Good Life

Business Spotlight: Jim Welsh: Bicycle industry is recession-proof

Jim Welsh gives a bike a tune-up April 6, 2015. Jim Welsh is the service manager at The Bicycle Shop in State College.
Jim Welsh gives a bike a tune-up April 6, 2015. Jim Welsh is the service manager at The Bicycle Shop in State College. CDT photo

Jim Welsh passes his passion on to his children with two wheels on the ground, two hands on the handlebar and wind in their hair.

Welsh, The Bicycle Shop’s service manager, taught his son how to ride a bicycle last summer.

“He’s been going with me since I could get a helmet on his head, and I just got him in a back seat,” Welsh said. “Seeing him go by himself is really a cool thing for me and my wife.”

Welsh helps other people get back on their bikes when things go wrong.

Maybe it’s a flat tire, a loose chain or even a need of new brakes.

Whatever the problem, Welsh has solved it for 28 years.

Q: How did you become interested in being a bicycle mechanic?

A: Riding bikes as a kid I wanted to fix them myself. A lot of it was figuring it out as I went. When I was 14 years old I wanted to have a wheel belt and didn’t have the money to pay the bike shop to do it, so I kind of figured that out myself. When I took it in to have them finish what I started they offered me a job. I guess they were impressed.

Q: What do you enjoy about working on bikes?

A: The problem solving is always an interesting aspect of this, because people always find new ways to break things on their bikes. Engineers also always find new ways to design things, so there’s always something new to see and solve.

Q: I would imagine business is good in the bicycling industry in State College, right?

A: We’re pretty recession proof. It actually helped us when gas prices really spiked a few years ago. There was a shortage on tires, because so many people were fixing up their clunkers, bringing them and getting them back on the road. It’s also a nice recreational thing that the whole family can do. It doesn’t cost anything, whereas skiing you have to the lift ticket or golfing you have to pay to do that. If you get out your bike, you can just go, and that appeals to people.

Q: There are a lot of different kinds of bicycles for different uses in this area. What options do people have outside of getting from A to B on campus or in town?

A: If you think to do it on a bike, we’ve got something suited for it whether it’s long miles on the road, going down the sides of mountains over rocks and tree roots to a child’s first bicycle or tricycle.

Q: Is there a good crossover bike?

A: There isn’t one from one extreme to the other, but if you go somewhere in the middle there are some bikes that can take a little bit of off road and still be comfortable for longer road miles. The latest is what they’re calling gravel grinders, and they look like your old 10-speed bikes with wider tires and disc breaks. That and the fat bikes meant for riding in snow and sand with 5-inch tires.

Q: What do people typically bring their bikes in for?

A: Flat tires are the most obvious thing, and there’s no waiting for that. We just take them in and fix it on the spot. The spring or annual tune-up is big to for people who hung their bikes in for the winter. They want to get them aired up, oiled up and ready to go for the season. And then the year-round people who wear stuff out and break stuff.

Q: Are you ever surprised at bikes that people bring in?

A: One of the most common ones is with parents that bring in their kid’s bike, because a little kid will drop their bike and the handlebars spin around, which causes the brake cable to tighten up. They pull their bikes in with the wheel dragging behind them and say “the brakes are locked up,” and we grab the handle bars, spin it around and suddenly the brakes move. Then the parents put their heads down in shame and say, “Thank you very much.”

Q: This is about the time of year people dust off their bikes and go riding again. What do they need to check on their bikes after they’ve sat idling over winter and before they go out?

A: Air in the tires, oil on the chain and what we like to call the drop test. You just pick the bike up 6 inches off the ground and drop it back down and listen for funny noises like clunks or rattles. Grab both the brakes and rock the bike back and forth. If you feel any weird movements it’s best to get it checked out before it becomes a bigger problem.

Q: What’s your favorite place to bike?

A: By myself, when I get the chance, I’d be out on Rothrock on the mountain trails or the skate park down by Tussey Mountain in front of the ski slope.