With beautiful spring weather and plenty of time to practice social distancing, some people are finding bike riding to be a fun, safe way to get exercise while taking a break from being cooped up at home.
Brian Lucas, owner of Off the Chain Bikes in Hollister, sees evidence of this every day.
“I had just finished tuning a bike up for a customer when he came in,” Lucas recalled, “and he said ‘thank goodness you’re done, I was going crazy at home.’ I hear that a lot.”
Lucas, 61, said his interest in bikes began in 1977.
“I purchased a Peugeot belonging to a friend of mine and he and I fixed it together. We started getting heavily into riding and since then bikes have always been around me.”
In 1983, he biked across the United States on a road tour to Boston.
After two years of working for bike shops in San Diego, Lucas landed a job in Morgan Hill doing research and development at Specialized Bicycle Components.
“Specialized hired me to build a bike called Epic, one of the first carbon fiber, titanium-bonded frames, a very light, very high-end glued bike,” Lucas said. His own personal Epic bike hangs in his shop today. “One of the ones we worked on was used to win the [Mountain Bike World Championship].”
Creating these bikes was the work of craftsmen all over the country.
“The machinists at Specialized made the frames, then we sent them to Massachusetts to be welded,” Lucas said. “The bike came back to Morgan Hill and I’d bond them and be sure everything was straight. Then it would be sent to Portland to be painted.”
Lucas left Specialized after 12 years of service during the economic downturn following 9/11. He opened his own shop in Hollister in 2001.
“I was living in Hollister and I wanted to work locally,” he said. “My son was very young and I didn’t want to relocate.”
Besides selling bikes at Off the Chain, Lucas also makes custom bikes at a rate of two a year. It’s a different experience compared to making them at Specialized, he said, but a lot of things are the same.
“It is not a true custom bike unless someone is very awkwardly built,” he said. “But I talk to customers before I build them, check out how big the person is, what kind of a rider he is. I choose the type of tubing that is best for the person. A 100-pound woman is going to have different technical needs than a 200-pound man.”
Lucas is not building the same kind of high-performance bikes he made at Specialized, though. “The bikes I make now are traditional braised steel frame bikes with a lot of details. They are not racing bikes, just more gravel-type of bikes.”
Lucas considers gravel bikes to be the best all-around choice for the average rider. Helping people choose the correct bike is where his expertise pays off.
“People start off looking at mountain bikes thinking you can buy one bike that can do everything. Unfortunately, mountain bikes are just a pure off-road vehicle,” Lucas said. “And when you have a bike, what percent of the time do you actually go off-road? For most bikers, you are riding on the street. You are not going to go jumping off a four-foot cliff.”
When fitting people for a bike, Lucas said he uses the same standards as he does when doing a custom build, matching factors such as height and weight, the experience of the rider, and the expected uses for the bike.
One side effect of having bike repair as part of his business is ending up with a lot of tires to replace and recycle. Lucas’s wife Robin has turned that into a venture of her own.
“I have always sewn and we are both naturally creative people,” she said. “Brian was using old tires to refinish bar stools and I started opening old tires, cleaning them, and figuring out patterns.”
Rather than discard worn-out tires, she found an industrial sewing machine and went to work.
“I needed a tough machine to handle the rubber,” she said. The result is a business in handbags, purses, travel bags, and “doggie poop bag holders.”
A few cyclists still meet up at the shop for a ride on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6 p.m., maintaining the proper social distancing, of course. One of those riders is 18-year-old Theodore Rialson. He got his first BMX bike at Off the Chain when he was 12 years old, a gift from his father.
“I was always the fast kid and I was looking for something faster,” he said. “I started riding my dad’s road bike and eventually got my own.” That bike turned out to be a Specialized Diverge Road Bike, purchased from Off the Chain as well.
Rialson’s interest in bikes has led him to work at Off the Chain, learning how to repair bikes.
“We either ride down Santa Ana Road to Quien Sabe, which is about 22 miles from the shop and back, or down Cienega which is about 30,” said Rialson. He has tackled much longer rides, including a 13-hour trip going up to San Francisco, across the Golden Gate Bridge, then back down Highway 1 to Santa Cruz.
With people cooped up during the shelter-in-place, Lucas said right now is a good time to consider riding bikes as an activity.
“This is something you can do on your own and right now the roads are quite empty,” Lucas said. “You get a lot of exercise, your heart rate goes up, and you have total freedom. It is a great activity.”
As for himself, riding is simple.
“I don’t give much thought to it. It is something I do. It is a part of me.”
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