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VLPA Interviews Tim Nies, Owner of Barebones Bicycle Shop

posted on August 1, 2016
DSC05761.JPG VLPA Interviews Tim Nies Owner of Barebones Bicycle Shop

We sat down with Tim Nies, the owner and operator of Barebones Bicycle and Fitness in Strasburg, to discuss how he became interested in bikes, his previous work, and the amazing impact his bike shop is having on the Strasburg community.

bikes 2 Here we are at your shop in Strasburg. What brought you to have a bike shop in Strasburg?

Here we are at your shop in Strasburg. What brought you to have a bike shop in Strasburg?

It's sort of a long story. I went to school to be a steel sculptor. At some point throughout my career, I built a bicycle, and that made me completely, utterly amazed in bicycles more as a machine than as a sport. I think bicycling is awesome, but I love bicycles. That is really, ultimately when I built the bicycle I dreamt about it, obsessed about it - I love obsession - when you're in it, a lot of things drop away.

Do you remember what led you to build a bike?

Well I wanted to build one my whole life ever since I was a BMX racer. I was a BMX racer for probably 10 years (before steel sculpting). I went to college for that. Many years later when I ended up in the show business industry, I realized I had all the materials around me -- CNC machine, proper welding, proper kinds of materials, everything was there -- now is the time to build a bicycle, finally at 40 years old.

When you're racing, what years?

'82-'90

That's pretty early?

'77 was when it began. It was great. I loved it.

You're racing on dirt hills, jumps … did you do any other freestyling?

I did quarterpipe. I wasn't fantastic at it nor would I say I was fantastic at racing bikes. How many times did I win? Not a huge amount of times. That's OK. I was a kid. I loved it. My parents and I did it on Sunday. When I said I wanted to do it, it became a family thing. The local kids got me into it. I lived near a drive-in movie theater and behind it was jumps. It was the Key Drivein. Surprise, surprise there's a Wal-Mart now.

DSC04296.JPG What was your first bike?

What was your first bike?

TN: My first bike was a Schwinn Typhoon, which my dad transformed the best he could into a BMX bike. My first real BMX bike was a Mongoose Supergoose. It was chrome and blue.

At this point, are you into all the components, making sure that everything is light?

bikes 3 At this point are you into all the components making sure that everything is light?

Sure. And still 'cool' is involved pretty heavily. My dad is so technical. Three-piece cranks were what all the kids had, but in his opinion, one-piece cranks were the best there are. There's no way you're spending money. He'd ask me why, and it would always come back to "it was cool … it's what everyone else has" and that was never wash with him.

Well there are some advantages to a three-piece crank; did your dad have a valid reason for the one-piece?

Strength.

Do you agree at this point now? Was he right?

Yes. Most definitely.

When you're racing, do you want strength or do you want lighter?

Probably lighter. I wasn't at the level where shaving seconds was important. I didn't train at all; it's what we did on Sundays.

Bike Hanging on Wall So you were heavy into BMX biking and that burns out a little bit?

So you were heavy into BMX biking, and that burns out a little bit?

Well, I went to college, and I took my bike … it's actually still hanging back there.

Is this an art piece or is this for sale?

It's pretty much an art piece. If you were to look into the pretty narrow bracket that falls into, it's pretty valuable. But you're gonna have to find another 47-50 year old man who wants to hang it on his wall, but they're probably two or three thousand dollars for something that should only be worth two or three hundred. I've seen them for that much, but have I ever seen anyone buy them? Of course not. No, it's not for sale, but if someone came in waving that kind of money, it might be hard to turn down. I'm not a fan of anyone coming in and telling me what their bike is worth. If it's worth that much to you, keep it. If it's worth that, find the person to sell it to, and sell it.

So you get to college, you bring your bike. Does anyone else on your floor or where you're at have a bike?

bikes 1 So you get to college you bring your bike. Does anyone else on your floor or where you're at have a bike?

No. Actually I lived by myself through college. A couple of people when I ended up leaving college, I moved down to South Philly with this guy from a band called the Serial Killers -- he needed a roommate -- I lived there for another three years and really flew around the underbelly. My wife had to dust me off. That was a zillion years ago, and I still had my bicycle and that was my means of transportation.

This is one way you're differentiating yourself, driving around with BMX, I would imagine it's a way to meet people.

Yes, and to that end, I've always ridden single speed. I do have a bike now with gears and I use a couple of them, but it's just because they're there.

This passion for BMX has carried into your shop. You're a carrier of SE racing.

That's a real exciting part of this shop in my opinion. The bike I wanted so badly when I was a kid was that, an SE quadangle. Everyone wanted one. This is Pennsylvania; you couldn't buy them here. You had to send off to California and have your parents send in for it.

How are you finding out about it?

