Thursday, July 29, 2010

Interview with Matt Holbert from the new downtown bike shop

Posted on Thu, Jul 29, 2010 at 1:18 PM

Yesterday we came across the Facebook page for a new downtown Spokane bike shop called the Breaking Away Bicycle Company (the reference should be obvious to cyclists or anyone who grew up around the late '70s), so we emailed owner Matt Holbert to get the skinny. We got his answers back just now.

So, first, maybe you could give us a little background on yourself.

I grew up in western Indiana and as a student at Indiana University rode in a cycling event that was featured in the movie Breaking Away. In the fall of 1978 I rode as an extra during the filming of the track scenes for that movie. Since graduating, I have mainly been a runner but ironically enough got back into cycling after colliding with an SUV while riding my bike on the South Hill. An acupuncturist dealing with the aftermath of the resulting injuries recommended that I quit running. Cycling was okay as long as I yielded to large, moving objects.

Tell us about the bike shop you just opened.

I became certified as a Bicycle Technician in the fall of last year and decided to open my own shop after being unable to find a position at a couple of local bike shops. My 340 square foot location in the Hutton Building at Washington and Sprague was attractive to me because it was downtown and required little or no build out. This allows me to test the market without incurring much in the way of up-front costs. The savings can then be passed along to the customer.

My goal is to serve the cycling community in much the same way as R.E.I. served the climbing community in the early days. When a customer pays for services and components, they become de facto members of a club that owns the tools and has the ability to buy wholesale. There are no executives or managers and there is not the expense and/or ecological damage of flying board members from Bozeman to Seattle. By not stocking merchandise, I can be extremely competitive with pricing. Most items can be picked up within 24-48 hours of ordering. ---

Your website seems to suggest that you're more than just a bike shop. You have a kind of philosophical bent, too. How do you see that playing into the business?

My personal philosophy centers around the quest for quality. In order to better recognize quality, one must be exposed to a wide range of experiences and ideas. I have attempted to do this over the past few years — primarily through reading a broad range of books. For those who have an interest, a large selection of those books can be found at my shop and I'll be happy to let you borrow them.

One component of quality is a lack of pollution — noise, water, air, etc. Cycling is the most efficient form of transportation known. This dovetails nicely into my goal of enticing people to consider a system that enables them to live well with a small footprint.

What are the advantages or disadvantages of the location you found? What do you plan to do with it?

The lack of natural light may be the biggest challenge and this can be remedied with better lighting. It would also be better if Sprague were a two-way street. On-street parking is readily available, however, and I'll feed the meter if you don't have change. In time, I may need to reconfigure the space in order to be more efficient.

How do you view the bike scene in Spokane? Where do you think we are? What do we still need, and where do you see the scene going?

I am just beginning to get plugged into the cycling scene. I was surprised at the number of organized groups and events. We have a long way to go before we catch up with Portland. However, I think Spokane has many characteristics that are attractive to the serious cyclist and it seems that the cycling population is growing.

The key, however, is to get on the bike rather than getting in the car — and make it a way of life. What we need is a carbon tax rather than income tax. Once vehicle owners pay the true cost of driving, we'll all be in the saddle.

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