A Bike For Just About Everything at Visalia Cyclery
The Road to AdventureMarch 2015
By Jordan Venema
Photos: Peter Amend
There are some things that will never grow old, even though we do. Popular culture depicts the wheel as the first major invention, and yet we’re still finding new uses for it. As far as inventions go, you’d be hard-pressed to find another that’s gotten as many miles out of itself as the wheel. Think of the bike, and marvel at its profound simplicity and versatility. It is arguably the most accessible form of transportation, both geographically and financially, and heck, even a 4-year-old can learn to ride one. And when he does, the skill is his for life.
Considering this, bike peddlers are doing the community a considerable service. What beside a bike can so perfectly combine recreation with exercise while providing transportation?
Thinking this way, Bill and Cindy Kelly, owners of Visalia Cyclery, seem to have picked the right business: bikes will never go out of style. Smart business move, maybe, but what really propelled Bill (beside his feet against the pedals) was passion. He’s been selling bikes for more than 40 years, “and I still do love the business, after all this time,” he says. Even when he began farming walnuts in 1994, he couldn’t quite quit the shop – as anybody who has ever chased the wind on the back of a bike will understand. Once you’re on, it’s hard to get off.
Kelly’s history with bikes probably goes back further than his college years, but that’s when the business began. “I was going to College of the Sequoias and riding a lot,” he explains. And like any normal, forward-thinking college student, Kelly reasoned, “Gee, hey, maybe I should be in the bike business.”
Kelly opened a small shop in Hanford in 1971, and College Cyclery near College of the Sequoias the next year. “Not a lot of places sold bicycles then,” he says. “You went to a bike shop to get a bicycle.” This was fortunate for Kelly, since during the gas crisis of the early ‘70s, people wanted bikes. He sold his entire stock his first day in business. “We had a waiting list of about 100 people wanting to buy bikes.”
In 1982, in order to franchise with Schwinn, the “it” bike of its time, Kelly moved his shop to its current location on Caldwell near Mooney. “There was nothing out here but grapevines and farmland,” recalls Kelly. That didn’t stop him from building one of the more unique buildings in town. It’s impossible to miss Visalia Cyclery against its strip mall backdrop, standing out like the architectural offspring of a Swiss chalet and pagoda. “When we were building this thing, we had a sign that read, ‘This is not a restaurant,’” Kelly says with a laugh. “People thought it was a restaurant.”
The building’s the same, but a lot else has changed about the shop, and the industry, since Kelly sold his first bike. Back then, they really only sold road bikes until mountain bikes came out in the ‘80s. “That opened up a while different deal,” he says. “There’s a bike for everything now, whatever you want to do.”
Road bikes are still the bulk of Cyclery’s business, especially brands like Trek and Specialized. In fact, says Kelly, “We’re the only Specialized dealer in Kings and Tulare County right now.” But Visalia Cyclery sells other styles: cruisers, mountain bikes, recumbent bikes, touring bikes; and if they don’t sell it, they can probably get it for you, and find the perfect fit. “It’s a big deal to fit somebody properly,” says Kelly.
Peter Amend has worked at Visalia Cyclery for 11 years, and loves to get his hands dirty in the shop. He’s also a successful photographer, and says biking provides him balance while complementing his career.
“I love the sense of adventure and freedom two wheels give you to find your own path,” says Amend. “It’s a good exercise, it’s a good lifestyle, but it doesn’t feel like a workout.” Amend should know. He’s constantly hitting the trail or “bikebacking,” as he calls it. “It’s like an overnight backpacking trip,” he explains. “Hit the trail, end up in a tent somewhere, cook up a steak, and come back the next morning.”
For all the uses we’ve made of the wheel, and all the types of bikes we’ve built, it’s good to remember that biking isn’t just timeless; it’s practically ageless. “We get kids started on bikes sometimes before they’re 2 years old,” says Amend, “and then we’ve got a guy here at the shop that rides more than a lot of us, and he’s going to be 75 this week.” Regardless how soon or late you start, you’ll never outgrow biking, though you might outgrow a bike. And when you do, Visalia Cyclery will have the right bike to meet your needs, and the needs of anybody else who cares to feel the wind in his hair.
Visalia Cyclery • 1829 W. Caldwell Ave., Visalia • (559) 732-2453
Weekdays 9:30 am-6 pm; Saturdays 10 am-5 pm • Sundays noon-5 pm