Victoria’s newly retired Olympian Simon Whitfield and one of his longtime bike mechanics, Brent Hooper, have joined forces as franchise owners in the mobile bike shop business.
“Servicing is always an issue for bike shops and so is transporting bikes for cyclists. So, yeah, there is a need and lots of support,” said Whitfield.
The business partners launched Victoria’s Velofix Mobile Bike Pro Shop in February and are already making three to five house calls a day.
“It strikes me as a very worthwhile service,” said Edward Pullman from the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition — which has 400 members.
“Due to time constraints or not owning a vehicle, getting a bike to a shop can be challenging, so a mobile shop coming to you to fix your bike is very convenient.”
The way it works is customers book a service and time online, anything from a basic tune-up for family bikes to fittings or an overhaul for a high-end road bike. A basic tune-up costs $65 while an overhaul is $189.
“We want to make sure people realize this is not just for racing bikes,” said Whitfield, a four-time Olympian triathlete and two-time medallist who shifted gears from elite competition 18 months ago and now has his hand in several business ventures.
Whitfield said he got to know the founders of the Vancouver-based business a few years back and was impressed with their work — namely a sophisticated online booking and stock system.
He recently became a partner and just helped pitch the franchise on the television show Dragon’s Den for an episode that will air in September.
“It was an interesting experience. That’s for sure,” Whitfield said.
You can’t miss the Velofix van. It’s brightly painted black and red, covered in the company logo, and fits right in when parked in Haultain Village — which has become a Victoria commuter cycling highway, said Whitfield. It also happens to be where he and Hooper both live.
The Mercedes Sprinter is extra long and tall — perfect for mechanic Hooper, who stands six-foot-five. Inside is a fully stocked shop, where Hooper can work on four bikes at a time and transport up to 12. The van is battery-powered, has its own Wi-Fi and coffee maker, and cost about $100,000 with the custom upgrades.
“Not much compared to a brick-and mortar business,” said Hooper, who came from a morning service call at the Bear Mountain Westin Hotel, where he tuned up their fleet of bicycles. “It has everything a bike shop has.”
Everything except retail, noted Whitfield.
“In that way, we’re complementary to bike shops because we’ll send people to them for gear and clothes,” he said.
There are 22 bicycle retail shops listed in Greater Victoria. Whitfield said many spend time fitting cyclists for bikes that they later buy online at a discount. “It’s tough. I think we’ll see bike shops begin to specialize more,” he said.
The pair are already seeing unexpected potential for Velofix.
“In terms of demographics, we’re seeing a lot of women,” said Hooper, adding bike shops can sometimes be stigmatized as boys’ clubs.
He said businesses have also looked to book the van as a perk or service for employees, and the mobile shop is perfect for festivals, races and cycling events.
Whitfield said cycling in Victoria has boomed, from more people commuting on bikes to cycling being dubbed the new golf for MAMILS — middle-aged men in Lycra.
“I think more and more people are going to commute on bikes and I definitely applaud the idea,” Whitfield said.