50 years and still pedaling strong
Even as it climbs past its 50th anniversary, Bikes Unlimited is not downshifting.
The shop is thriving—bucking a stagnant trend nationwide—as it basks in the ever-brightening glow of Lynchburg’s downtown revitalization.
“The cycling industry always does pretty well, but it has definitely been flat for a while,” explained John Seinar, owner of Bikes Unlimited. “We have experienced great growth, and the cycling community in Lynchburg is really growing, which is an awesome thing to watch.”
It certainly doesn’t hurt to be spinning in the hub of downtown Lynchburg (where the shop moved from Lakeside Drive six years ago). At 1312 Jefferson Street, Bikes Unlimited is right off the Blackwater Creek Trail, draping its shadow on the popular paved bike/foot path in the evening.
“Couldn’t ask for a better spot,” Seinar said. “Downtown is thriving. We are right next to the best restaurants in town. You’ve got bikes, food, beer, coffee, trails—it’s all here.”
Among its services, Bikes Unlimited offers bike storage, saving customers
the back and forth hauling to the trail and giving them space an apartment
may not have.
The shop fits right in with the rustic aesthetic of the Riverfront. The interior of the storefront displays exposed brick and high, open ceilings with an open green area right out its side door set before a backdrop of chipped gray stones pooling around train tracks.
When Bikes Unlimited is open, the outdoor lawn brings a unique offering to the downtown scene—rentals.
“It gets bigger every year,” Seinar said. “More people know about it, more people are out riding—they are expanding the trail system, and we are expanding our fleet. We are always offering more bikes and different styles.”
Inside, the company appears to live up to its name. The sales floor is staged with an eclectic range of products, including high-end road bikes, classic-looking cruisers, mountain bikes, youth cycles and more, in limitless sizes and colors, as well as parts, tools and apparel. Custom orders can also be made and Seinar matches online prices in most cases.
Though the online world has cut into the market of brick and mortar stores, Seinar has observed many customers prefer the relational aspect of the shop, not to mention the expertise.
“We have a combined experience of over 100 years,” Seinar said of the team of nine. “That is a level of experience that is unmatched. People come here for the community as much as they come here to get their bikes worked on.”
One aspect he loves about cycling is that it brings people together.
“It is such a diverse clientele, which I love because I love people,” he said. “A lot of elite athletes come through here. So do many families and people with stories of incredible weight loss success.”
“When you think ‘bike shop,’ you think high end, guys wearing tight clothes. We reach people [and] we give them a better alternative at a price point that’s not unattainable. We still sell bikes that are [high-end]. But we cater to everybody. That’s my favorite part about this job. One moment I’m working with the CEO of Centra, the next I’m helping a homeless guy with a flat.”
Seinar added that “we work on absolutely anything. We don’t discriminate [against] any bikes; it doesn’t matter if you got it from Walmart or if it is a $15,000 bicycle.”
Seinar and the team strive to go above and beyond for their customers. They will even pick up bikes for repair.
“Whatever we can do to be more convenient for you, we will try to do it,” Seinar said.
Bikes Unlimited tries to get the community involved through various riding opportunities.
In addition to sponsoring a race team and some races, they host day and overnight rides, encouraging people to explore the beautiful Central Virginia landscape and its many trails.
Weekly (most of the year, as weather allows), the shop partners with the Water Dog and Oskar Blues Brewery to host Pints After Pedals, a Tuesday evening ride starting at the shop around 6 p.m. Anyone is welcome (Seinar hopes to see 200 people one day) to attend the ride down Blackwater Creek Trail and then to stop for brews at the Water Dog.
“It’s slow and chill and fun. We go down to the Greek Orthodox Church and back. It’s a really cool sense of community; it’s not cliquey.”
A Michigan native, Seinar has been working in bike shops since he was 14.
He was a technician for Bikes Unlimited while studying locally for a few years before a stint in Raleigh. He came back to take over ownership in 2014.
“Cycling has always been a really big passion of mine,” he said. “And I’ve always wanted to own a business. I kind of like doing my own thing, and I like having a vision and working toward completing that.”
At 28, Seinar has knowledge beyond his years, but he isn’t the most tenured on the team. Behind the long counter in the repair room, Doug Main keeps his hands busy as he responds to the question, “How long have you been here?”
“Way too long; must be in a rut,” he jokes. He’s worked at Bikes Unlimited since 1976. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t enjoy it. Just a little bit.”
“The personalities of the employees make Bikes Unlimited what it is,” Seinar added. “It comes down to the people we have here, the years of experience and the relationships they have cultivated in the community. I just want to continue that.”
The history helps to make the business all the more rewarding for the young owner.
“I love hearing the stories,” Seinar said, “A dad coming in and getting a bike for his son, or a grandfather coming and getting a bike for his grandson, and they are like, ‘I got my first bike at Bikes Unlimited in 1975,’ and they are getting a bike for their son or grandson. It’s a cool thing.”
For more information, visit BikesUnlimited.com