I'd say my son was about nine or ten when my wife and I decided to buy him a new bicycle.
Having out-grown his one-speed smaller bike, he was ready for a shifting bike. We went to A.J.'s Bike Shop in our town of Fairfield, Iowa. At that time, A.J.'s was on 4th Street in a small garage-like extension of an big house instead of his current location just off the town square.
"Just a minute," A.J. said, finishing up with another customer. After that, A.J. told us that he gave away a bicycle to every 100th customer who was buying a bike, and that we were number 100.
That was about fifteen years ago, but I still remember the moment: the small shop cluttered with shiny bikes, the smell of oils and mechanical things, and A.J. standing there in his blue denim mechanic's tool apron, a smile on his face while he enjoyed our happiness.
That's A.J. What would we do without such a man and such a shop in our town? I think over the years I've bought at least eight bicycles from A.J.'s Bike Shop. I've bought accessories. I've had my bikes tuned-up, modified, and fixed by A.J. I've learned about the greater world of bicycling, joined the national Adventure Cycling organization, and have even done a bit of bicycle touring. I've become a bicycle commuter, traveling to work regularly on my bike.
Now I commute regularly to my teaching job at Maharishi School, located on the Maharishi University of Management's campus. It's amazing how many places I go that are within two miles of my house--an easy bike ride. It takes as long to scrape my windshield and drive as it does to hop on my bike and get to work with pedal-power. I have a tee shirt that reads "The Bicycle: SUV of the 21st Century." Recreation includes bike rides with my wife. Bicycling has become a healthy part of my life.
At A.J.'s I ask about bicycle trailers (I recently bought a Burley Travoy there), a new commuter bike (such as the Raleigh Detour 2.5, a solid bike for a reasonable price), or the ever-popular biking conversation topic of gearing. It's one thing to surf the internet of information--a great thing!--but it's also wonderful to be able to talk face-to-face with a bicycle expert--and maybe even buy the desired item on the spot. Christmas on two wheels! My next evolution in bicycling is to learn more about bicycle maintenance, not to take away business from my local bike shop but rather to become more self-sufficient and able to do repair work on the road.
I wouldn't have experienced this growth and these joys without having a local bike shop in my town. Fairfield, Iowa, was designated as one of the Great Places in Iowa, and part of its greatness is in having such great businesses as A.J.'s Bike Shop. Here is a link to a video that includes information on Fairfield's Loop Trail bike path system as part of a general introduction to Fairfield.
With great joy and memories, I celebrate my long-term business relationship with A.J., his partner-wife, and with all those wonderful bikes. There's just something happy about all those spinning wheels--and every town needs as many happy places as possible.
Copyright 2012 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved
A version originally posted at Tom Kepler Writing