“El presidente se ha ido. Viva el presidente.” (Translation: “The president is gone. Long live the president.”)
Founder and longtime owner, Saucon Valley Bikes’ el Presidente Steve LaBrake, recently sold the business he founded in Hellertown in 1999 to a friend and former employee, borough resident Joël Nankman.
Nankman is well-known to many customers at the shop from his years working there and through an extensive network of relationships he’s maintained in the cycling community.
A veterinarian in Easton, Jess grew up in Northampton and met Joël on a trip to St. Maarten, she explained.
A native of Suriname, Joël was living on the Caribbean island at the time, while Jessica was attending veterinary school not far away on St. Kitts.
When she experienced a flat tire on a ride around St. Maarten, Joël stepped in to help repair it and the pair quickly bonded over a shared love of cycling.
After racing for a pro team in the Netherlands, Joël eventually joined Jess in relocating to her native Lehigh Valley, where one day in 2009 he walked into Saucon Valley Bikes out of curiosity.
“Joёl got a warm feeling, like coming home to something he knew, when he entered SVB for the first time,” his staff biography on the store’s website notes. “He quickly became a regular at the shop and a normal sight at the Wednesday night rides.”
Joёl began working there shortly thereafter, and the rest, as they say, is bike shop history.
Purchasing Saucon Valley Bikes has been thrilling but also a bit stressful, Joёl said, as his work background hasn’t included extensive experience in running a retail business.
“It’s slowly becoming exciting,” he said of his ownership, which became official earlier this month.
As part of the sale agreement, LaBrake will remain a full-time staff member for the next year, and part-time after that. That will help ensure a smooth transition, both men said.
With the succession, customers won’t notice a difference in their experience at the store, where business has boomed ever since the COVID pandemic inspired many Americans to get outside and discover–or rediscover–recreational pastimes such as cycling.
Joёl said the cycling industry is still being impacted by manufacturing and supply chain issues that began during the pandemic amid increased demand; issues which he said have been exacerbated by the fact that there are no shifting component or bicycle tire manufacturers in the U.S., which has created a bottleneck in the production process.
Despite that–and despite the higher price of bicycles due to record inflation–sales show no sign of slowing down and e-bike sales in particular continue to be robust, he said, noting that a couple of well-established Lehigh Valley bike shops have recently closed.
Local trail networks continue to grow, and the shop’s proximity to the nearby Saucon Rail Trail has also helped it cultivate a loyal clientele that extends well beyond Hellertown.
In addition to bicycles, Saucon Valley Bikes also sells a wide array of cycling apparel and accessories, the shop catering to individuals and families at all skill levels. Bicycle repairs and maintenance are performed on-site by a skilled team on the building’s lower level.
Jess Nankman serves as a brand ambassdor for LIV bicycles, and in that role she hosts clinics for women riders at Saucon Valley Bikes throughout the year. She said the clinics empower female attendees by giving them more confidence. That confidence comes from learning about everything from how to dress for rides to how to fix a flat by themselves.
She said she’ll continue to host the clinics, which are advertised on the shop’s website.
In celebration of the passing of the el Presidente torch from Steve to Joёl, there will be a “Welcome Home” party at Saucon Valley Bikes this Saturday, Aug. 27 during regular business hours (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.). The store is located at 824 Main St., Hellertown, Pa.
Refreshments will be provided and there will a wheelie contest, with participants invited to see if they can “out-wheelie” Joёl.
More information about the event is available on the Saucon Valley Bikes Facebook page.