Keeping the wheels spinning

By Michael Beadle

Local cyclists can rest assured that one of the region’s longest-running bicycle shops will be around for years to come as road biking and mountain biking continue to grow in popularity in Western North Carolina.

Motion Makers in downtown Sylva recently changed owners for the third time in its 21-year history. Last month, Kent Cranford took over from Dave Molin, who will still be working at the shop.

Cranford comes to Motion Makers with an extensive background as a cyclist, sales rep and bike shop manager.

“I’ve worked in shops since I was a kid,” Cranford said. “Bikes are definitely my passion.”

Growing up with a father who was an avid cyclist, Cranford competed in BMX races as a teenager in the late ‘70s and then jumped into the mountain biking craze a decade later while in college at Middle Tennessee State University. He still remembers the fall of 1988 coming to the Western North Carolina mecca of mountain biking known as Tsali. The trails here became a regular pilgrimage for him and his biking friends.

After college came a mix of jobs. Then Nantahala Outdoor Center offered him a job running their newly opened bike shop in 1994. He went on to work as a marketing director for Lightspeed, the company that made the bikes that Lance Armstrong would ride to Tour de France glory. Ironically, he remembers turning down a then-unknown Floyd Landis, last year’s Tour de France winner who later tested positive for steroid use.

As a sales rep for Specialized bicycles, Cranford was on the road a good bit, covering a territory that included Georgia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. He’d be gone four days a week and half the weekends of the year.

Finally, it was time to settle down and spend more time with family. Now living in Bryson City with his wife and 10-month-old daughter, he can enjoy the perks of working with fellow cyclists — and Tsali is a mere four miles from home.

“Tsali’s why I live here,” he says. The family also likes to ride at Burningtown and the Road to Nowhere.

Cranford wants to maintain the store’s presence in a growing biking community. He’s looking to add a few changes to the store — carrying some clothing for runners and expanding the store’s 1,000-square-foot showroom by moving the bike repair area farther back. In the midst of tourist season, though, there’s a brisk business that leaves little time for interior decorating.

The store carries all sorts of wheels from sleek road bikes to rugged mountain bikes to children’s bikes with training wheels and retro one-speeders with fenders and wide handlebars. The shop also sells gear and accessories — everything from bike racks and brakes to socks and Camelbaks. Many local cyclists have come to know Motion Makers as a place to get bike repairs as well — everything from tune-ups and component upgrades to complete overhauls.

Having seen how the industry has changed over the years, Cranford believes that after the Lance Era — when road bikes became all the rage and cyclists tried to emulate endurance cycling god Lance Armstrong — more people are now turning to less expensive mountain bikes. In the 1980s, mountain biking enjoyed more popularity thanks to sites like Marin County in California, which claims to be the birthplace of mountain biking. So, there’s something of a pendulum of popularity between the mountain bike and the road bike.

“Cycling is cyclical,” Cranford said, unable to resist the pun.

Another interesting trend Cranford will be watching is the Baby Boomer generation in search of retirement recreation. Many in this age bracket don’t connect with tech-savvy tires and instead might opt for a more classic cruiser style with fewer gears to mess with and balloon tires that harken back to childhood days. The so-called “Coasting Bike” is a hot commodity that features a retro look with modern components that include multi-speeds and no gears to manually shift.

Motion Makers has been outfitting all kinds of customers over the past three decades — from the weekend bike riders to national racers. The store recently assisted local rider A.J. Rowell as he set out on his 10,000-mile bike tour across the United States.

Cranford likes the idea of being able to help the guy who’s restoring old Schwinn bikes and those who need the latest high-tech components.

Clarence Smiley of Bryson City recently stopped by to schedule a tune-up for his wife’s mountain bike. His son, Isaiah, needed his brakes adjusted. Clarence said he didn’t mind the 20-mile ride to the shop because of the service and quality he says he gets there.

“It’s worth it,” he said.

Motion Makers has four employees on staff and five more “pinch hitters” who can come in during weekends and vacations, according to Cranford.

One of those employees is Dave Molin, the store’s previous owner. For Molin, it seemed like a natural fit for Cranford to take over Motion Makers. The two had met when Molin first took over the shop 10 years ago and kept in touch as Cranford worked in various jobs in the cycling industry.

Molin was impressed with Cranford’s willingness to help and his knowledge of the business, so he has no problem deferring to Cranford’s decisions concerning the store. “Kent knows so many people,” Molin said. “He’s been in the industry so long.”

And the change has allowed Molin the time to get back into tinkering on those two-wheelers and learning more about the sport he has grown to love.

For more information about Motion Makers, or for maps and schedules of local bike rides and even an on-line discussion forum about the local cycling scene, go to the Web site or call 828.586.6925. Motion Makers’ store hours are Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The store is located at 552 West Main Street in downtown Sylva.

The Naturalist's Corner

  • Fingers still crossed
    Fingers still crossed Status of the Lake Junaluska eagles remains a mystery, but I still have my fingers crossed for a successful nesting venture. There was some disturbance near the nest a week or so ago — tree trimming on adjacent property — and for a day or…

Back Then with George Ellison

  • The woodcock — secretive, rotund and acrobatic
    The woodcock — secretive, rotund and acrobatic While walking stream banks or low-lying wetlands, you have perhaps had the memorable experience of flushing a woodcock — that secretive, rotund, popeyed, little bird with an exceedingly long down-pointing bill that explodes from underfoot and zigzags away on whistling wings and just barely managing…
Go to top