ARKIE PROFILE | Ben Upchurch
Ever find yourself walking around the local bike shop on a rainy day. You have no intentions. Just…wandering…looking at stuff. Me too! In the age of shopping online I am still a huge fan of good ole fashion brick, mortar & a handshake. I recently visited with Ben Upchurch owner/operator of The Bike Route. Hangout for a sec and find out a little more about Ben and what inspired him to open a bike shop.
I’ve been racing bikes with Ben for 10 years or so. He’s that guy on our cycling team that likes to stir the pot. Recently I was in the winning break at a local road race with three cat 1’s and a fellow cat 3. In the end I finished 4th. In our post race team chat Ben asked, “At what point did you realize you were going to let the team down?” Bazinga! But that all balances out with a keen sense of humor. You see, he’s also the one who keeps us laughing, making fun of himself just as much as he makes fun of us. It’s this sense of humor that helps the guys not take themselves so seriously and eases pre-race nervousness. I really enjoy this fun-loving camaraderie. Several years ago we sat down and he shared with me his passion and vision for opening up a bike shop. Now known as The Bike Route.
OCA: How long have you been involved (riding, racing, promoting) in NWA?
TBR: I’ve officially been on a bike (taking it seriously, that is) since 1990. Started dabbling a bit with mountain bike racing and what I thought was training back then. Got into road racing/riding about 1993 with my college buds, John and Bob. The race promoting happened around 1999. I was a ‘taker’ of this sport for years and decided that promoting some small local races was a great way to ‘give’ back to the sport that gives me so much in life. So before TBR I was actually a ‘stay-at-home-dad’ for nine years. This was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. I was fortunate enough to hand-raise my three kids. That is something I am very proud to have done! And then before that, I was a sales rep. for a trucking company. I started that when I graduated from the U of A in 1995. My wife, Susan, and I were married in 1997 and I knew my place with her quickly! She is much smarter than I, so I knew I would be chasing her career – which I had no problem with!
OCA: What is it about cycling that keeps the legs spinning all these years?
TBR: Riding a bike has developed into my therapy session. All kidding aside, even my wife will tell you that it has been good around the house when I ride – in moderation! I love more than anything the camaraderie that develops among all of us. I love to be outside. I love pushing my mental and physical thresholds. I love suffering and love making others suffer. I love the technology. Where do I stop? It’s a passion that I never plan on giving up.
The ‘glory’ days. This little shrine hangs near the bathroom door. Is that a Litespeed?
OCA: Can you speak to what inspired you to start up your own shop?
TBR: It was a simultaneous mix of things mainly driven by my desire to exit the stay-at-home-dad thing. I had kind of ‘checked that box’ and needed a new challenge. I also saw the need for something different in the market, not better, just different. Then there was another desire to give back to the cycling community. Give our community a store that offered things you normally only see online and see if I could capture that sale rather than some cute website in another part of the country or another country itself.
OCA: Tell us about the name and logo.
TBR: That was difficult. The racer in me wanted something very unique and racer driven. Something Euro! I knew that was for me only and wouldn’t work for people that just wanted to ride bikes. ‘The Bike Route’ grew on me very quickly but I still needed that cool factor that I could sink my teeth into! I’m a huge fan of Belgian cycling and new I had to incorporate the Lion of Flanders flag into the logo and worked with a local graphic artist to start the look. We then threw in De Fietsroute (Flemish for The Bike Route). I know this sounds a little arrogant but, I love the logo!
OCA: What have been the biggest challenges so far?
TBR: Two things. (1) Dealing with our growth has been exciting. We’ve already moved to another address with twice the square footage. When we opened I kind of envisioned Jay (my manager) and I just working on bikes and selling them occasionally! That changed quickly. Managing inventory, co-workers, service schedules, and my family has been exciting to say the least. (2) Finding qualified employees. Any bike shop can hire someone to sell cool bikes and build a bike that simply passes for OK. We are constantly keeping our ears open to find that very skilled mechanic and/or sales person who can actually build a relationship with customers. This is very hard to do in this area of the country.
Front of House.
OCA: What’s been the biggest satisfaction so far?
TBR: Good question. I get the biggest kick out of selling someone there first $500 hybrid bike! These customers always have a bigger smile on their face than someone who buys a $5000 bike. They are so eager to get out and ride the new paved trails in town. I would also have to say that I get a ton of satisfaction from working with my employees. Our environment is very team oriented. If the team succeeds we all succeed. We have some really good guys/gals that work at TBR. Finally, I still get such satisfaction that someone takes time out of their day and chooses our door to walk into for their cycling needs. That front door has a very powerful significance to us. We know the value of that customer and more importantly the value of that person’s time.
OCA: Tell us a little about the bike brands that you carry?
TBR: Cannondale has been with us since the beginning. They make a little bit of everything and have a price point from $480 to $13000 – mountain, road, and family bikes. Cervelo has also been with us from the start. They are a great company specializing in higher end road equipment. Pinarello, Niner and Moots have also joined us giving customers options in the more boutique side of the cycling biz. The most important thing to us is that our vendors have a vested interest in us. We don’t do business with vendors that don’t have the same core values as TBR. We demand a partnership so we can guarantee our customers that we have their backs on any service issues we run up against. Trust me, we have parted ways with vendors that don’t hold our same values.
OCA: I know you ride a lot of different bikes, which is your all time favorite thus far?
TBR: Man, I hope some of my vendors don’t read this! For me and my style of riding it is hands down the Cannondale EVO. As some of your readers may know, I go through a ton of road bikes! It’s kind of a running joke! I’ve had two EVO’s (one uber expensive and one more reasonably priced) and they have both just blown my mind. The Cervelo S5 is still the single fastest road bike I have ever ridden. The aerodynamics on that bike are for real! Mountain bike – Cannondale Scalpel 29er. It just handles very well.
OCA: Who is your favorite employee?!
TBR: All of them! They are just so wonderful!
OCA: Way to navigate that one!
OCA: Anything exciting in the works for 2014?
TBR: We are holding steady this year. Perfecting some processes and training some new people up. This is a little boring but I need to focus on the numbers side of things a little more this year.
OCA: What would you most like to see change in the cycling community?
TBR: I think we are seeing it with the paved trail system around NWA. When I was in college, I never thought I would see what we are seeing now. It blows my mind seeing so many people out on bikes in NWA. As you point out in WHF, we really have a good thing going on in NWA.
OCA: Where do you see TBR in 10 years?
TBR: Still in business! That’s a tough question… Bigger, better, even more selection!
Working with customers.
Test ride time.
Little known fact about Mavic, they also make great refrigerators not just sick hoops & yellow shoes. Always a friendly adult bev in that yellow fridge.
Belly of the beast.
Cannondale, Cervelo, Niner & Moots.
Can’t leave out Pinarello.
Something I really appreciate. Clean bathroom!
I really admire Ben for having the courage to pursue his dream. I can’t say that I have it (at least not yet anyways). Personally I’m inspired by Ben’s entrepreneurial spirit. I have seen firsthand how success is the result of courage, hard work, passion & dedication. He’s been a part of the NWA cycling community as a racer, race promoter, teammate, team manager and now bike shop owner. Still finding ways to contribute to the growing cycling community in Northwest Arkansas. That’s super cool. I recently asked a new employee at the shop how her first couple days at TBR were, she replied “I end up laughing a lot.”Next time you’re out, stop on by The Bike Route and do a little wandering!
Owner – The Bike Route
3660 N. Front Street
Fayetteville, AR 72703