If you read our summer print issue, you may have subtly noticed it was dedicated to the mountain bike. To some, the mountain bike is an adult toy that helps them stay young. To others, it’s a symbol of freedom, a way to experience West Virginia’s spectacular landscapes on two wheels. For our state’s beloved local bike shop owners, bikes are a way of life.
As such, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a proverbial drum roll to the fine folks who keep us rolling through thick mud and thin air. You may notice I’ve only included four bike shops in this piece, but there are numerous others more than worthy of mention. The reality is we have limited room in our print magazine, and these just happen to be the shops where I’ve purchased a bike or had one fixed, sipped a beer, or made life-long friends over my two decades of MTB obsession.
If your local shop isn’t listed below, swing by and let them know that West Virginia’s mountain bikers appreciate each and every freewheelin’ soul involved in the local bike shop scene. Without all of you, we’d be stuck at home with broken bikes, or even worse, stuck riding somewhere else.
Wamsley Cycles, Morgantown
You can’t mention West Virginia’s bike scene without a nod to Wamsley Cycles. Opened in 1980 by Parkersburg native Chip Wamsley, Wamsley Cycles has been a bedrock business throughout the ebbs and flows of the trend-heavy bike industry.
Wamsley discovered his love of bikes in high school after developing “wonky knees” from distance running. Ten-speed bikes had just hit the U.S., and most bike shops didn’t know how to service them. Wamsley realized that if he needed to fix his, he’d better learn to do it himself. He became friends with the era’s top cyclists and soon begin buying tools and learning how to repair these newfangled machines.
Wamsley arrived at WVU in the ‘70s to study biology and worked at several of Morgantown’s early bike shops while finishing his degree. He spent summers in England learning to build bike frames. “To put it all in perspective, I built my first frame before Trek built theirs,” Wamsley says. He started Clark Wamsley Frames and ended up selling his hand-made goods in several countries, including a 1987 contract to build 1,000 frames.
Now situated on the Mon River Rail Trail, Wamsley’s location provides a convenient avenue for test rides and rentals. Wamsley was inspired by the boutique bike shops in Europe and emulates that culture in his shop today. “In my first shop, we developed a good bike culture,” he says. “People were totally new as to what they could do with bikes, from racing to century rides to touring. I educated lots of people over the years, I’ve seen all aspects of the industry.”
One of those aspects came ripping onto the scene in the early ‘80s: mountain biking. Wamsley sold some of the first mountain bikes in the Morgantown area, but thought it was going to be yet another cycling industry trend. “I thought it was kind of cool, even after riding a mountain bike,” he says. “I never considered it was going to be as big as it became, now it’s solidly established.”
Given the wide range of biking venues in and around Morgantown—rail trails, country roads, gravel, and mountain biking—Wamsley has to maintain a diverse inventory. “The biking culture is all-encompassing throughout age groups and styles,” he says. “We’ve always had that sustainable concept. We still sell kid’s bikes and recreational bikes, but we also sell top-end racing and mountain bikes.”
Wamsley Cycles has embraced and promotes one particularly controversial evolution: electronic bikes. His shop sells pedal-assist e-bikes that require the rider to be peddling for acceleration. “We get old guys my age that could be considered curmudgeons complaining about them,” Wamsley says. “But they’re fun and they get people to get out and ride more often.” Wamsley cites overlooked segments like those with heart issues or degenerative disorders as prime candidates for e-bikes. “People of all different calibers use them,” he says. “E-bikes aren’t interfering with anyone’s existing use of trails.” Whether shop owners and riders want to sell them is one thing, but no one can deny the fact that e-bikes are here to stay.
While the tech and trends of the bike industry are constantly changing, one thing has remained constant: humanity’s love for bikes. “It keeps evolving and just keeps getting better,” Wamsley says. “I think being on two wheels and being able to propel yourself and go on adventures, that won’t ever change.”
Blackwater Bikes, Davis
Moon Rocks. Yellow Creek. Son of Plantation. Ride your bike long enough in the Mountain State, and you’ll eventually hear these names that are synonymous with some of the toughest terrain in Appalachia. If you hear about these trails, you’ll likely hear about Blackwater Bikes, too. And if you come ride them, odds are you’ll end up at the shop in need of a repair.
