One of the conversational threads that runs through many of our discussions on this website is the need to for basic necessities for downtown to complement the culinary and entertainment options which have proliferated here. With a small, though growing, downtown population, these kinds of businesses bring more risk in that visitors to downtown may be more likely to eat out or go to a show than to buy a necessary item. For this reason, it is important that when a business takes that chance, that downtown and near-downtown residents support them.
Tennessee Valley Bikes offers not only entertainment for those biking for fun, but also support for something that I feel is critical to the success of our urban lifestyle. I’ve made most of my bike accessory purchases there. When I first got my bike (which I bought used from Kickstand), I needed a lock and helmet and got them there. Eventually I realized a good pump would be helpful and later my aging seat needed replacing. All my bike needs were well met at this store on Magnolia. I’ve mentioned them before, but I’ve never really taken a closeup look at the shop.
I met with co-owner Scott Smith, who owns the business with Eric Ohlgren and Tina Rosling, recently to talk about the business, where it came from and where it’s going. Scott was born in Wilmington, Delaware, but his family moved around a lot, settling in middle Tennessee when he was in high school. After stints at MTSU and Pelissippi State, he majored in Environmental and Soil Science at UTK. He cooked at Old College Inn and Tomato Head while making his first adult friends among Knoxville’s biking community.
In 2006 he began work at Tennessee Valley Bikes in its location on Chapman Highway which had been recently opened by Bill Dellinger. He followed when Bill moved the business just down from its current location in 2007. By January 1, 2008 Bill had moved out-of-state, sold the business to Eric, Tina and Scott and it had moved down the sidewalk to its current location at 214 W. Magnolia, next door to Public House. It was a tough time to start as dust and debris filled the air from Smart Fix 40 which ran the course of 2008 and into 2009.
Offering a full range of biking accessories, bike repair and new bicycles, the shop has evolved over the years. I was surprised to learn that commuter biking was the focus early and that has given way, at least in volume of sales and repairs, to mountain biking. Both have clearly grown in Knoxville in recent years with the advent of the Urban Wilderness and the expansions of greenways and an increase in commuters. Scott was originally a commuter cyclist, but has become a mountain biking enthusiast, probably due to the influence of Eric who was a mountain biker from the beginning. Scott feels both warrant emphasis and they may trend back toward commuting by volume in the future.
Another facet I hadn’t considered is the complication involved with selling used bikes. It used to be a major part of the business and Scott likes the used bike market, but the complication involves stolen bikes and, in the end, it became simpler to not focus on used bikes rather than providing a potential market for stolen bikes. It became very time-intensive as well, given the amount of time required to overhaul a used bike to it into the condition they felt comfortable offering them for sale.
In addition to selling good quality bikes for commuters and mountain bikers, they sell bikes for both children and adults. Brands offered include Kona, one of the last independently owned bike companies, as well as Scott and Transition and other respected brands. Offering bikes that range to the very high end, they can order virtually any bike a customer wants.
They also build wheels. I registered a little surprise at this information and Scott volunteered that, “The best wheels are hand made.” It turns out that wheel strength and calibration are the keys to keeping the circular shape of a bike wheel – something that seems on its face to be pretty critical. Particularly with the pounding taken by mountain bikes, wheel strength is extremely important.
Another reality of bicycles in a city is the necessity they represent for people at the lowest socio-economic levels. For some people that simple increase to their mobility may mean the difference between having a job and being unemployed. For this reason, Tennessee Valley Bikes does repairs for a number of people who are desperate to maintain their primary means of transportation. They sometimes accept installments from the most desperate customers, understanding it can mean the difference between poverty and a slightly better life.
They’ve also been involved in a number of recent initiatives which should increase biking in the area. They teamed with Big Ears to offer rentals for festival goers and, in fact, have several bikes available for rent to customers on a regular basis. It’s an ideal way to show biking guests around downtown. They also offered guided rides during the festival, including one to Fort Dickerson which included brunch overlooking the quarry. They sponsored the rides for Bikes and Blooms and served as the beginning and ending points for those rides.
Currently they are sponsoring “Easy Rider Mountain Bike Rides,” which are just what the name implies: easy guided rides for people to explore some of our great trails. You’ll see those listed on our Ten Day Planner. Scott says it’s simply a part of what the shop is striving for: “We want to be your neighborhood bike shop.” And so they are. Check them out at their Magnolia Ave. address, follow them on Facebook and give them your support. It’s a downtown necessity currently being provided by your neighbors.