jay (my manager) and I just working on bikes and selling them occasionally! That changed quickly. Managing inventory, co-workers, service schedules, and my family has been exciting to say the least. (2) Finding qualified employees. Any bike shop can hire someone to sell cool bikes and build a bike that simply passes for OK. We are constantly keeping our ears open to find that very skilled mechanic and/or sales person who can actually build a relationship with customers. This is very hard to do in this area of the country.

Front of house.

WHF: What’s been the biggest satisfaction so far?
TBR:  Good question. I get the biggest kick out of selling someone there first $500 hybrid bike! These customers always have a bigger smile on their face than someone who buys a $5000 bike. They are so eager to get out and ride the new paved trails in town. I would also have to say that I get a ton of satisfaction from working with my employees. Our environment is very team oriented. If the team succeeds we all succeed. We have some really good guys/gals that work at TBR. Finally, I still get such satisfaction that someone takes time out of their day and chooses our door to walk into for their cycling needs. That front door has a very powerful significance to us. We know the value of that customer and more importantly the value of that person’s time.

WHF: Tell us a little about the bike brands that you carry?
TBR:  Cannondale has been with us since the beginning. They make a little bit of everything and have a price point from $480 to $13000 – mountain, road, and family bikes. Cervelo has also been with us from the start. They are a great company specializing in higher end road equipment. Pinarello, Niner and Moots have also joined us giving customers options in the more boutique side of the cycling biz. The most important thing to us is that our vendors have a vested interest in us. We don’t do business with vendors that don’t have the same core values as TBR. We demand a partnership so we can guarantee our customers that we have their backs on any service issues we run up against. Trust me, we have parted ways with vendors that don’t hold our same values.

WHF: I know you ride a lot of different bikes, which is your all time favorite thus far?
TBR:  Man, I hope some of my vendors don’t read this! For me and my style of riding it is hands down the Cannondale EVO. As some of your readers may know, I go through a ton of road bikes! It’s kind of a running joke! I’ve had two EVO’s (one uber expensive and one more reasonably priced) and they have both just blown my mind. The Cervelo S5 is still the single fastest road bike I have ever ridden. The aerodynamics on that bike are for real! Mountain bike – Cannondale Scalpel 29er.  It just handles very well.

WHF: Who is your favorite employee?!
TBR:  All of them! They are just so wonderful!
WHF: Way to navigate that one!

WHF: Anything exciting in the works for 2014?
TBR:  We are holding steady this year. Perfecting some processes and training some new people up. This is a little boring but I need to focus on the numbers side of things a little more this year.

WHF: What would you most like to see change in the cycling community?
TBR:  I think we are seeing it with the paved trail system around NWA. When I was in college, I never thought I would see what we are seeing now. It blows my mind seeing so many people out on bikes in NWA. As you point out in WHF, we really have a good thing going on in NWA.

WHF: Where do you see TBR in 10 years?
TBR:  Still in business! That’s a tough question… Bigger, better, even more selection!

The floor.

Working with customers. 

Test ride time.

Little known fact about Mavic, they also make great refrigerators not just sick hoops & yellow shoes. Always a friendly adult bev in that yellow fridge. 

Belly of the beast.

Bike fit station.

Cannondale, Cervelo, Niner & Moots.

Can't leave out Pinarello. 

Something I really appreciate. Clean bathroom!

Some hardware.

Final Thoughts

I really admire Ben for having the courage to pursue his dream. I can't say that I have it (at least not yet anyways). Personally I'm inspired by Ben's entrepreneurial spirit. I have seen firsthand how success is the result of courage, hard work, passion & dedication. He's been a part of the NWA cycling community as a racer, race promoter, teammate, team manager and now bike shop owner. Still finding ways to contribute to the growing cycling community in Northwest Arkansas. That's super cool. I recently asked a new employee at the shop how her first couple days at TBR were, she replied "I end up laughing a lot."

Next time you're out, stop on by The Bike Route and do a little wandering! 

Contact Information

Ben Upchurch
Owner – The Bike Route
3660 N. Front Street
Fayetteville, AR 72703
479-966-4050 office


Unknown said...

Slow news day, Rob?

Robin G said...

Bazinga! I know Ben will appreciate your comment.

Ozark Outdoors said...

Ben sold me my (first) road bike last summer and was incredibly nice. It also helped that he fielded all my 'newb' questions and convinced my wife we should buy the bike right then and there!

Heath B said...

Liked the interview Rob and Ben. Ben, thanks for helping the cycling community and me as well. I really appreciate the positivity and friendly smiles when I walk through the door at TBR. I know it might be hard to believe but I literally have walked into shops that I swear they didn't even care that the customer came in. Can you believe that? Without customers what do you have?

I respect you for taking the jump to work for yourself. I know it's not an easy road to not only come up with a paycheck for you but now you have to budget for several employee's paychecks. I think one of the hardest things I've ever done is become a small business owner, what do think Ben? Definitely not an easy thing, like a big ongoing challenge.

Thanks again for helping to outfit me with bike gear and "wheeling" and dealing with me on those last two bikes. Keep up the good business practice and best of luck in your future success.

Danny H said...

Great article Rob! Thank you Ben for inspiring and lifting up all of us who know you and ride with you! This is an awesome story of your family and business! Thank you for sharing!

Matthew Johnson said...

Great interview.

I want to say something about Ben and The Bike Route, especially if there are those reading who are just getting into cycling.

Ben's comment about getting a kick out of selling a $500 bike to a first timer is completely genuine. I've been in a lot of specialty stores in the past and my experience has been that if you're new to something (say, photography) you barely get their attention and they use too much insider language that leaves one feeling self-conscious. I've directed many people to the Bike Route in the last four years because my experience with them was exactly the opposite. I ruined a Wal-Mart MTB from pedaling the crap out of it (stripped the threads in the bottom bracket) and was looking to get a better bike. A friend I trust sent me to TBR. I bought an entry level MTB from them and let me tell you, Ben and the staff were so patient and transparent. They treated every question, no matter how dumb, respectfully and thoroughly. When I left the store with my new bike, I felt like they were really happy to get a "newbie" on a bike, like it satisfied them. The same thing happened when I went back a year later to buy my first road bike.

I'm moving elsewhere in Arkansas at the end of this month, but when I reach my goal of riding my roadie till I crack the frame (the only way I can justify buying a new one to my wife - "Look at how much I rode it! Can I get a more expensive one that will last longer?") I'm going to drive the 3:30 back to Fayetteville and buy it from the Bike Route.

Chapeau, TBR. You are a great company and I hope your best days will always be in front of you.

Philip B said...

Ditto to all of the positive comments above. When I do buy a new bike that's where I'll be going. The way it's looking I may be 70 when I do, so hang in there Ben.
I direct everyone I can to TBR without any reservations.
Great interview Rob, I appreciate what you do as well.

Unknown said...

Enjoyed reading your article. Well done.

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