Photo by Ashlie Acevedo.
People often think of traditional art forms when told to describe passions. But, so many people have found art in other forms. People who find this are also tasked with a lifelong struggle: how to keep pushing their enthusiasm to the next level. In other words, how to go all in—how to give as much as one can to becoming successful in his or her field.
Charkie Huegel and Phillip Short fell into their passion for cycling. The two serious riders have created a niche in their community by repairing carbon fiber bike frames and components. They named their project Nine Lives Bicycle Repair. Both are cyclists who train hard to win races, and part of winning races is having the best gear. Sure… One can win with heart and talent, but when one is racing at Short and Huegel’s level, everyone has heart and natural ability.
After one particularly nasty fall, Short badly damaged his carbon fiber frame. Distressed at the prospect of needing a new bike frame, which costs thousands of dollars, he turned to the Internet. He followed some complex how-to’s and went to work on his busted frame. The fix left cosmetic imperfections, but it worked. The bike rode just as it had before Short crashed it.
Thoroughly impressed, Short began fixing other cyclists’ carbon fiber bikes and parts whenever opportunities arose. That’s when Huegel came in. Huegel is a business-minded guy with a background in motorcycle sales. Not to say he’s an 80s-style businessman with slicked-back hair and a gold tooth, but he sure can talk shop. Huegel saw an opportunity to broker Short’s new venture. He began to handle the business side, while Short did the patching.
When asked about how this new business venture has influenced their riding, the duo looked at each other and shrugged. Huegel answered that he sometimes gets tired of talking about bikes. That’s pretty understandable if one knew his and Short’s training schedule. The grueling schedule calls for 15 to 20 hours of riding a week. And, it’s not a leisurely pedal to the outskirts of town. It starts in the outskirts of town and calls for high-intensity interval training.And when they aren’t riding, they are watching what they eat. Huegel confessed he’s had about five beers this year.
Cyclists riding at their level also have to abstain from activities that are walking-intensive or even standing-intensive. Short quoted Winston Churchill by saying, “Never stand up when you can sit down. And never sit down when you can lie down.” Truly, bikes have dominated most aspects of their lives. Huegel then pointed to his bed—an old futon with exposed springs and three legs, which is mostly what furnishes his sparsely decorated bedroom.
So, why do it? The long and short of it is: Competition. Both racers love the feeling of getting out what they put in, and when one goes “all in,” one may start placing in races, which is a great feeling. The lower standard of living, harsh training schedule and even strict diet all become worth it when racing well.
Like Short and Huegel, many people in their mid-twenties struggle with big questions:“What’s my life work going to be, and where’s my passion in that?”For those whose passion isn’t where it needs to be to make a living, what do they do? This is a hard spot to be in because everyone has to make ends meet. The routine of life can get in the way, and it’s not always easy to make time for a true passion. As for Short and Huegel, they couldn’t exactly recall when they made the decision to take the plunge yeta series of events. For Huegel, it was riding for fun with friends, then meeting Ashley Powell, a resident pro trainer. For Short, it was moving to Greensboro, meeting Huegel and subsequently meeting Powell. Short and Huegelbegan training more, and changed their spending priorities and activities outside of training. They slept more, out of exhaustion.
They aren’t at the top of their game yet, but they’re on their way while trying to find another way to pay the bills. The duo mentioned that there are only a handful of carbon fiber repair shops in the U.S., but it isn’t cheap. What better market to enter into than one in which you’re a customer? Nine Lives isn’t out there to be the new rage in bike repair. They just do it on the side to support what they really want to do: Ride bikes.
Merritt White is another riding enthusiast whohas been living out his passion for bikes for decades. He is the 37-year-old owner of Re:Cycles bike shop, right around the corner from UNC Greensboro. He just got a lot busier, however, with the recent launch ofOnPoint Mobile Bicycle Repair—a BMW touring motorcycle outfitted with the latest tools of bike repair. This mobile workhorse isn’t just changing a flat or tightening a saddle either. It’s outfitted to handle any job on location that someone used to have to take into a shop, whether that’s rebuilding a hub or a full tune-up.
Riding and fixing bikes has always come naturally for White. When he was a teenager, he collected bikes from the side of the road and fixed them, using old bike parts. Not long after, he began work at a local bike repair shop. White put in his hours, which turned intoyears, and eventually becoming manager. Still in his early 20s, this experience gave him the confidence that he wasn’t just good at repairing, but that he could also write checks and handle the other side of the business.
All of that was put on hold when Whiteearned pro-status as a mountain boarder, a sport popular in the early 2000s that involved riding what basically looks like a skateboard on steroids. After he finished up touring as a professional, White settled back down in Greensboro and decided he could run his own shop. At 25, he jumped into his passion headfirst.
In 2005, White opened Re:Cycles bike shop. The name was a play on emails when the subject line in an email was popularly titled “In Regards.” White had a much bigger mission in mind than to simply open a bike shop. He saw that many of his customers relied on bikes as a means of transportation and work. Of course, many customers were families looking for budget bikes for their children, and college studentswho wanted a commuter bike. But, White saw that many of his customers who relied on their bikes in a more substantial way sometimes needed a break onthe cost of new bike parts. He thought back to when he was a teen gathering usable parts from broken bikes and decided to do the same thing at Re:Cycles.
He described one customer who sold water to construction workers. He would ride his bike to Costco on Wendover Avenue, then ride back into town with gallon water jugs on special racks on his bike. That was his main source of income. When his bike needed fixing, it had to get fixed or he wouldn’t eat. Re:Cycles helped him by finding free parts and charging only labor. This is just one example of a larger mission at work for White, who really just wants to help people get riding and make his life’s work about bikes.
Over a cold beer, White explained that he’s spending a lot of his time on the “business” side of things and wants to get back to basics. OnPoint is his effort to get back to doing what he loves: Working on bikes. It also justifies one of Merritt’s hobbies—riding motorcycles. The logistics for OnPoint are easy: If one needs a repair, give him a call or make an appointment online—he’ll be there to repair a bike or even pick up one up to be donated. Or, maybe someone is facilitating a race or hosting a wellness day at work. Now, one may have a full bike shop go anywhere he or she is.
Passion is a funny thing because it’s always random. Most people can be too involved to know what to do with it or when it’s time to take the plunge. Sometimes it’s a series of events that leads one further and further in, like for Short and Huegel. Other times, one may jump in head first, like White. It all comes down to what one loves, whether it be in one’s mid-twenties in racing or being a seasoned business owner getting back to what matters.