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Gene Oberpriller: “It’s a toy, it’s a tool, it’s transportation. It’s a life-changer.”

Tom Witta • Star Tribune ,

On the Job with Gene Oberpriller

  • Article by: LAURA FRENCH
  • May 2, 2013 - 10:09 AM

 

Gene Oberpriller remembers falling off his tricycle in 1966. From that point on, most of his memories involve cycles. After too much time on a bike and not enough time in high school, he was invited not to come back. When he “couldn’t stand being a dishwasher anymore,” he walked into Evan Hatcher’s shop and asked for a job. Hatcher had him take apart a basement full of bikes. Hatcher restored the frames, and Oberpriller put the bikes back together. “He was my mentor,” Oberpriller recalled. “He taught me everything.”

He alternated between racing bikes and the music scene, with a stint in the military. Eventually, he got back into the retail bike business at Alternative Bike and Board “just as the mountain bike boom was getting ready to explode. That was bike shop graduate school. I learned finance, buying, selling processes, store merchandising,” he recalled.

He was offered a job as a spokesperson for Bridgestone Cycles. They gave him a year’s salary, racing bikes and travel money. “We created a culture for Bridgestone Cycles. That helped the shop,” Oberpriller said. It also made him a cult figure in Japan.

He tried another bike industry job but, he said, “I’m a round peg. The bike industry is a square hole. I got fired.” He worked as a bike messenger and lived above a massage parlor on Washington Avenue. He started buying up cheap bikes and hoarding them in the basement. In 2003, the owner of the massage parlor called him and said, “Here’s the key.” “She walked out and I haven’t seen her since.”

The building owner gave him six months rent-free. Three months later, Oberpriller and his wife opened One on One Bicycle Studio. “The concept was service in back, bike stuff in front, and a coffee shop for income in the winter months, because we didn’t want to get into snowboards. We figured maybe we could have something in three or four years. It was closer to six,” he said. For a while, his basement junkyard was the prime source of income.

“Our motto is ‘Hiring the unemployable since 2003.’ We all come from the bike industry. We’ve had a few weddings because of that,” Oberpriller said. “We’ve always been culturally oriented — it’s more a labor of love than money. The lights and heat are on, people get paid.”

Why has Minneapolis had such a cycling boom?

It’s come full circle. We were here first. In the early 1900s, Minneapolis had clubhouses with 100 members. There was a big shift after World War II: “It’s a toy, it’s not real. Who rides bikes in winter?” All the infrastructure in the city was started by cyclists — traffic laws and stuff. No other city has anything like Grand Rounds. City planners come here from other cities. Bike companies come here to test new styles of bikes. This one’s going to stick a really long time. Everybody wants in.

After decades of bouncing around, why have you stayed with this business for 10 years?

We love to do it. That’s the key to making businesses work. It may never be easy, but I don’t think I could work for the man again.

Why are you so fascinated with bikes?

Watch a two-year-old get onto a strider bike and realize, “This is better than walking!” It’s a toy, it’s a tool, it’s transportation. It’s a life-changer.

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