Edward Eley might be one of the few with dirty hands during the pandemic.
His wife helps with some bookkeeping, but otherwise as the sole employee and owner of Rollin Right Repairs, Eley spends hours pulling bicycles apart. It’s not a pristine affair (though he stays sanitized).
“I’m just a grimy, dirty-finger mechanic,” he said with a laugh.
He has been especially busy during the pandemic, which provoked a “bicycle boom” across the nation. Comparing it to early pandemic days when people were hoarding toilet paper, resulting in empty grocery shelves, Eley said distribution of bikes and their parts have been affected all around the world because people want to ride.
“We thought getting toilet paper last April was hard; the bike industry, I don’t know when I’m going to see seats. Like comfortable seats, like a bread-and-butter kind of seat. I do a lot of general bikes (versus high-end bikes for athletes) and everyone wants a comfortable seat. Those go like hotcakes,” he said. His shop is lined wall-to-wall with bikes awaiting services like a tune up.
Though he only opened Rollin Right Repairs in 2017, Eley, 45, has worked on bicycles for 20 years. Growing up in the Bay Area, he moved to the Pacific Northwest in the late 1990s. He started working at a coffee shop, which happened to be located near a bike store. He called falling into bike repair an accident.
“I realized I didn’t like going to work at 4 a.m.,” he said. “I wasn’t a hardcore cyclist guy, but I owned a bike. I took a chance – I liked it.”
The Columbian caught up with Eley to learn more.
When and why did you create your own shop?
That was 2017; before that, I was working for a place in Vancouver. I decided to break away and create my own shop. I wanted to have my own spot, you know? It was time to break free and not live from paycheck to paycheck.
Do you sell bikes in addition to repairing them?
Not quite so much anymore. When I first opened, I was hunting for bikes on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. I kind of stopped doing that once COVID hit; there were so many bikes to repair, I didn’t have time to go running around town for these rescue bikes. So for the past year, it’s been wall-to-wall bikes.
What’s business been like during the pandemic?
Besides busy, it’s been interesting because I’ve seen more people than I’ve ever seen riding bikes. It’s usually the same people riding, but in 2020, it was everybody. This past summer I saw families riding bikes. I see grandma and grandpa, couples riding bikes. Nobody had anything to do. Everybody else was in the same boat. We’re also in the middle of a worldwide bicycle parts shortage. You can’t get inner tubes in America. That’s crazy to me. With parts, we’ll get a large shipment and if you’re not paying attention for like a day, they’re gone again. I’ve been ordering things I don’t normally order; you have to get wacky quantities of stuff. I’ll get double or triple what I normally would.
How many bikes in your shop now?
I have no idea. Enough so I have a walkway that I can get in and out. With the year I’ve had, that’s fine with me because that’s manageable. They’re not in my office or bathroom yet. It’s been just insane.
Why do you think that is?
Because we all know that biking is cool to begin with. It gave people an excuse to get it out of their garage. It didn’t cost people, unless it was to bring it to me to get it up and running. I have a lot of customers who do it for exercise but also because it’s flat out fun. Who doesn’t like to ride a bike sometimes? It just did something to us. Just a bunch of people who were out of work and needed something to do. We didn’t know what was going on with our friends and family. We couldn’t visit grandma. It was fun and free, good for the environment, most importantly good for you. Biking does something for people. My older customers say, “If I don’t have my bike, I lose my mind.” I understand that. I’m gonna make sure they don’t get any more flats and send them out the door. I’m happy as a clam. That’s why I do it. It has nothing to do with the bike. I could be fixing refrigerators. But bikes are cool – it’s something we all know.
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A lot of people these days are able to do their own repairs thanks to sites like YouTube. What are your thoughts?
It depends on what it is. I’ve seen people do awesome things to their bike. I’ve seen people do really not-awesome things to their bike. You gotta be careful. YouTube is great but I’m not going to do surgery on myself because I looked stuff up on WebMD. Just make sure you don’t have your break levers on backwards. So many people have gotten bikes fitted for them online, but you can tell something’s not right about the bike. The things people bring me, we all have to laugh a little bit.
It would appear we’re nearing an end to the pandemic. What do you think might change?
I think a lot of people are sticking with cycling. Like how other countries are. It’s like if you build it, they’ll come. When the city has bike lanes, they tend to use them. Vancouver has the potential to be a great city. I think that would be cool if the city of Vancouver, Washington, was known for riding bikes.