Now in a brand-spanking-new building, Blackwater Bikes has been the biking hub for the sleepy mountain town of Davis for 29 years. Shop owner Rob Stull took over from the venerable Roger Lilly in 2015. “My wife Shannon and I saw an opportunity to step in, we saw the energy with the younger folks moving in,” Stull says. “I always tell folks I drew the short straw. Now it’s my turn to keep Blackwater Bikes alive for a few more years.”
Hailing from Brunswick, MD, Stull got introduced to mountain bikes in 2000 with his first teaching job at a private high school in Virginia, which had a mountain biking program and needed a coach. Stull agreed, got schooled on coaching, and acquired a mountain bike. He moved to the area in 2003 when he took a stream remediation job with the Canaan Valley Institute (CVI). “I made my way west to Davis and never looked back,” Stull says. “I have CVI to thank for getting me out here.”
At 3,100 feet above sea level, Davis is West Virginia’s highest incorporated town, and the style of riding is conducive to broken bikes. Relentless rock gardens, axle-deep bogs, and sandy muck take their toll on various components. When you look at how Davis locals—some of which are national champion riders—work this terrain, it’s astounding that mountain bikes even work at all.
Fortunately for locals and visitors alike, Blackwater Bikes keeps the wheels spinning. And fortunately for Blackwater Bikes, people keep breaking their bikes. “We’ve got a captive audience, people are here riding and they break stuff, and they come support us because we’re here,” Stull says. “But if the internet can start bleeding brakes, were gonna be in trouble.”
Like many in Davis who scratch and survive to live the mountain life, Stull is invested in making it work. The new building was a way to inject some excitement into town, but also a way to lower his shop expenses. The bottom floor features two apartment units to subsidize the building cost. “We’re always finding ways to contribute and invest in the community, it just made sense,” Stull says. “Now folks can come here and bike, stay right below the shop on the river, and be near the breweries and restaurants.”
With barstools by the workshop and a deck overlooking the shop’s namesake river, the new Blackwater Bikes was designed to be a hangout as much as a business. “It’s the local hub for us to meet,” Stull says. “We pour our energy into it; it’s a community center for trail users. We regularly have folks that aren’t cyclists who come in and want to explore the area, we can promote the area and give them that local intel on trails.”
If the next 29 years are as good as the first, Blackwater Bikes will find its way. “What keeps this place alive is the community, it’s the young folks who are coming in and are energetic,” Stull says. Which begs the question: who’s next to draw the short straw?
Joey’s Bike Shop, Elkins
Situated in a quaint row building in the heart of downtown Elkins, Joey’s Bike Shop (JBS) is a literal brick-and-mortar bike business. Founded by expert mechanic and Buckhannon native Joey Riddle in 2008, JBS has quickly built its reputation as the place to bring your busted bike.
Like others who’ve made a life out of bikes, Riddle got his start riding and racing mountain bikes in his teenage years. He gave college the old college try, then dropped out to go back to his one true love: two true wheels. “I enjoy working on bikes and selling bikes, especially to kids,” Riddle says. “This affords me the opportunity to ride cool bikes and work on bikes and be around bikes all day. I don’t think many people can say that about their jobs.”
Riddle has been in the mountain bike racing scene for quite some time and took it so seriously that he once stripped the paint off his rims and drilled holes in them to save weight. Nowadays, Joey still races, but he opts to spend his spare time doing what he does best: tinkering with bikes. “I’ll start at 8:30 in the morning repacking the hubs on a 30-year old hardtail, then go to changing the tire on a Wal-Mart bike, then work on a $10,000 mountain bike,” he says. “I just like working on anything that involves mechanics, except my house… that sucks.”
A true lifer, Joey’s keen on passing bikes down to the next generation, which includes his children. “I don’t know any octogenarians that are playing basketball or soccer, but riding a bike is something you can do for a lifetime,” he says. “Now that I have kids, I get to see that in them. The cool thing about bikes is you can use them for recreation, for competition, but for many people in the world, it’s their only form of transportation. Depending on what part of the world you’re from, a bike can mean something totally different to you.”
