What do you do if your lifelong dream is to open your own bike shop but you don’t have millions of dollars to open a big fancy store? If you’re 29-year-old Brian Starr, you create the tiny-house equivalent: Vashon Bikes. Opened last fall, Vashon Bikes sits between an auto-repair shop and a coffee stand, a few miles from singletrack, on Vashon Island near Seattle, Washington.
Starr grew up on the semi-rural island, mountain biking through the woods and tinkering with all things mechanical. When you hit the trail, Starr explains, you want to focus on the flow of your ride, not some clanking part that’s half falling off. His goal is to give every rider who walks through his doors as pure a biking experience as he can. What does a bike shop really need? Turns out, not that much: a work stand, some tools, some parts for fixing bikes, plus a few accessories. Forget the endless rows of shiny new bikes. Starr’s philosophy is “work first to renew and second to replace.”
If someone sitting next to you on an airplane asks what you do for work, what do you tell them?
I help others to play while I play! I own and operate a local bike shop that is built into the back of a 24-foot-long box truck.
People are usually curious where the idea came from. As far as the bike shop portion, it has been an attraction of mine ever since I was little. I grew up hanging out at my dad’s auto shop doing small engine repair-lawn mowers and weed-eaters-for extra cash. I spent that money on bicycles and dirt bikes. Both of which are a lot of fun to ride when they are in prime running condition. The fact that a human was the motor for a bicycle intrigued me.
The box truck idea came from my one year of working with Snap-On as a tool storage sales rep (tool boxes, roll carts, and tool chests). When I decided it was time to make a life change, my wife strongly suggested I pursue my bike shop dream. To make the dream come to life on our limited budget, the bike truck was born.
What is a typical day like for you?
I like to start my day having breakfast with my two-year-old son and my wife. There is the occasional morning trail ride as well.
Once I’m in the shop, though, it’s all bikes all day. Being a one-man shop I get to wear all the hats: tech, service adviser, sales rep, cashier, and bookkeeper. Early spring, when the weather turns nice, is pretty busy with the bikes that sat most the winter… lots of tune-ups. In the tune-up process, other needed repairs may be found; if so, I build estimates and inform the customer. As supplies get used and product is purchased, things have to be reordered and restocked; every day or two, I finish my day by making a reorder list.
How does your job affect someone’s day?
Riding a bike is a lot of fun. And it is empowering. Even when that bike isn’t operating 100 percent, it can still be fun. But riding a bike that functions flawlessly the way it was designed to allows the rider to focus on the ride and not the bike. In a city-commuting situation, this is very crucial for safety; the less distractions the better. On a mountain bike, it allows the rider to focus on the trail and their technique so they can push themselves to the next level.
In short, I like to think I put a smile on someone’s face!
What was your first job in the outdoor industry?
I apprenticed at a local bike shop in Seattle in 2013. Unless you count commercial fishing, in which case it was 2005. I was outdoors a lot more on the fishing boat then I was with my apprenticeship.
How does someone get your job?
There are multiple schools that can provide someone the needed skills to be a bicycle tech. United Bicycle Institute and Barnett Bicycle Institute for Bicycle Mechanics are two of the more respected schools. As with any skilled trade, there is knowledge gained from hands-on experience and old-timer knowledge that is not taught in a classroom.
I recommend getting a job at a bike shop or sports store that can give you exposure to working sales, customer service, service advising, and repair. From there, make the decision to open your own shop.
For the most part, people want to get their bikes fixed and they are happy to pay for the repairs. This is a drastic change from what I am used to in the auto industry, where repairs can sometimes be a thankless task. The other aspect is the enjoyment factor. Young or old, bikes do a good job of putting a smile on someone’s face.
What are the pros of your job?
For the most part, people want to get their bikes fixed and they are happy to pay for the repairs. This is a drastic change from what I am used to in the auto industry, where repairs can sometimes be a thankless task. The other aspect is the enjoyment factor. Young or old bikes do a good job of putting a smile on someone’s face.
What are the cons?
I haven’t found one yet.
Photos: Sheereen Hitner
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