Bicycle Industry Insider Profile: Matt Johnson

Aside from bicycles, of course, the main reason I choose to continue my futile search for fortune in the bicycle industry is because of the people I know and meet. There’s no shortage of extremely smart and passionate people who are insanely interesting, individualistic personalities. Sure it’s cool to be around famous athletes from time to time, but I much more deeply value the less publicly visible people that make the bicycle world go ’round. As such, I’ve decided to revive a special online series where we do a very brief standardized interview with some of these individuals: The Bicycle Industry Insider Profile Series. I want to share the stories of these people with the rest of the world through the Dirt Rag and Bicycle Times web sites. This week we have…

Name: Matt Johnson

Hometown: Chagrin Falls, Ohio

Current location: Asheville, NC

What do you do for/with/to bicycles? I started BioWheels in 1994 and have worked for the company since then. We are a bike shop hell-bent on being environmentally and socially responsible (green power, massive recycling efforts, living wage, advocacy, etc). I love to build wheels, problem solve and match folks to their ideal bio-motor vehicle. I have taught bike maintenance classes for 15 years and love to do it!

What’s the best thing about your job? I am my own boss and get to work with people seeking healthy lifestyles. Moreover, I never had to “sell-out”!

What’s the toughest part of your job? Qualifying who wants to do business with us and who is going to buy online. I want to give my best to all customers, but many choose not to value their independent bikes shops like we did in the 90’s.  We launched our web sales years ago to keep up, but I’d much rather put all available energies into the local market.

On a related matter, I wish that manufacturers would own up to their part in the eroding ‘bricks and mortar’ marketplace, but that is another conversation altogether.

What was the path that led you to work with bicycles? I’ve always been a strong mechanic. In 1993, I rode across the continent for 4 months, and I decided that I wanted to celebrate the amazing bicycle for the rest of my life.

What was your first bicycle? When I was 6 (1975), my Dad bought me a Tyler 20″ with a banana seat. We installed a BMX handlebar with a padded cross bar on it. I learned to jump on it while the neighborhood teen-agers egged me on to “go bigger”.

What bike do you currently ride the most? I ride my Maverick ML8 almost all the time. I find it to be the perfect bike for the mountainous terrain of Asheville, NC. It’s easy on this achy old body and makes long days in the saddle a pleasure.

Where is your favorite place to ride? I ride all over Pisgah National Forest, but have a nearly virgin 4000 acre tract of land near my house that is full of uber-single track. It’s usually just my dog Daisy (Jack Russell mix) wildlife and me.

What music goes through your head while you ride? Lately, the rockin’ beats of Perfect Circle’s Mer de Moms. That’ll change soon enough. I am not a fan of riding with headphones because then I can’t hear the critters scurrying around or the wind energizing the forest.

What are your interests aside from bicycles? My wife (Amber) and daughter (Hyla) like to go hiking in the mountains. Years ago I started doing yoga regularly (that has shown to be a great pursuit). I am renovating an old farm in the country outside Asheville. After building the 1st Commercial Green Building in Asheville (BioWheels-Asheville), I have been thrust into green building and renewable energy projects. Having spent a couple years in heavy research, I have an optimistic eye toward solar-powered transportation.

If you weren’t working around bicycles, what do you think you’d be doing? Life would feel empty without bikes, but I have built an Electric Vehicle Ecosystem model (BioWheels RTS) project that I hope to roll-out in the next few years. I will always be an advocate for low-impact meaningful living.

Please share one of your favorite stories you’ve seen or been a part of while involved with the bicycle industry: We (BioWheels) have been involved in bike advocacy in Asheville since 1999. We have just begun to see the fruits of that work show up with new bike lanes all around town. In the past few years, Asheville on Bikes was formed to create an advocacy-based bike culture, which has enabled Eric (business partner) and I to focus on the shop.  On the dirt side, we used to have to do ton’s of trailwork before a local group (SORBA) was formed just a couple years ago. In short, the scene has really grown in Asheville, with the community really stepping up to make this a bike-friendly region. That is extremely rewarding and relieving at the same time.

I loved being on the podium at 24 Hours of Canaan a couple times, including 1995 (the year of mud). I’ll never forget the year that our 2-men, 2 women team won the 24 Hours of 7-Springs overall was very sweet. Ohhh, I used to be fast, now I just try not to crash.

Who would you choose for the next subject for the Bicycle Industry Insider Profile Series? Mitch Graham runs BioWheels in Cincinnati.

Why? He has built on the BioWheels legacy of advocacy and event leadership in Southern Ohio with a litany of events and advocacy efforts.


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