April 2013

The Bike Doctor- Spoke-driven business an extended family practice

Author: Michael Paskevich | Photographer: John Brackett

James Bradford is officially “The Bike Doctor” but to hear him tell it, the spoke-driven business is more of an extended family practice. “There’s no way we’d be where we are these days without the incredible crew we have,” said Bradford, a one-time competitive road cyclist who, in the early ’90s was tired of living out of a suitcase and road racing at regional events. “I always say you have to have a Plan B, and starting a bike shop was it for me.”

He obtained the Bike Doctor moniker from Gary Otto who did on-the-fly repairs from a roving van done up like an ambulance, and by 1992 found a warehouse for bike rentals behind what would become his first retail practice on Mathews Drive on Hilton Head’s north end. Free pick-up and delivery was an early (and since abandoned) hook, and his crucial support team began to take shape as the business plan and retail sales began to take hold.

Paul Levy manages the original store (a south end Doctor’s office opened on New Orleans Road three years ago this month). “I’ve been here about 10 years. It could be longer,” he said. “I just try to make everything work, and it’s like family around here. We do whatever it takes.” That means repairs, maintenance and sales to a clientele that’s 90 percent local in contrast to a comfort-ride rental market that’s 90 percent visitor.

Greg Ney handles the bulk of the rental arrangements, which, on a given summer weekend, find nearly 1,000 bicycles being shuttled around to island condos, resorts and other short-term accommodations. “Fortunately, we have a big inventory, but nothing is over three years old,” Ney said, “and we’ll make adjustments for size. With our drivers, we’re often able to get the bikes delivered early in the morning so they’re waiting for people after they check in.”

Bradford’s spouse Kerrie is often at the north end store joined by roly-poly brown rescue dog Bishop, who isn’t shy about head rubs. “A big joke I get is that I’m the ‘bike nurse,’ Kerrie said, “and part of my job is to keep tabs on the guys. She also takes on the graphics, business paperwork and crucial marketing in a competitive marketplace where fellow owners nonetheless still call each for help with certain parts.

Then there’s Bradford family matriarch Barbara who helps out as needed at the south end. “I’m well acquainted with the boss, and I’m proud of him, too,” said Barbara of a boy “who used to tear things up just to find out how they worked. Now he’s a self-made man.”

Bradford may still be blushing, but he’s also been an integral part of an emergent cycling scene as his business has become an island institution with 20-plus years of providing top-notch brand equipment and ongoing service to locals. He credits others, of course, mentioning Frank Babel as a persistent “squeaky wheel in getting the town to build out the path system.”

They’re technically “leisure paths,” meaning plenty of casually unaware walkers, and the lack of dedicated bike lanes still leaves serious cyclists to take to the right sides of the streets. The Bike Doctor sponsors a same-named race team that competes from here to Florida, and some team members gather at the south end store at 6 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday for “aggressive” rides centered along the Cross Island Parkway. Speeds of 27 mph and up are not uncommon.

There are often one or two hard-core riders hanging around and talking technique at the south end where avid off-road rider Sonny Rothert now manages sales and such. “I came in one day with a flat, and I never left,” he said.

April marks the start of the island cycling season with the first surge of tourists and the return of locals who were weather-weenies over the winter. Tune-ups and adjustments are on the upswing as are sales to those looking to upgrade their wheels. The Doctor’s staff doesn’t work for free yet continues to keep costs as low as possible for its dedicated clientele.

“We look at it as investing in them and hoping they’ll turn around one day and tell their buddies about us,” Bradford said. “We’re able to advertise more these days, but I believe that word-of-mouth is still the best.” And free pick-up for repairs remains available to locals during off-season months.

“People sometimes forget that there are new people moving to the island while others are leaving,” Bradford said. “We’re not taking that for granted, and we’re looking for new customers all the time. What we’re trying to do now with two stores is to keep refining what we do and getting even better.

“Everybody here loves what they do, so for now it’s really steady as she goes. We’re lucky to be in a business that’s fun, busy and gives us new challenges all the time.”

The Bike Doctor is located on Hilton Head Island at 55 Mathews Dr., Suite 160, (843) 681-7531 or 31 New Orleans Rd. Suite B, (843) 681-7532. Both stores are open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri. and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturday, open seven days a week for bike rentals. For more information, visit bikedoctorhhi.com.

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