Epic Cycles: Where Community and Biking Unite - TribPapers

Epic Cycles: Where Community and Biking Unite

A sampling of the gear (pun intended) sold at Epic Cycles. Credit: epiccyclesnc.com

Asheville – Mike Roberts always figured he’d go into the healthcare profession like so many in his family. He was working on his doctorate in hospital administration when he realized what he really wanted to do.

Like a lot of kids, Mike loved riding his bicycle. By the time he went to college, he was serious and competitive. He worked as a mechanic for a couple bike shops in his hometown in South Carolina before moving to Warsaw, Indiana, to work with Allan Hightower. Sun Rims and Ringle had just merged to form the SunRinglé brand, and Hightower, as vice president of sales, was looking for somebody to market the products throughout the United States and Canada.

When SunRinglé was sold, Hightower and Roberts returned to their Carolina roots and kept in touch. Hightower found work at a bicycle shop in Black Mountain, and within a couple years, he purchased the business and renamed it Epic Cycles. Decades later, during the pandemic, Roberts started working for Hightower again as a mechanic, and Hightower was nice enough to schedule him around his graduate studies. Roberts’ “real” job was selling health insurance through his own brokerage.

During the pandemic, Hightower took ill, and Roberts had to take over managing the day-to-day operations at Epic Cycles. Months later, when Hightower was well enough to return to work, he had found what he really wanted to do, and that was spend more quality time with his wife in retirement. So, he asked Roberts if he would like to take over as owner-operator.

Roberts said Epic Cycles has been a family-owned business for 25 years. First it was owned by Hightower’s family, and now it is owned by Roberts, his wife, and their seven children.

“What’s it like?”

“We sell all kinds of bikes.”

“Do you sell Schwinns?”

“Walmart does. They were bought by a larger company, and now they’re only available for mass marketing. They’re not the great bikes they used to be.”

“Do you sell something for the guys in Lance Armstrong suits?”

“We sell race bikes like Cervelo and Look, carbon fiber with full suspension…”

“What would you sell to a little old lady?”

“I might show her a Jamis Explorer with high handlebars, a step-thru frame, and memory foam seating. We sell mountain bikes and road bikes, from entry-level and family to high-end carbon-fiber models. We sell a lot of e-bikes, too.”

Roberts said e-bike sales are “through the roof.” Industry analysts thought e-bike sales would plateau, but they’ve passed the early adopter stage, and they’re more affordable. As technology and designs improve, they’re becoming an attractive alternative in the setting of rising fuel costs, and they remain accessible for folks who can’t pedal the full distance.

Epic Cycles has sold tandem bikes and unicycles and won’t stop there. Also in stock are accessories like baskets. Roberts said he sells a lot of laptop carriers to commuters. Rentals and repairs are also part of the business.

Roberts claims “a flair for vintage mountain bikes. “I like to repair them, and I’m a big collector.” Asked how they’re that different, he said, “They have a totally different geometry, no disk brakes, smaller wheels, less suspension.” He repairs a lot of old bikes, the most challenging ones being “the ones that never worked right in the first place.”

The most interesting job, however, was when somebody brought a surfboard into his bike shop in the mountains, five hours away from any ocean. “They wanted help putting fins on, and we did it.”

Overall, Roberts feels blessed. “God led me to make good decisions. While stores are struggling, we’re expanding and growing.” Recently, they’ve opened stores in West Asheville and Hendersonville, and he’s seen sales double in the last few years.

He loves to see children come into the store. “Their eyes get big, and they’re mesmerized. It makes my day.”

Roberts feels it is important to be a part of the community, so he purchases from local vendors like Cane Creek and Industry Nine. He also supports cycling teams like Pisgah Rage, Hendersonville Hellbenders, and Dirt Skirts through sponsorships and educational programming. He further donates rental bikes to an organization in Hendersonville that provides recreational opportunities for disadvantaged youth.

The best part of it, though, is, “When somebody sees your shirt and stops you and asks if you’re the owner. Then they say, ‘Your guys are the best. They took great care of me.’” He also gets unsolicited calls to the same effect.