Arkie Profile: Ben Upchurch of The Bike Route

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


Arkie Profile: Joel McCourt of Symond Cycles

I recently had the good pleasure of visiting with Joel McCourt owner/operator of Symond Cycles. What is Symond Cycles? Well now...I'm glad you asked. Joel designs finely crafted purposefully built custom steel bicycles. Yup, that's a mouth full. But all so very true. So hang out for a sec and find out more about Joel and what he's up to at Symond Cycles.

Custom Built

Going custom is a unique process from the first time you shake hands until the last time you shake hands. You can be involved in almost every detail of the build or you can come up with a basic plan and let Joel fill in the blanks. The final product will have more of "you" in it then any factory built bicycle you can purchase. Doesn't that sound fun? 

About Joel 

I've always said Joel is one of those guys you wish you ran into more often. I have my own way of determining when I like someone. I say to myself, "so and so is someone I could sit down and have a beer with or so and so is not someone I could sit down and have a beer with." Joel is in the first category many times over. After spending some time with him at his shop I quickly got to see a very serious passionate person who is pouring himself into the 'old ways' where a handshake still means something. Where building a relationship with the customer and providing top notch service is the life blood. Where helping to solve problems and collaborating with the customer is worth its weight in gold steel.

The Interview

WHF: Can you speak to what inspired you to start your own frame building company?
SC: Like many, I grew up around bicycles. The efficiency of the machine intrigued me from an early age and I loved working on my bike under a tree in our yard. This ultimately led me down the path of becoming a professional bicycle mechanic. At some point in my cycling involvement I realized these bicycles we ride are made by people (as silly as that might sound) and I wanted to further my knowledge. So, I decided to take the necessary steps to become a frame builder. I have also thoroughly enjoyed working and creating with my hands — seemingly, a dying art in my generation.

WHF: Tell us about the name and that super cool head tube badge.
SC: Naming a business that is effectively “you” is tough. I wanted to avoid using my name b/c I desire this business to be more than just me and give a nod to those who have influenced my journey. My education is deep with a background in graphic design and also architecture — I say this only to illustrate how much I toiled over my name and creative for this endeavor.

Symond = Si McCourt & Raymond Bascom
These men were my grandfathers. They both lived through the great depression and were in WWI. Their spirit and ability was always impressive and my intention is to honor them with this name.

The head badge is both symbolic and aesthetic. There are many people in the frame building community that think head badges are unnecessary. I disagree. Could the same artwork be done in a sticker? Yes. But I feel it provides a unique finishing touch to my work and shows that I take this profession seriously. It would be cheaper and easier not to have it…

Symbolism — the eagle represents freedom. Both the freedom you feel as a child when you first rode a bicycle and the freedom my grandfathers put their life on the line to defend. The breastplate is a graphic representation of the three branches of the military where my grandfathers served. The background shield is a simple abstract bicycle wheel. I am a bit of a wheel geek so I put it in my creative as a tie to my appreciation for one of man’s best engineering achievements. Think about it — some thing made of 30+ pieces that is within .0001” in 3 dimensions and can support many many many times its own weight. WOW.

WHF: Can you tell us the top challenges you have faced thus far?
SC: Speed. Everything I do is with a hacksaw and files. This is not a complaint, just my reality. I enjoy the work and am looking for my niche. Perhaps being a truly 100% hand crafted frame is interesting to people? I do have plans to tool up more but am growing slowly. Also, paint has been the hardest thing to self teach.

WHF: Can you tell us the top satisfactions you have experienced thus far?
SC: My client responses have been very encouraging. I cannot think of anything that fills me with more pride than knowing I interpreted someone’s idea into reality. Along a more tactical note, my paint is getting better and better and I love that I have built most of my tools.

WHF: Do you have a favorite build?
SC: It is a tie between the S&S coupled & internally routed wire Ui2 travel bike and my latest road bike. Both have their merits. It would be hard for me to choose between the two.

CMT Travel Bike.

Latest road bike.

WHF: Tell us about steel. Are you planning to work with any other materials in the future?
SC: If all one cares about is weight there are arguments against steel. However, those arguments are pretty thin considering the advances in steel since the 80s. I have seen some 12 lbs fully functional road bikes made from steel. Ultimately, steel is a wonderful material to work with and it has great ride quality that is significantly tunable to one’s height, weight and goals. The true magic with steel is riding a “lively” frame. A rider experiences this when their frame is built for them and their needs. Lively refers to an appropriate amount of frame flex where the amount of give and stiffness are balanced (not to be confused with equal). The ultimate goal is to build a bike that rides well for my client — not the masses. Think about the 54cm road bike at your LBS; if a lady that is 5’ 8” & 130lbs and gentleman of similar height but weighs 250lbs want to ride a bike, that road bike will most likely be dimensionally close. However, ever consider the ride quality for each rider? My point is that mass-market bicycles are designed for the 90th percentile. This is not a bad thing. Bikes must be safe for everyone, but a custom tailored bicycle takes all of you into the equation yielding a ride a cut above what most are used to.

As far as other materials and processes — for now steel will be my medium of choice. I have no plans to change. That said, I am very interested in technology and other materials. We shall see…

WHF: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
SC: Great question. I see Symond Cycles being one of two things. 1) Still a very 1 off custom design house servicing client that desires every excruciating detail accounted for — very small scale. 2) Providing custom bike frames with more scale but still crafting beautiful functioning machines. This would require some employees. I like the idea of creating a family of employees. I admire Chris King for his ability to create his company, which creates some of the highest quality bicycle parts available and the atmosphere reminds me of a large family. That is my little pipe dream…

WHF: How can interested customers get in touch with you?
SC: Many ways…

It all starts on paper. Each frame starts as a drawing. Tailored to fit the customers goals, needs and desires.

A key component is this work table that weighs a boat load and then some.

Once the plans are approved and the green light is given the ball starts rolling. This holds the bottom bracket in place and Joel will spend many hours working around this fixed point. 


Not your average bottom bracket. Makes me think of baby birds in a nest.

Something super interesting about Joel is he made many of his tools. This holds the lug in place so he can file. 

A closer look.

This is a 'fork bender'. Yup, you guessed it. It actually bends the fork tubes to spec. 


I was like a kid in a candy store or a grown man in a bike shop.

Precision, the name of the game.

I love the look of the lugs. Not sure why, just do.

In action.

Before and after.

Before and after.

The final steps involve paint. That takes place behind this door.

Joel even built his own paint room. 

Powered by this monster compressor. 

When the dust settles you will have one sweet custom steel machine.

Final Thoughts

It's really cool to see someone chasing their dream. Joel is competent, honest and passionate about his craft. So if custom steel interests you give Joel a shout. He is happy to show you the shop and walk you through the frame building process.

Some other services at Symond Cycles. Do you have and old frame you'd like to see resurrected with shiny new paint? Do you have a dream wheel set you would like professionally built? Joel is your man and Symond Cycles is the brand. 

I've started a Symond Cycles savings fund for my own custom steel machine on down the road