Since its founding in 2007, Phat Tire Bike Shop, based in Bentonville, Ark., Has successfully expanded to Tulsa, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma City and Edmond before opening their newest and sixth Oklahoma location in Norman earlier. this month.
Kevin Caldwell, regional store manager for central Oklahoma, was hoping to open the store at 2264 W Main St. in the Normandy Creek Mall this summer, but unforeseen circumstances have delayed them further than originally planned.
Caldwell said factories operating at half capacity, inconsistent access to raw materials to produce bikes and increased demand from COVID-19 created a perfect storm of challenges that delayed the opening of the new location. of the shop.
But he also said the brand’s recent expansion into the Norman and Edmond areas comes at a time of heightened enthusiasm for cycling and outdoor recreation due to the pandemic. And with increased interest comes a greater need for stores to meet demand, he said.
“Everyone wants to go out and buy a bike, which has created a huge influx of new riders, whether for recreation or [for sport],” he said.
U.S. consumers spent $ 6.9 billion on bikes and accessories in 2020, an increase of $ 800 million from 2019, with the largest increase seen in Q2-Q4, when COVID restrictions have limited indoor activities in many places, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The peak of cycling intrigue over the past year has garnered a warm welcome from the Norman community, Caldwell said.
While the name “Phat Tire” can create imagery of a mountain bike, they’re well balanced and ready to help Normans with any type of bike, Caldwell said.
“We also have recreational bikes, e-bikes, road bikes, gravel bikes, and kids’ bikes, so we’re a full-service bike shop,” Caldwell said.
According to the store’s website, when owners grow into a community, they hope to influence and champion the advancement of infrastructure and culture within their respective cycling scene.
In Northwest Arkansas, Caldwell said the cycling scene has grown phenomenally over the past 15 years.
“They have a truly cycling friendly community which is unprecedented – the way they are developing the area to be cycling friendly and the Walton Family Foundation has been involved in championing cycling in this region,” said Caldwell.
Caldwell said Northwest Arkansas has become an example that small markets can have a strong cycling culture. And while the Waltons may not be pumping money into the Normandy cycling scene, residents can expect to see Phat Tire employees and owners play an advocacy role, he said.
“Our role here as a business is to understand that we need to educate and participate in the community,” Caldwell said. He said he hopes to be involved in defending the bike in Norman as he has been in Edmond.
Caldwell said it can be frustrating that the bicycle does not receive the respect that a form of transportation should receive. He compared the United States to Europe, where cycling is more prevalent.
People don’t see this type of transportation in the United States “unless you’re in a large metropolitan area,” Caldwell said.
“We would love to see more, and that’s what we’ll be doing here,” he said.
One of the ways that Phat Tire Bike Shop gets involved in the communities in which they operate is through group rides. In Edmond, they organize weekly walks on Tuesday evenings that start and end at the store at 6 p.m. Caldwell said daylight saving time will soon put an end to these nighttime walks.
He said the Norman Bicycle League was very active and had considered going with them and potentially starting their own weekly ride on Saturday morning.
“It’s something for us that we’re going to be in the brainstorming process for, but we’ll be active in a group capacity, absolutely,” Caldwell said.
While Caldwell is excited to open the new store in Norman, not everyone shares his enthusiasm. The Team Warmup cycling team, a local cycling team, has expressed concern about the arrival of Phat Tire Bike Shop in communities like Norman and the distance of businesses from small stores in the area.
The Team Warmup statement argues that staffing a company like Phat Tire with local residents “does not hide the underlying perception of malicious intent to take over the hard work of small stores.”
“We have the freedom to choose where our money for cycling in Norman goes, and while some may welcome this intrusion, we are not,” the statement said.
Caldwell said the decision to enter the Norman market was based on a need for service they identify before committing to a store in the area. He said they wanted to be a store where bikers with no prior knowledge of riding could come and receive hospitable service, a style of customer service that he found absent from other stores.
“We won’t have a haughty attitude because we know everyone starts at this level,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell said Phat Tire intends to “walk the walk” in Norman and encourages the community to contact them with events and events in Norman, cycling related or not.
Dan Schemm, director of VisitNorman, said he visited northwest Arkansas over the summer, where he saw several hotel guests with bikes heading to area trails. He hopes the additions of Legacy Trail and other connecting trails within city limits will lead to an increase in bicycle tourism. He also mentioned the city’s partnership with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation to create a trail on Route 9 and the existing Thunderbird Lake trails.
Schemm said there are four bike shops in Norman, but having another option on Main Street would be great.
“You can buy bikes online, but it’s not the same as buying one from your local dealer, where they’ll set it up for you and make sure the bike works as it should for the activities. that you want to do, ”said Schemm. “As a college town, not only do we have recreational and athletic cyclists, but students are also always on the lookout for bikes and accessories so this will be a great addition to Norman.”