WOONSOCKET – Amid the smell of fresh rubber tires, sparks fly off the rusty interior of a chrome bicycle rim as Craig Brassard buffs off some metal burrs with a portable hand grinder that sounds like a kitchen blender.
“No guarantees,” he tells the owner of the vintage Schwinn 10-speed from which the rim came – he’d done the best he could to address the cause of his flat tire.
“The best” is what Brassard always does with old bicycles, and for most of his clientele, it’s plenty. The proprietor and sole employee of Re-Cycled Bicycle says his customers seem to like the idea of buying used bikes that have been rebuilt to like-new condition.
“You can buy a bike for six hundred fifty bucks or buy it from me for three hundred and a quarter and it’s as good as new,” he says. “It’s a good deal.”
But it’s not just about the money – it’s about going green. They’re looking for opportunities to shop in a socially-conscious, environmentally friendly way.
With his green-painted shop and matching lime-colored bicycle hanging above the entryway at 26 Mill St., Brassard’s message to the eco-conscious consumer is an enthusiastic “Come on in.”
At 55 years old, the lifelong North Smithfield resident has been riding bicycles a lot longer than he’s been selling them. For many years, he owned or operated Belliveau Electric in Woonsocket.
After retiring from the electric supply business, Brassard prepared to launch a second career by spending most of last winter amassing an inventory of repairable bicycles. He set up shop in an old welding garage near the Peter’s River in the Social Flatlands and has been slowly ramping up to full speed since March 2012.
It was about a month ago, he says, that his business truly became full-time, which – for Brassard, anyway – means about 60 hours a week.
“I sold 20 bicycles last week,” he says.
Re-Cycled Bicycle is now the only retail bike shop in the city and the first to operate here in many years. It’s one of only two bike shops anywhere in the Greater Woonsocket area, including Blackstone Bicycles in Cumberland.
Brassard says there’s no question the Blackstone River Bikeway is helping create a more welcoming environment for bike retailing and related businesses in the area. The notion that the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor is supposed to serve as an engine of recreation-driven economic development is often scoffed at by critics, but for Brassard, anyway, it’s a modest reality.
Bicycle retailing used to be a fixture of the city’s small business mix, but several years ago it virtually vanished from the landscape. Ironically, Brassard is less than a block from the last bike shop that operated in Woonsocket, A.A. Vittorio, which catered to the high-end racing market. For many years before that, Darlington Cycle occupied the prominent corner of High and Arnold streets, showing off it wares in huge display windows.
For the resale bike market, Brassard says the best bicycles to buy don’t require more than three hours of repair work. There are certain things he won’t do to make a bike functional and look pretty. He won’t repaint a bicycle or weld a broken frame. But he routinely straightens bent forks, replaces broken parts and makes adjustments to complex bike gizmos that are generally beyond the ken of the layman.
The markup on a recycled bicycle is rather slim, according to Brassard, but he doesn’t seem to mind.
“I don’t care about it being lucrative,” he says. “This is something I really enjoy doing, and that’s what I care about.”
At first blush, it’s hardly apparent that Brassard is running a used bicycle shop. The shop is crammed with plenty of new parts (which accounts for the not-unpleasant aroma of rubber tires), along with all kinds of bicycles – featherweight 24-speed racers, road-bikes, hybrids, and more, all of which appear to be in showroom condition.
Their red, green and white frames are emblazoned with some of the most esteemed names in the bike business from all over the world – Fuji, Trek, Lemonde and Cannondale, to name a few. Some of Brassard’s reconditioned beauties hang from racks high on the wall and carry price tags in excess of $1,000, but they’d probably cost twice as much if they were new.
Though he carries some bicycles for youngsters, Brassard says the most robust demand for bikes appears to be coming from baby-boomers. Like jogging, yoga and even backyard gardening, bicycling seems to have been embraced by a population of 50- and 60-somethings who put a premium on living healthy, environmentally-friendly lifestyles.
Hunting for bicycles is as much a part of Brassard’s new career as fixing them, and baby-boomers are helping him on that end, too. There are a lot of barely-used bicycles out there idling in garages, their tires flabby and chains dry, because their owners were looking for a new way to get exercise and decided the kind you get on a two-wheel vehicle without an engine wasn’t for them.
“There’s people with a lot of money, they’re spending a thousand or fifteen hundred on a bicycle and then they figure out that that’s not what they want to do,” says Brassard.
A former member of the Narragansett Bay Wheelmen, a prominent riding club, Brassard used to pedal a couple of hundred miles a week when he was younger. He still rides often, though not as far, on one of two bicycles he owns, a 24-speed Lemonde racer and a Fuji road bike.
The way things are going, Brassard may have a hard time squeezing in his road time, though, at least for the foreseeable future. He’s not getting rich, he says, but his small-business startup is doing better than he expected.
The bike business is a seasonal one, he says, and he’ll probably see a little slack in his schedule when the weather turns cold again. By then, he’ll probably be busy scouring craigslist and the classifieds for more bike inventory, but who knows? “Maybe I’ll take a vacation,” says Brassard.