by Lee Waldman
I first met Wesley Smith two years ago when I was preparing to attend the first Masters Worlds in Louisville. The company that had been transporting my bikes was no longer in business and I wasn’t thrilled with the cost or inconvenience of flying with two bikes.
I’m a big believer in the Universe and that it gives me what I need when I need it. Coincidentally, as I was leaving school one afternoon, I looked across the parking lot to the bike shop next door. There in the lot sat the Pro Bike Express trailer. Having nothing to lose and quickly running out of options, I went in and inquired. Wesley wasn’t in that day, but one of the sales staff kindly gave me his contact information.
After a couple of missed connections, we ultimately hooked up. It was obvious from our first conversation that Wesley took his business seriously. The trailer was clean, organized and professional. I paid my money and dropped my bike off the week before the race. When I arrived at the race venue the day before my event, Wesley was there with the bike. Each day was the same: Everything continued to be organized and professional. I certainly wasn’t the Colorado rider with the best chance of a podium but Wesley and his crew treated me and my bike with the same level of care and respect as any of the “real” contenders whose bikes he was responsible for.
One of my goals in writing this column is to introduce my readers to the other side of cyclocross. It is, after all, a family. So, without further ado, please meet Wesley Smith, owner of Pro Bike Express.
Cyclocross Magazine: First of all, just tell me a little about yourself in general. Sort of a mini-bio if you will.
Wesley Smith: I was born and raised in Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina, 18 miles south of Raleigh. I was always an athlete, playing college football and running track. I did not get into cycling until moving out here and working for Schwinn, then into the Nautilus Fitness Corp. and then finally to the best place to work, Pearl Izumi.
CXM: What’s your background/history in bike racing? How did you get started?
WS: My background has always been in the service industry, but in college I double majored in Exercise Science and Graphic Design. Thus, I ended up working in the world of sales and service at those places I mentioned and found cycling.
CXM: What prompted you to start racing in the first place?
WS: I didn’t start racing until I got my first real mountain bike and did the Winter Park Series in Colorado. When I met my wife, she told me that cyclocross was something I would like, and she got me into the LT racing about five years ago.
CXM: What is “LT” racing? I’ve never heard that term.
WS: Lactate Threshold.
CXM: Oh yeah! That level that makes training so “pleasant.” What keeps you racing now?
WS: The friends that I have meet and the short racing and training time. Work and life do get in the way. There is also the personal challenge. I hate it when people say,“ I don’t think you will do very well at that,” or “It seems so hard.” I love proving them wrong !
CXM: What was the initial attraction and what keeps you doing it?
WS: I like the challenge of making myself better and developing more efficient handling skills. We can always get better.
CXM: I agree. That’s one of the things I’ve always loved about ’cross as well. It’s a continual learning process, never-ending. There’s always something else to get better at. So, tell me a bit about the business side.
WS: Ah, the business. Owning your own business is no easy task. As your own boss, you are always working overtime. There’s no time off. But I grew up on a tobacco/ house farm in North Carolina. I knew all about hard work and what it takes to make ends meet. Hard work and building a name for yourself is what owning your own business is all about.
CXM: I know that you just started in it a couple of years ago. What prompted it?
WS: After getting laid off from Pearl in 2008 I was a lost soul. I knew that I was meant to stay connected to the cycling industry. I took a job at Wheat Ridge Cyclery since I knew them from my time at Pearl. They had this business model, transporting bikes to events, but had not met with not much success. They asked me to give it a try. Three months into the bike transport business, I was hooked. I love to drive, as it tends to be my “man cave on the road.” Cashed in my IRA and the rest is history.
CXM: What was the attraction?
WS: The biggest thing was understanding what people need and want at an out of state cycling event. In my own experience traveling with bikes on the plane, UPS, FEDEx or friends, was the fear of not knowing when or if they would get there in time or in one piece. And then once there, building them up and then breaking them down after any event. That sucked.
The other important part for me about traveling with a bike is having a place to call your home at the event. Knowing where to get things, where to stay warm, and having a service mechanic on site is important for the rider who wants more than the average race experience. The interesting thing about racing is that we all place our bodies in such trauma, training for months, away from family and friends. We should all be getting paid in this sport that we love. So, thus “travel like you train” came to me as something that we all desire and deserve. In a nutshell, I wanted to elevate the support and service that we look for in everyday in what we love to do
CXM: What’s the best part about what you do?
WS: I love making the event fun again. You don’t have to pull the trainer out by your car, change clothes in the car and live like you did when you were 19 years old. We all desire better than that with all we devote to this crazy sport.
CXM: What’s your biggest challenge?
WS: Getting people to know just how hard life is at a bike race and that there is a better way. Getting the word out that Pro Bike Express was started to make your race event something more than just the race. Letting people know that it’s a community/home-away-from-home for your gear, bikes and service!
CXM: What are your plans for the business in the next five years? Where would you like to see it go?
WS: I would like to grow enough to support two or three events on the same weekend. I want to reach a point where people call me to support their event and to make it simple and clean for the athletes and promoters.
CXM: You and I talked about your plans for Nationals this year. Can you share the specifics?
WS: I’m planning and training for this year like I never did in the past. I’m sure everyone else is doing the same with Nationals being here in Colorado. On a personal note, I would like to finish in the top 10 in the 40 to 45 age group. On the business side of things, the plan is to support everyone or anyone from Colorado and all the other athletes coming out this year. I plan to have power-washers, storage, coffee, massage, mechanics and pit crews for people that want to have the home feel of an even playing field/support that they want and need! I’m still working on pricing but there will be a three-tiered price structure in which they can choose what services they want to have.
CXM: Sounds exciting. I’m in! Let’s talk about ’cross in general again. Where do you see it going in the next few years?
WS: Cyclocross is becoming more mainstream each year with more people and age groups coming into the fields. It is growing just as fast, if not faster, than triathlon is but just a smaller circle. We need to think about how we support the growth without choking people out of racing.