With spring at hand, Billings retail bike industry is branching out

2014-04-01T00:00:00Z 2014-04-25T17:18:04Z With spring at hand, Billings retail bike industry is branching outBy TOM HOWARD thoward@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Collin Hanson grew up in a quiet West End neighborhood near 19th Street West and Miles Avenue, and he was looking for a similar atmosphere when he went looking for a larger retail space to house his business, Collin’s Bike Shop.

His search led him to a 3,000-square foot space at 1120 16th St. W.

“I was looking for an area with slow traffic that would be a nice place for people to take test rides,” Hanson said. “This neighborhood has a nice feel to it, like where I grew up.”

Patty Hanson, Collin’s wife of 34 years, said her husband showed mechanical aptitude at an earl age. He was the kind of kid who was always fixing bikes, lawnmowers, and just about anything else around the house. As a young adult, Hanson worked on bikes and sold skis at a variety of outdoor shops throughout Billings, including the downtown Scheel’s store. It was a good way to pay for his skiing habit, he said.

He ran a computerized embroidery business for a while, and later worked in health care.

A few years ago, Hanson revived his long-time love affair with bicycles by picking up used bikes, fixing them up and reselling them. That hobby led to a two-year stint running Collin’s Bike Shop at 525 St. John’s Avenue near the Albertson’s grocery store on Sixth Street West.

As the business developed, Hanson realized he needed more space to work on bikes and display merchandise. He made the move to his present location last November.

Collin’s Bike Shop carries Kona and KHS bikes. The store features bikes for kids, mountain bikes, commuter bikes, road bikes and one of the hot new market segments, fat bikes.

The Kona WO, a burly black behemoth with 4-inch-wide tires, can wade through sand and soft snow. Besides that, it’s fun to ride, Hanson said.

The bicycle business is characterized by dozens of manufacturers and many price points. Hanson believes he’s found the right niche. “I was looking for bikes that are good quality but also affordable. KHS and Kona fit the bill,” he said.

People who purchase bikes at a big-box store are usually attracted to the low price. Many times they end up disappointed because low-end parts wear out quickly or the bike breaks because it was assembled poorly. That’s why service is such an essential part of the equation when running a bike shop, Hanson said.

Hanson agrees with the idea that bike culture in Billings has developed in recent years. Like other local sporting goods stores, Collin’s Bike Shop carries maps of the Billings trail system. Neighborhood kids are also starting to check out his store.

As another sign of an active bike culture, many young riders are converting vintage ten-speed bikes into simple fixed-geared machines designed for cruising around town.

“There are a lot of things going on. Billings has done a good job of developing trails, and there’s a lot more activity,” Hanson said.

The Billings retail bike industry seemed to be spinning its wheels last summer with the closure of Montana Cycling and Ski, a large, performance-oriented store at King Avenue West and Shiloh Road. Soon afterward, Chad Broderius, who worked at Montana Cycling for a short time, and Brian Kooyer, opened the Red Rover Bicycle Collective at 11 S. 30th St., off Minnesota Avenue.

The store carries a variety of mountain bikes and fat bikes, and also features numerous vintage bikes on display.

“Things have been going well. We’re looking to expand where we’re at,” Broderus said. “We’re concentrating on road, gravel and cyclocross bikes, and we’ve been servicing more road bikes.”

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