Big Wheel Bikes Closes In on 50 Years

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Mike Sendar. Photo by Robert Devaney.

Buying a bicycle is a big decision. Especially these days, bicycles cost a nice chunk of change and require some sort of knowledge about how to ride them safely.

According to Mike Sendar, who runs Big Wheel Bikes at 1034 33rd St. NW in Georgetown — and at four other locations in the D.C. area — when deciding what kind of bike to buy, some planning and anticipation are required. For one thing, where the customer is going to ride the bicycle is very important. For dirt roads, a mountain bike is strongly recommended.

Sendar has been in the bicycle retail business for close to 50 years, since 1971, when he opened the Georgetown store with Harold Rivkin. At this point, not much research is needed in order to do business. “We’re rooted in our ways,” he said.

However, a lot of adjustments were made over the years. For example, in 1977, he bought out Rivkin, and he has tinkered with the number of stores to operate, which has ranged from three to six at various times.

The decision to open a bicycle store in 1971 was a strategic one. At the time, bicycles were mainly purchased from places that sold lawn mowers and at hardware and toy stores, not within actual bicycle shops. Adult bike stores were a fairly new concept. “We thought a bike store might be timely,” he said.

Rivkin and Sendar, who have backgrounds in economics and law respectively, went into this business venture with the confidence that they would be able to figure things out. It also helped that they had prior success with a summer-sublet real estate business.

Fortunately for Big Wheel Bikes, the Washington metropolitan area is a healthy cycling environment, with a lot of people buying and riding bikes. Other indicators are the existence of bike paths and a moderate climate. Sendar himself bikes a little — “Recreationally,” he said.

Despite the longevity of his bike business, Sendar is well aware of the different obstacles he faces. One important factor is the status of the economy. “We’re sensitive to the economy,” he said. Other factors to consider are competition from the internet, competition from other brick-and-mortar bike shops, the quality of the sales personnel and how he and his staff do their jobs.

Sendar’s efforts handling the banking, hiring, firing, buying and supervising at Big Wheel Bikes are not lost on a number of people, who credit him for their own success in the fields of law and business. He believes those accolades stem from his good character and his sound business practices. “I think I do both of those things well,” Sendar said.

Finally, if you’re going to buy a bicycle, remember to ride it with a helmet. “You need to take care of the head,” he said.

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