A couple of years ago we dropped into Propel Bikes in Brooklyn, New York. It was an amazing shop in an up-and-coming neighborhood in New York City. Interestingly (and ironically), while it was legal to buy an e-bike from the shop, it was technically illegal to ride an e-bike in the city. Ridiculous for sure, but that’s the way the law is currently written in the state. Luckily, that’s finally changing. NYC has over 500 miles of bike lanes and greenways, and there’s now a mandate to expand the 85 miles of protected bike lanes in the city by 100 miles every year.
After visiting the Big Apple last year, we can attest to how much faster it is to get around the congested streets with an e-bike. In a week that we were there, we covered more ground in half a day on an e-bike than we did in the rest of the week we were there using trains, cabs, ride-share and walking.
HOW IT STARTED
Chris Nolte grew up in Long Island, New York, and like any right-minded kid, he was always into riding bikes. When he was just 13 years old he got his first taste of the working world when he began tagging along with his dad, who was a manufacturer’s rep in the sporting goods industry.
Being his dad’s sidekick would only last so long, and by the time he turned 18, Chris decided to join the military. He would go on to serve in Iraq and Kuwait where he drove big fuel trucks. His back was injured in an accident, seriously diminishing his mobility.
“It looks very modern, with hanging LEDs highlighting the bikes and a very clean space.”
Following his time in uniform, Chris returned home in 2003 where he found a job selling luggage in a local store. Lucky for Chris, the store also had a burgeoning e-commerce site, and that was where he first began to see a future in e-commerce. It was that experience that led him back to school to study computer science. While still in school, he started a web design business, which took off in more ways than he could’ve ever imagined.
It was during his many hours spent online that Chris discovered electric bikes and became an instant fan of them. Before long, he ended up building his own e-bike, which not only satisfied his enthusiasm for the new category of bikes, but more important, got him back on a bike for the first time in years.
It didn’t take long before those early e-bike rides set him on a new course in life; he opened an e-bike store. Located on the second floor of an industrial building in Brooklyn, the “showroom,” as he called it, was open on an appointment-only basis. It was using his background with e-commerce where the store’s success really began to build.
In his first year doing business, the shop enjoyed $50,000 in sales. A year later Chris moved to a larger space and the sales tripled to $150,000. By 2013 he was doing $350,000 a year in sales and moved to a small warehouse. But that wasn’t his dream. The dream was to have a real bike shop in the city.
That dream began to take root while riding down the bike path on Flushing Avenue in Brooklyn. This was where he passed by the old Brooklyn Navy Yard, which was being transformed into office buildings and, lo and behold, out in front was a “for lease” sign on a building that looked just right. Chris’ dream of having a bike shop in the city was thus fulfilled.
Since then, it’s been a booming business, thriving because of his customer-focused business model. He carries mostly Bosch-powered bikes, finding that system very easy to work on and being very reliable. He limits the brands he carries, but often has the full line to offer customers the greatest variety possible.
He does worry about longevity and parts, and how that affects his customers. Some will replace their $15,000 car with a $7000 e-bike, and they’ll want it to last 10 years. During that time, will they be able to buy a new battery? With rapidly changing technology, some companies stop supporting their products after a few years. In California, there’s a law that says they must support it for seven years after it has been discontinued.
THE BIG MOVE
Last year Nolte decided to expand his business westward by moving his family to Long Beach, California. They moved into the new space in August of 2018, and he and his family have done all of the construction. It looks very modern, with hanging LEDs highlighting the bikes and a very clean space.
The store just recently opened the store, and to maximize the floor space for the ever-expanding line of bikes sold, he made stair-stepped plinths to better show them off instead of just leaving them all on the floor. The store is the first-ever Riese & Müller experience store, carrying their full line, including their big cargo bikes. They also carry cargo bikes by Tern and Butchers & Bicycles (Propel is the exclusive seller of the latter).
They have only one e-MTB in the store, because Chris prefers to stick to the more city-oriented bikes. Other bikes they carry are Mustache, Gazelle and Haibike. As of now the shop has yet to set up any demo rides from this store, and the idea of offering rental bikes is still up in the air. There’s a storage area in the back for parts, and a larger space for a workshop, complete with a hydraulic lift for the heavy bikes.
While plenty of customers travel to the store and pick up the bike directly, just as they do with the East Coast shop, the West Coast store often delivers bikes to customers. Chris still laughs when he tells of an early customer who arrived by boat to pick up their bike after sailing down from Santa Barbara.
When the bikes have to be shipped out, the shop uses custom boxes that require only that the pedals be removed and handlebars turned sideways to fit. Not only does this make the packing job quicker, but it’s also easier for the customer to assemble the bike and get out riding.
The West Coast shop is located
at 100 West Broadway, Long Beach,
CA 90802. Their number is
(718) 643-4542, and their website is
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