We’re back from our long journey riding the Trans America Dirt Road Trail and after spending Thanksgiving with family and friends, we are getting ready for the next big adventure for Swallow Bicycle Works. First, we feel like a little context is due for how we find ourselves as bicycle shop owners, on this side of the trip of a lifetime, and where we will be going from here. This is a story that we have never really told, our story.
We started Swallow Bicycle Works over 4-years ago as a way for us to do what we were already doing for other bicycle shops, in our own creative way. A big part of this was having the freedom to do what we wanted without the influence of outside investors. This meant that we would invest our savings in ourselves which required us to start small by fixing bikes in our tiny apartment. Another goal we would prioritize is the importance of riding our bicycles and continuing our education as bicycle riders. At this point, we had never ridden a gravel road, we had only done a handful of centuries, and like most cycling enthusiasts in the Cincinnati area our background was defined by various group rides, road, cyclocross, and mountain bike races, even (believe it or not) triathlons! In the early days, people came to Swallow Bicycle Works for our experience working on bikes and our customer service, not necessarily for our experience as riders. We wanted people to come for all three reasons. It didn’t take long for us to find a suitable type of riding for our lifestyle as bicycle shop owners. We commuted during the week, and started to explore back roads over long distances with friends, in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky on our days off. Before we knew it we found ourselves riding long distances on gravel, which turned into longer distances on gravel, and ultimately the participation in our first bikepacking event.
As our experience as riders developed, so did our ability to help our customers. We reached a point in maturity with our bicycle shop where we saw a fork in the road. One path would lead to more growth, which would require more responsibility, investment, debt, and potential for debt. The other direction led towards minimizing our expenses, our exposure, and focusing on what really matters. We followed the industry norms and explored the first path for a while. We bought more inventory on credit, hired more people, processed more sales, and invested aggressively. By September 2014 we had created a machine, which now required constant attention and depended on a steady flow of money. We became more motivated by the bills looming on the horizon than pursuing our passion and felt our freedom waning. We were working more than we ever had, and while we were riding more than ever, our quality of life was suffering. We needed to make a change. We needed to explore the second path, by minimizing our expenses, our exposure, so that we could focus on what really matters. The first step was to pay off all of our debt, which we did within 4-months. We then had to figure out what the ideal environment for Swallow Bicycle Works could be.
Around this time, I received a grant to document the adventure riding we had been doing for the past couple years. Big companies were catching on to this new category of riding and saw it fit for investment. I was given the freedom to explore anything I wanted, and nothing felt more right for us than riding the Trans America Dirt Road Trail across the country while documenting the route from a bicycle perspective for the first time. We put it on the calendar for August 2015. We the trip as a sabbatical of sorts, a chance for a fresh perspective about what we were doing and what we wanted to do.
Until then, business resumed as normal, but rather than placing the typical predication based pre-season orders, we made arrangements with the companies we did business with that allowed us to order bikes and inventory as needed. This allowed us to focus more on bicycle fitting and getting people on bikes that they really wanted and needed, allowing us to completely forget about what was conveniently on the sales floor. Our rent expenses were still too high, and we felt like we were paying a lot for a space that did not represent our business values anymore. Our efforts to get out of our lease contract ending in 2017 were unsuccessful until July, only one month prior to our departure, after a new company purchased our building. Thanks to their more understanding perspective we were able to end our lease in the shopping center in Loveland, conveniently before we would be closing the shop for 4-months.
Our experience riding the Trans America Dirt Road Trail offered us time to evaluate our relationship with bicycles and our business, while learning a lifetime's worth of experiences by living on the bike and interacting with people along our route. At the end of our trip, it was apparent to us that we wanted to continue to make a contribution to the world by inspiring and facilitating the use of bicycles for adventure, enjoyment, and mobility for the purpose of enriching the human experience. This belief is the fundamental drive for us to do what we do, and a big part of that is making personal connections, a priority for our return trip home, and the reason we were drawn to visit Bruce Gordon of Bruce Gordon Cycles.
We have known about Bruce Gordon's reputation and his 40 year history of making functionally beautiful hand crafted bicycles, but our personal interaction with him has been through the purchasing and riding of his original Rock 'N' Road tire. A fun fact about Bruce is that he has been making bikes we now call gravel grinders, or monster cross bikes, since the birth of the original mountain bike, in the form of his Rock 'N' Road model bicycle. It goes without mentioning that we are fans of Bruce's bike designs, especially his Rock 'N' Road tire, so much so that we rode it for 5,000 miles across the country on dirt roads.
What started as a friendly visit quickly turned into the realization that by combining the skills and services of our two businesses, the three of us could create something very unique and special. That something special inspires and drives us to pursue the next step. Which brings us to announce that in February 2016, Swallow Bicycle Works will be back open for business in its new location, Bruce Gordon Cycles, in Petaluma, California.
Ohio will always be home and the decision to leave, to take a chance, is not an easy one. What we have learned through our pursuits is that challenging ourselves and not always doing the easy thing, but the right thing, by following our hearts, is something we are ok living our life by. What we love so much about our customers is that they support this belief and see the value and impact is has on a world that, at times, can be really confusing. We expect to continue our current relationships through the services we offer and encourage you to visit us in our new location, for some beautiful Northern California riding.
This brings us to our upcoming Open House. Come say hello, learn about our trip along the Trans America Dirt Road Trail, and help us get ride of some of our remaining shop inventory, and fixtures at a super discounted rate on Saturday, December 19 from 2 p.m. until 6 p.m. (or later...) We'll also be selling a lot of our personal equipment as well. Of course there will be there will be cider, but please feel free to bring a snack to share. We all know what happens when spiked cider, an empty stomach, and a bicycle sale are combined... On the other hand, forget the snacks! We have a lot to sell and can't bring it all to California with us, so spread the word and save some of your Christmas budget for the 19th!