BMX plus, BMX action magazine. When we were riding around at the Key Drive-In. A kid comes out one day and says we have to drive to Annville, which was no big deal, it was 20 miles away. We rode all the time. We rode that 20 miles just to go to some kid's trailer park to look at the quadangle he got. I lived in Lebanon; some of this was up 422. We went to look at that kid's quadangle just to drool at it, and it was a lot like that … it was light blue and came with camouflage pads, which I don't have. I got that one in 1998.

Tim Repairing Bikes in Strasburg Dream come true?

Dream come true?

TN: Well, my wife just told me she was pregnant. It was in Tom Pod's Cycle Circle; he had it in his shop window on Orange. It had been in his window for a while, and I wanted it so bad. And so, I said to Kristie, the boy's got to have a bike, so I went and bought it out of the window.

It was black; I repainted it. I started riding it; I hurt myself real bad on it. There was a jump. There was some sort of event right down there near Binns Park and The Lancaster Hotel. It was some sort of rock and roll and punk bands and some big ramps, and I hadn't ridden for years. I found a cool place downtown to practice some stunts. I had the 360 down.

So I went down to this thing, and you had to sign a waiver, and I did. I had knee pads because I had wrecked my knees before … that was nearly 20 years ago, and I'm 47 and I was 28. So I went up a couple rides, did a couple, and I was like "I got it." I hit that ramp so hard, and it was only small at the top, I did a 360, I'm sure it was beautiful, the crowd went wild -- I had no business doing what I was in the middle of doing it, I had no way of landing it, I came down on that little top thing and off I went down between the ramps, the pedal hit my head.

Crowd cheering, I tried to thumbs up, I'm bleeding pretty heavy down my side. I hit the corner of the ramp. So I limped to the side acting like everything was OK, and I crept away. Last time I tried a 360 … that's not true, on my birthday last year, I went down to a friend's house who's got some ramps. So I fool around with it a little bit on short ramps in the grass. He has an event for the local kids … I crashed in front of the local kids pretty heavy; I don't mind crashing, I'm good at it! I've crashed a zillion times; I've broken both my arms, my nose, my little toes, all this through bike … during jumps, the quarterpipe era. Trying a no-hander, I broke my one wrist; the toes went pretty easy, that happened in races.

skateboards 1 Needless to say the fear of getting hurt wasn't too big?

Needless to say, the fear of getting hurt wasn't too big?

It's all right. Like I said, I gotta wear kneepads because skateboarding I cracked my patella, so I wear kneepads.

So you eventually try your hand at building a bike?

Tim Neis Built This Bike So you eventually try your hand at building a bike?

What happened was I realized I needed a bigger bike. My son is 7, and we're going on bike rides. Kristie has a regular bike and I'm still on my 20" BMX bike literally from when I was a kid, so I'm like, "OK, I need a bike" and I could only imagine riding a big BMX bike, a 26" maybe a 24" but probably a 26" made by SE Racing.

Here I am, I'm an adult. I'm maybe 35 or 38. At any rate, I'm getting a 26" quadangle, but I couldn't afford it. They did an aluminum one that particular year, and it was $1000; I found a used one on eBay for $999. I'm a frugal person; I always have been. There's no way I'm spending a thousand bucks on a bicycle, maybe $500, but more like 3 would have been the top number.

Most everything -- sometimes my wife gets frustrated by this -- if we need anything the first thing I think of is how to make it. I don't care what it is and if I've ever made it before. She has to catch me at times; like no, let's just go buy this thing. I spent the last 15 years in show business where every material is available. Most of it came down to money.

So you're very DIY -- do it yourself. What led to selling and repairing bikes?

That was the dream. I looked up the geometry of the quadangle, which is what I wanted to build. I decided to change the concept; I did a double top tube and a single down tube … it's really weird looking, it's really unique.

I engineered it off a quadangle; I used the geometry, I drew a life-sized drawing, and then I built a three-dimensional jig, and it turns out that's not how bikes are traditionally made, they're made flat, but I did it straight up and down strapped to a table. What a project! I was gone; I was doing terrible at work and terrible at home.

My boss and my wife independently sat me down and was like "Is there anything wrong?" And I'm like, "Hmm?" Every minute I was redrawing. I needed forks, and I couldn't continue until I got them, and they were so expensive. I spent $300 on the project; I really tried to keep it down. I had to pay a welder; I'm a steel welder, and I practiced for a few days on aluminum, but I wanted it perfect. I wasn't going to fiddle my way through it.

I built a steel jig; it got trapped on it. I usually don't look at any references when I build; I really want it to be how I would do it even if I'm wrong. I don't want to consciously use other people's stuff; there's some pitfalls there obviously.

The bike works awesome; one mistake I made because I'm taller I decided to alter the length by an inch. Very hard to put wheels on it now. I geared it like it was 20"; I didn't think that 26" wheels would change the gearing. I could hardly pedal it; I was like, "Am I an old man now? Forget about hills." I changed it, and now I can pedal it.

You mentioned how this plays into your art. Talk about your art.

I went to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. I was the youngest student ever accepted there; I was 17. I had done some college time in high school for drawing. I could inherently draw really well. I've been taught to draw exactly what I see … I technically know how to draw anything. I love anatomy.

