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The Scarlet & Black

The Man Behind the Wheels: Craig Cooper at Bikes to You

Bike Shop - Joe Wlos
Craig Cooper is the owner of Bikes to You, located at 921 Broad Street.

Craig Cooper, the owner of Bikes to You on Broad Street, has spent over 30 years in the cycling industry, but his enthusiasm for bicycles is still racing. Growing up in Newton, he learned the trade from Marty Doane, the owner of Marty’s Schwinn Cyclery. After Cooper moved to Pella to attend Central College, Doane decided to follow suit, opening a second shop in Pella that Cooper helped run. In 1992, Cooper was ready to remove the training wheels and start his own business, choosing Grinnell because of the town’s proximity to his family, diverse workforce and strong agricultural roots. Cooper has prospered in Grinnell, and he calls the quality of life here “incomparable.” To give back to the community, he chairs the Galaxy, Inc. summer youth programs in Grinnell and Montezuma, and in 2013, he served as the chair of the Grinnell Area Chamber of Commerce, working to promote a “rising tide to raise all boats.” Despite his many activities, Cooper’s main focus is still bikes—from fixing broken parts to teaching first-time buyers how to ride, he does it all.

Why do you think Bikes to You has been successful?

Overall, as a community, Grinnell is very bike friendly. With [little] infrastructure in place for cars, oftentimes you can get somewhere faster on a bike than in a car, and that goes far for a local bike shop. It’s one of the unique qualities of life that we enjoy in Grinnell.

How has your business faired with students at the College?

It’s pretty healthy. I don’t know if … students are choosing cycling because they have to or because they want to, but you know, everything is relative. Compared to Central College, I enjoy a higher level of participation from the students, and it has to do with Grinnell’s bike-ability, and the way people here perceive transportation.

Bikes have been a big part of your life. What do you like most about the business?

I’m 47 years old, and I started when I was 13. I always tell people as an entrepreneur that if bicycles suddenly became unmarketable, I would probably switch to oranges. That said, I am clearly in love with bicycles. I enjoy the mechanical aspects of a bike. I enjoy that, through the wonders of physics and mechanical advantage, the bike stays upright and travels faster than you can just walking around. It’s a very simple human pleasure.

The weather is very cold in Grinnell right now. How does that impact Bikes to You?

It’s fair to say that business stinks when weather is like this. There are some hardy souls that ride all the time, but the truth of the matter is that in my history at Grinnell, there are probably six to 10 weeks of pretty un-bikeable weather every year. You’ve got to be a pretty hardy soul to make it through those weeks.

How else are you involved in the Grinnell community?

This past year, I was the chair of the Chamber of Commerce. I’ve sat on that board for four years now. I take pride in the fact that our chamber is different from most chambers. Our chamber, in my opinion, doesn’t subscribe to the good ol’ boy network. We subscribe to the ‘rising tide raising all boats’ [attitude]. The future of chambers that operate on that good ol’ boy premise is pretty dark, and I hope that to some extent, I’ve helped with that leadership. I’m also the chair of the Galaxy, a youth organization summer program here in town. That’s a very rewarding thing to be involved with. We don’t strictly work with at-risk youth, but if that program can do something for just one child, it’s changed a life and made the world a better place. That’s a very good thing to be involved in. … Don’t get me wrong, this business has to make a profit, but there’s more to life than a dollar, and the quality of life that I enjoy in Grinnell is second to none and I have a hard time not bragging about that.

What would you most want students to know about Bikes to You?

There are three things that I think are important. One is that we are in the business of repairing and servicing bicycles and if a student needs a bike repaired, we will do the best we can to get it fixed. During the season, there’s always free air outside the store, so that students can walk up and get the right pressure. And during the winter, we do skate rentals. There’s an ice skating rink in Central Park and it’s a quintessential small town activity.

 

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