The name is short and to the point: “Bicycle John.”
Matter of fact, it’s perfect.
Because its owner, John Tanner, is all about the bike.
He sells bikes. He repairs bikes. He rides bikes. He believes bikes are among man’s greatest inventions. He estimates he’s at his shop 14 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s his second home, if not his first.
“This is what I love,” Tanner said. “There’s nothing else I would rather do. What would I do if I retired? I’d probably work on bikes.”
Bicycle John marked its 30th anniversary on Kauai this month. So what’s the secret to success for the owner of an independent shop on an island in middle of the Pacific Ocean?
Perseverance, he said. And, perhaps surprisingly, luck.
“On Kauai, there’s certainly a lot of luck involved in having your own business,” Tanner said. “What people say can make you a success or fail you on Kauai.”
His customers, it’s apparent, are spreading the good word.
But let’s be clear. Bicycle John knows bikes from axles to wheels. Whether its brakes or chainrings or derailleurs, if it needs replacing or repairing, he’ll get it done.
He goes, as he says, the extra mile, even at his own cost.
“Without a doubt, I’ve lost money on things,” Tanner said. “I’d rather lose money than disappoint somebody.”
In its three decades on Kauai, Bicycle John has been at seven locations in Lihue, including 20 years at the Kuhio Business Center. Last year, Tanner moved to a new site, 2955 Aukele St. It’s spacious, filled with new Trek bikes. There are wheels and frames and tires and seats displayed on walls and ceilings and shelves.
He figures he’s sold around 20,000 bikes and worked on thousands more to keep Kauaians on two wheels.
“I like working with my hands,” he said. “I get a tremendous amount of satisfaction from taking something that’s broken and making it work.”
Tanner started his bicycle career at a sporting goods store in northern California. When his in-laws moved to Kauai, he later followed and answered an ad for a bike mechanic in Kapaa.
“When I came to Kauai, I fell in love with this place,” he said.
He worked as a waiter at Coco Palms for a time, and eventually opened a small bike repair shop, maybe 100 square feet. It was enough.
“It just kind of grew,” he said. “When I look back now, I never thought I would still be doing it at this point. At a certain point, I realized I really enjoy doing it, and I’m really good at it.”
Tanner is self-taught and a quick learner. He read “Anybody’s Bike” book and then just learned by doing to become a master level mechanic.
“Whether it’s a $50 bike or a $15,000 bike, I can help you out with it,” he said.
Tanner said such a commitment as he has to bikes might not work for others.
His hobbies — reading on his Nook and playing Sudoku — aren’t too demanding. His grown children live on the Mainland. And he’s not big on beaches and doesn’t travel far. Most of what he wants or needs to do is within the Puhi/Lihue area, which he doesn’t often go beyond. It’s five miles from home to work. He recently went to Poipu for the first time in years; he visits Kapaa every couple years.
“Fortunately, I don’t have any type of social life,” he said. “I don’t have the distractions other people have.”
He travels on his Trek urban transport bike, which has an electric motor he added for help with hills. He doesn’t own a car and hasn’t for years. Bikes are little to low overhead, he said, and definitely green. Cycling gets him exercise and it gets him where he wants to go. It’s pedal power at its finest.
“It has its limitations, but what does the average person spend on a car, $500 a month?” he asked. “It’s way more efficient than a car. It gives people a certain amount of freedom.”
But what about when it’s raining?
“I get wet,” he said, laughing.
Bicycle John is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.