When I got my job at Atomic, the other job I applied for was anatomical drawing at the local college. It's nice to know what the sternocleidomastoid is. You just talk about anatomy and talk about the groups; there's something about drawing that if you don't know this one simple concept … the body is not designed of any concavities.

Muscle groups are all converging convexing. If you see something that appears to be this, it's groups going the other direction to create something that appears to be like a concave.

Bike Art Tim Neis Talk about the art you're doing now.

Talk about the art you're doing now.

I graduated from the academy as a steel sculptor, so I worked in auto body at that time down in Philadelphia. When I moved back here to Lancaster County in 92, I got a job at a body shop and started welding sculptures. I had a really cool show back then; we got married in 93 at the Mulberry Art Studios.

I had the show in the gallery there at the time for these ridiculous steel sculptures I had built at my first job … it was something I had just invented -- these anatomical structures out of car parts. I sold the first one I made for $5000 to an extremely wealthy art collector who lived in Lititz. I stopped selling … I showed and then threw it away … it's very cathartic.

I give a lot away now, I don't throw as much away. I'm going to start making more; I got a new studio. Anyway, I left body work and started my own business painting murals in kids' bedrooms. I got a full time gig at Atomic; I started there as a subcontractor and milked that as long as I could, and I took a full time job there for 15 years that zoomed by. I lost my position as leader of that department; my assistant usurped me, and then I was my assistant's assistant and I was getting further depressed and was building my bike, dreaming compulsively, and I had a dream out of the blue that I was the guy at the bike shop.

I woke up and said to my wife, "I'm going to open a bike shop." And she said, "I'm not sure that's a good idea." I said, "Well, I think I have to." She said to give her three years. In that three years I went to school to learn how to run a business, I went to school to learn to repair bikes. I borrowed money from most of my family and moved here.

Why did you choose Strasburg?

BMX in Lancaster Strasburg pa Why did you choose Strasburg?

We were looking at any small cute town. Of course Pennsylvania is riddled with them. It would have been better for us family wise to be on the north side. We looked at Schaefferstown -- it had 900 people -- and it couldn't support it, and there were already bike shops in the area.

The whole north side is taken care of with bike shops. Southern Lancaster County is not. We found that out by going to the resource room at the public library for small business. They have databases that you overlay on maps. We wanted people of X amount of income and certain age brackets and here they both were, so you put the bike shops on it. No bike shop there.

I did a little research on the town; it's 3000 people, and it was fine as long as I keep it small. There's probably a bike shop for every 3000 people in Lancaster. That sounds viable, but the important information was the 26,000 people in Lampeter-Strasburg School District, the fourth best school in PA, and it's growing. Beyond that, check out our website.

So you've been in Strasburg for almost two years. Have you had an effect on the community.

Yeah, and it's amazing because it was something I never expected or thought about happening. Because of the fact there are at least a hundred new bikes out there and at least two hundred repaired bikes that were in barns or people were going to get worked on and it's all happened. They've gotten them out there using them. This was something I did not picture coming; it's an impact on this place.

By default, people are getting more in shape and seeing more of Strasburg.

Yeah, and becoming more involved with everything the town has to offer, and that's happening on its own because it's a bike shop. If it were an appliance shop there would be better appliances. That isn't something I thought about in the first place, but I'm seeing it happen.

You said you saw SE bikes at the pool. That's amazing to me; that isn't even something I really thought about -- I just thought about having a job -- but hearing people coming back for the second year for more tune ups and saying, "We said we'd buy bikes for our kids last year," and they did, and other business owners, and you know, it's becoming part of this community.

I think in the long run there can be a green path around Strasburg, there could be a bike path around town because it will be necessary.

group shot To this end you've pulled together a bike ride around Strasburg?

To this end, you've pulled together a bike ride around Strasburg?

Yes, and this is something we intend to do more just to stretch the envelope of what's to see the quadrants of Strasburg. No more than five miles or so; last time we split off, people did more, some people went back to start the grill.

Bike Maintenance Tune Ups Another way you're involved in the community is you do free bike maintenance classes.

Another way you're involved in the community is you do free bike maintenance classes.

Yes, we do them once a month on Wednesday. Its a great way to help the customers with their repairs. I love to get to know them this way too.

Demand for repairs is huge, and I want to help my customers help themselves when they can. People bring bikes in for repairs in six or seven at a time, which is fantastic. The space is packed, and I'm repairing all day, which is awesome. It's almost like zen for me. People say, "thank you," and I'm like, "no, thank you." That was an awesome few minutes; it's like meditating.

So in addition to these things in the community, what do you have in the future?

Well, in the future, we're hopefully getting the police a bike. We're going to donate that coming up soon. We'll see. They haven't gotten back to us yet, but only one of their crew is bike-trained, although potentially we could do that. It's still a little bit up in the air. But really, this bike shop is a metaphor come to life. Everything that's happened; I couldn't even have imagined.

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