Bikes & Buggies: Bicycle Biz Dates Back 100 Years (or More)
Rich Dziedzic, manager of Richards Bikes in Palos Heights, explains the business' history and the current affairs of the bicycle world.
For Rich Dziedzic, road bikes just aren't fun enough.
The manager of Richards Bicycles in Palos Heights prefers an off-road option. Road bikes get a "little monotonous." It also helps that forest preserves in Palos Heights offer great trails just a short trip away.
In the industry, Dziedzic said, mountain bikes are experiencing a "bit of an upswing." Some riders are purchasing speciality tires, called 29s for the diameter of the wheel, which provide an easier ride over rough terrain.
It's this kind of knowledge that sets Richards apart as a bike shop. Dziedzic, who manages a story that carries a family name in bicycles dating back more than 100 years, focuses on servicing a product that also is meant for the long haul.
"We offer a product that lasts a long time," Dziedzic said.
The Richards family actually began in the buggy business around the turn of the 20th century, said Dziedzic, who has worked with the family's business since the 1980s. Records that far back are a little sketchy. The family began selling bikes in 1910, according to available documents, but the business could date back to as far as 1903.
The Palos Heights location has been around for 32 years. The building at 11933 S. Harlem Ave. was actually built as a bike shop in the late 1950s before Richards bought it in 1980, Dziedzic said.
"It used to be, bicycles were such a many part of your life," Dziedzic said, talking about the history of a business that has grown and contracted over the decades. "As we've evolved into cars and mass transportation ... the need to have a bike shop in every community doesn't exist anymore."
A change in the culture to drive everywhere and the costs associated with having a physical location in every town has changed the way the Richards family has done business. At one time, they owned stores in several south suburban communities.
About five years ago, Richards experienced a "big spike" in a different way of reaching customers—Internet sales, Dziedzic said. A rough economy the last few years has slowed those sales but Dziedzic thinks many of those online customers are returning to their local stores for the services they provide.
It used to be that anyone could take apart and maintain their own bikes. But bicycle technology, especially for higher-end models has reached a point where customers rely on bikes shops more for repairs, Dziedzic said.
In an addition to being the manager, Dziedzic also is a user of the product.
"Mountain biking is my thing," Dziedzic said. Riding on roads is more convenient, of course, but the effort of having to haul a bike to a wooded area is still worth it to him.
"There was a period of time where, if you wanted to go race a mountain bike, you had to take a weekend trip to go somewhere," Dziedzic said. Because of enthusiasm for biking, acceptance from the Forest Preserve District of Cook County and hard work from groups who work to maintain trails, there are better options available locally.
Likewise, there are more road races being run today than a decade ago.
Richards Bicycles recently was named the City of Palos Heights' Business of the Week.
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