Bikes mean all these things—recreation, competition, transportation—for Riddle, but they also mean food on the table. Competition with the online marketplace can keep him up at night, but the reality is folks are constantly buying—and breaking—their bikes. “If I could, I would just have a shop where I did nothing but work on bikes,” he says. “But people want me to sell bikes, and we sell more and more every year.”
So how does JBS stay alive in the digital age? Riddle says his focus on service is his bread and butter. “A few years ago, we printed stickers that said, ‘The internet will not fix your bike,’” he says. “You can watch a YouTube video, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have the skills or the tools to do it right.”
Riddle also sees a resurgence in the desire to physically visit the local brick-and-mortar shop. “A lot of folks wanna come in to talk to somebody,” he says. “They wanna look at and touch and feel things instead of going off of someone’s review.”
Like a race loop, a bike wheel, and life itself, the retail world comes full circle. “People have been burned enough,” Ridlde says. “I like to let everything happen organically and not try to push things too much. If people wanna come in, they’ll find me.”
New River Bikes, Fayetteville
If you find yourself in Fayetteville, cruise by the storefront of New River Bikes. You’ll see some of shop owner Andy Forron’s Frankenbike creations, like a banana-seat cruiser with chopper-style handlebars and a doll head protruding from the rear, or a wonky tall bike made from two stacked and welded frames with cogs floating freely in betwixt the chains.
Reprising the role of the wildly creative machinist and proudly keeping the punk-rock counterculture of the mountain bike scene alive, Forron is a chainstay in the New River Gorge bike community. Serving as a board member of the New River Gorge Trail Alliance (NRGTA), he’s at the cutting edge of trail building and an active voice for advocacy in the region. “Being at the bike shop has definitely helped, we just talk to so many people,” Forron says. “I think some really good things are about to happen on the trail building front.”
Forron grew up in Summersville and frequented Fayetteville to get his outdoor fix. As a youngster, he got a mountain bike for his birthday and started asking for tools for Christmas. He paid for college by working at bike shops in summer. “As I got older, I got into paddling and climbing, but I always went back to bikes,” he says.
Forron got his degree, secured a full-time office job, and immediately became disillusioned with Corporate America. He fled the office and returned to the bike stand as a mechanic. He was working as an employee of New River Bikes at a time when the previous owner had also become disillusioned with his career. “I made him some stupid lowball offer and he took it,” Forron says. “That’s how I ended up with the bike shop, whoops!”
New River Bikes turns 30 this year, making it one of the longest-standing outdoor businesses in Fayetteville. Although Forron has only been at the helm for 11 of those 30 years, the shop has found its stride under his creative direction. From the bar-style countertop featuring work from local artists to the tastefully dressed taxidermy, New River Bikes is in a class of its own. “I’ve poured so much into it in the last decade,” he says. “I hope when people walk in, they think, ‘This is not like the last bike shop I walked into.’”
When Forron isn’t busy fixing or selling bikes, he crafts his own frames and parts in his workshop. That tall bike out front? He used to ride it to work—across the New River Gorge Bridge. “The crank is higher than the rail of the bridge, so riding it across the bridge was terrifying,” he said. “It’s never failed me despite it looking completely sketchy.”
When it comes to riding normal bikes in the New River Gorge, Forron encourages you to explore the local goods beyond the well-traveled Arrowhead Trails. “Throw away MTB Project and Trail Forks and all that stuff,” Forron says. “It’s never gonna be on a map; it doesn’t need to be on a map. Some of the best experiences I’ve had mountain biking came from hanging at the local shop.”
Which is to say if you want the goods, stop by the shop. If the weather’s nice and you’re persuasive enough, Forron just might close early and show you himself. At the very least, you can try to mount the tall bike.
You know who Dylan Jones is by now, but you might not know that he rides bikes… oh wait, you know that, too. But did you know that he once went on a bigfoot hunt in California funded by the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO) (look it up, it’s real). See? And that’s why you should always read the author bios.