I bought my first bike rack for my car in the mid-1990s.
It was a black Thule that held two bikes and strapped to the back of my Cavalier, and I got it so I could drive my college mountain bike to the Cleveland Metroparks bike path near where my dad lives when I was home on breaks.
In school, I just rode my bike everywhere. Parking was expensive and tight and my car was wildly unreliable – I had to put oil in it every time I drove it, and I had to keep a set of fuses on the passenger seat because something was always blowing. Windshield wipers plus heat plus radio? Now nothing works.
The rack served me well, and after my ex-husband bought a truck, we rarely used it. On the rare occasion we needed to take all the bikes somewhere, we would just put them in the truck.
I don’t have that truck anymore, but I still sometimes need to bring bikes with me. My son Jack, 8, has been riding since he was 3, and he’s confident and able to go a fair distance, navigate the curbs and city streets. We ride together, he rides alone or I run next to him sometimes.
But Viv, 6, isn’t quite there yet. It means we can ride around the neighborhood – if I run next to her, and by “run” I mean help give her a push to start and then full on sprint to be there when she has to turn the corner and inevitably panic. We’re working on it, and recently spent an evening just riding around an empty school playground, where she could learn some bike handling without having to navigate actual corners or curbs, traffic or pedestrians.
On a recent Saturday, we decided to go down to Tour Sioux Falls, the family bike event put on by Falls Area Bicyclists. We’ve gone every year since it started, and the kids love it. I didn’t think Viv could make it to the start for us at Rotary Park, though, so I thought I’d drive us there and give her another day of confidence navigating the bike path.
I looked in the corner of my garage and saw my old bike rack, now covered in dust and creaking as I pried it open. Some of the straps that held the bikes on were gone, and I had no idea if it would open wide enough to fit on the back of my car.
“Do you want something to wipe that off, mom,” Jack asked me when I got it out.
“That’s probably a good idea, buddy,” I said. “It’s pretty gross.”
He found an old towel, and we cleaned it up, opened it wide and somehow attached it to the car. I found an old bungee cord and secured the bikes. Then we just stared at it.
“It’s really crooked, mom,” Jack said.
It was. And there was no way I felt like it was going to do what it was supposed to – which is keep our bikes from crashing into the street and getting run over. (Random aside: We once ran a Strider bike over with a Land Cruiser and it was fine. It was that tough. This involved running it over and backing back up over it, with a “hey, what was that” sort of curiosity.)
So, I did what anyone would do: I texted my friend Owen at Spoke-n-Sport. I’ve known him for years, first as a coworker when we were at the Argus Leader together, and mostly as a fellow runner. Now he works there, and because of that friendship, I always trust him when I need something. And through him, I’ve become more familiar with the other folks there, and they know me, and all of that means I like giving them my business.
But Owen was busy setting up for the tour and didn’t reply. I called the store and told whoever answered, “Hi, this is Jacqueline. I need a bike rack. Today. For a Subaru. Owen told me a while ago you have one. Do you have one?”
The guy who answered, I forget his name – somebody remember and tell him thank you from me -- asked me all the questions: what kind of car, how many bikes, etc., gave me a price.
And then he did something great: He said, “We’ll get it out of the box and have it ready.”
“Awesome,” I said. “I’m coming from across town and hopefully won’t be dragging any bikes behind me when I get there.”
The kids and I arrived, and he and another worker quickly came out, put it on my car and showed me how to hook it up, put the bikes on, and store the extra straps. They told me how I could buy replacement pieces after they noticed Jack was intrigued by some – those are people who know a kid will often bend something until it breaks, because everyone needs to find a breaking point sometimes.
They talked to Jack about the bike rack. They explained it all to me. They said, “She’s in a hurry to get to the bike tour,” and took it seriously that I’m just a mom who wanted to ride for a bit with my kids and then eat from a food truck while they went in bouncy houses.
We made it to the bike path. Parked at Pasley and rode to Rotary. Spent the better part of the morning there, talking to friends and eating ice cream and complaining about the wind.
Owen was there, and when Jack ended up snapping part of his bike playing with a bike pump, he offered to drive us back to the car in the store truck. We were able to get a different ride, but that’s customer service.
It’s the same kind of thing I experience at 605 Running Co., where I’ve texted Greg and asked him for all kinds of things. Or when I came for a Wednesday run and realized I had forgotten all my clothes in the entry way of my house. Kelli found me clearance clothes and a free T-shirt to wear. Or once on a noon run a few years ago, when I felt lightheaded near Harlan’s Bike and Tour, and they gave me a gel even though I had no money on me. I knew they would understand, and they did. (Someone remind me to give them $2.)
I could have gone to another store to get my bike rack. I could have waited a week and bought it online. I could do a lot of things.
Instead I did business with my friends, in the stores they run in the community they love. They know my name. They know my kids. They answer my inane questions, “Owen, why can’t I make this bike pump work?” “Push harder.”
Greg and I had lunch at a chain restaurant last week (we’re not perfect, see?), and we were talking about the blog posts. I told him I had been thinking about my experience with Spoke-n-Sport, and I wondered if it would be OK to use his platform to talk about another business. He thought it was fine and talked a lot about how they work together for different things, including recent customer service training. I love the thought of smaller businesses getting together to pool resources and lift each other up.
I know that small businesses aren’t the only businesses, and like any other single mom, sometimes I pay more for convenience and less for something shopped online. But I usually at least start with one of these places, and most of the time, I don’t have to go anywhere else.
If you love your local stores as much as I do, you might want to consider nominating 605 Running Co. for the 50 Best Running Stores in America contest with Insight Running magazine. Here’s a link to their page. They have awards for the store that gets the most people outside, for the store making a difference in the community and the store with the best in-store events.
They probably have a shot at all of them. I know you have a story about how they help you, so share it, and let’s recognize some of the work they’re doing for us.
After all, Chad and Owen and Tuesday and Greg and Grant and Kelli and Benson are our friends.
My dad’s father never told him he loved him. It’s haunted him his entire life, and he drilled it into me to always tell someone how I feel. I tell the kids every day. I tell the other people I love that I love them, whenever I think about it. Sometimes that’s a lot.
I plan to tell this magazine why I love 605. Because when I love something, I talk about it. Blame it on how I was raised.
Jacqueline Palfy is a longtime runner, reader and writer, marathoner, mom and board member of the nonprofit Sioux Falls Area Running Club. Her contributions to the 605 Running Co. blog will appear each Tuesday. You can follow her on Twitter @runnerJPK or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Story ideas are encouraged.