It’s been a wild ride for Steve Parks — literally and figuratively.
The cycling enthusiast was still in college when he opened his first bike shop in a former classroom at Edwardsville’s old Lincoln School, which had been converted into a mini-mall by the late 1970s.
Steve spent $500 in savings on a fleet of used bicycles that he fixed up to resell. He was also studying to become a health and P.E. teacher and hitting the local trails whenever possible.
“I was a busy person,” he said this week. “I had a lot of energy back then. I wish I had that same energy right now.”
Steve, 63, was sitting in a warehouse behind The Cyclery and Fitness Center, his 12,000-square-foot superstore in Edwardsville that sells bicycles, accessories, clothing, shoes, running supplies, treadmills, elliptical machines and other exercise equipment. He also owns large stores in Shiloh and Alton.
The company is celebrating 40 years in business this weekend, and Steve is doing a lot of reminiscing about the early days. He still has the handmade wooden sign from his original shop, called “Bike N Trike.” At the time, it seemed like a clever way to let people know he carried bicycles for all age groups.
“It’s great until you start selling $1,000 bikes,” he said. “If someone asks, ‘Where did you get your bike?’ you don’t want to say ‘Bike N Trike.’ We took too much flack for that.”
Today, The Cyclery’s three locations are at 2472 Troy Road in Edwardsville, 1225 Thouvenot Lane in Shiloh and 3100 Homer M. Adams Parkway in Alton.
Steel is out, helmets are in
The college-age Steve would be amazed by The Cyclery showroom of 2019.
It’s lined with hundreds of bicycles that vary by size, shape, color and features, whether designed for mountain biking, street racing, long-distance touring or just cruising around the neighborhood.
Most frames are made of lightweight titanium, aluminum or carbon fiber instead of heavy steel. Some bikes even have electric motors to assist with pedaling.
“It’s just like electronics,” Steve said. “You’ve got to keep ahead of the game. But a lot of the technology has made bikes safer, so that’s good.”
Prices also have gone up. In the early ‘80s, The Cyclery’s most expensive bikes ran about $800. Today, a customized, high-end model can cost $15,000.
Helmets were rarely worn 40 years ago, yet now they’re considered mandatory gear for many people. The Cyclery has an entire wall of seats. There are special shoes, gloves, shorts and shirts for biking.
Three years ago, Steve spent $50,000 on a computerized bike-fitting simulation studio with video-motion-capture and saddle-pressure-mapping equipment. Employees also conduct interviews and do physical analyses to determine the goals and interests of customers.
“(The studio) gets you the most comfortable and the most efficient on your bike that you can be,” said David Parks, 28, Steve’s son, who manages the Edwardsville store.
Biking won out over teaching
Steve grew up in Centralia and developed a passion for cycling at an early age. By high school, he was working part time at a bike shop and regularly making the 50-mile trek to Mount Vernon and back.
Steve graduated from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville with an education degree but decided to stick with the bike business instead of teaching. A fire at the old Lincoln School forced him to move into his second location, a storefront on North Main Street.
“The school cafeteria caught fire,” he said. “It didn’t hurt my store, except for the smoke and water. Anything in a box got wet.”
That’s when Steve changed the shop’s name to Edwardsville Cyclery and Sports, later shortened to The Cyclery. He began selling new bicycles but couldn’t carry major brands such as Schwinn, Raleigh or Ross because Kreige Hardware and The Pedal Shop already had contracts.
Steve went with Takara, a small brand with St. Louis distribution. That helped him grow the business because he could drive over, buy a bike, sell it, drive back and buy one or two more.
Perhaps Steve’s title of “business owner” impressed his future wife, Katie, now an administrator with Anderson Hospital in Maryville and chief operating officer of its physicians group.
“The shop was a lot smaller then, but he was quite the entrepreneur,” she said.
Company becomes regional force
Steve moved The Cyclery again and operated more than 20 years in an historic brick building on South Buchanan before building a new company headquarters near Target in 2007. The downside was not being able to walk across the street to Annie’s Frozen Custard anymore. The upside was having 12,000 square feet of space.
“I remember thinking, ‘How in the world are we going to fill this store up?’” son David said. “And then it seemed like in no time we were asking, ‘How can we not have any more room?’”
Along the way, Steve also opened bike shops in Granite City in 1982, Bridgeton, Missouri, in 1985, Florissant, Missouri, in 1988, East Alton in 1995 and Centralia in 1996.
A new business plan led to the six smaller stores in Illinois and Missouri being converted into three larger stores in the metro-east to make management easier. Shiloh opened in 2013, followed by Alton in 2016.
The Parkses also have a daughter, Christie, 31, an IT specialist who helps out with The Cyclery advertising and computer issues.
David and Christie grew up in the bicycle business, and family lore includes a story about Christie selling her first bike at age 6 to another little girl. Young David was known for “rearranging” showrooms by riding around the aisles, hitting bikes and knocking whole rows down like dominoes.
David later helped polish bikes, remove packaging, build bikes and wait on customers before moving into the manager’s position. Today, he’s the company’s No. 1 salesman.
“It’s an amazing job every single day,” he said. “You’re helping the community get on bikes, so you’re helping people to have fun.”
Six weeks of “purgatory”
This fall has been something of a roller coaster for Steve. Two weeks before The Cyclery’s 40th anniversary celebration, he underwent surgery to repair a hole in his heart. It was a genetic problem he didn’t even know existed until a mild stroke caused numbness in his left arm and hand.
Six weeks of recovery — which Steve calls “purgatory” — has kept him from his beloved exercise routine, which includes cycling and working out at the gym. But he’s trying to stay positive.
“Maybe because of my fitness, I was able to get through this with minimal issues instead of it being a major roadblock,” he said.
The 40th anniversary celebration includes a warehouse sale at all three stores Friday, Saturday and Sunday with food, drinks, giveaways and kids activities. Anyone who buys a bike will be part of a drawing for tickets to the March 26 performance of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” at the Fox theater in St. Louis.
Also planned are 40-mile organized bicycle rides from Edwardsville to Shiloh and back and Edwardsville to Alton and back on Saturday and a four-mile fun run in Edwardsville on Sunday.
The Cyclery employs 20 to 30 people in sales and repairs, depending on time of year. The general manager is a 37-year-old named Becky Schreiber, who likens the business to “Cheers” because of its non-corporate environment and employees who feel like members of a team.
“It has been a pleasure and an honor to work for Steve for 13 years,” she said. “He would give the shirt off his back for any one of us. We’re like a family, and that’s how he treats us.”
Bike trails boost business
Steve gives credit for some of The Cyclery’s success to Madison County Transit, which has converted many railroad right-of-ways into bike trails and forged several new paths. The county now has more than 100 miles of paved trails, which some people even use to commute to jobs in St. Louis.
In Steve’s view, this has not only increased opportunities for cyclists but also changed community attitudes.
“A lot of people didn’t want bike trails in the early days,” he said. “They thought it would bring in problems and people would break into their homes. But now, everybody wants a cut from their subdivision to a bike trail. They can’t get them fast enough.”
For the past nine years, Edwardsville has hosted its own summer bike race, the Rotary Criterium. Competitors include a team sponsored by The Cyclery.
It’s hard for Steve and Katie to believe that what started out as a tiny bike shop run by a college student in a former classroom has stayed in business for 40 years. They admit that it hasn’t always been easy.
“It’s very challenging in this day and age to have a brick-and-mortar store with everything going online,” Katie said. “But I think our stores provide good service, and I don’t think it’s a good idea to buy a bike on the Internet. If you don’t have the right fit, you’re not going to enjoy riding.”