Collin Becker, one of the top mountain bike racers in Colorado, credits a local bike shop owner with his success.
Becker said his professional status, which includes wins at the Colorado State Championship and the Norba National in Big Bear, Calif., as well as a showing at the 2005 World Cup, is largely because of Balanced Rock Bike Shop owner Tim Watkins.
“Tim really helped; he was instrumental in getting me racing,” said Becker, now a graduate student studying mechanical engineering in Boulder. “It was different from running; mountain bike races are about two-and-a-half hours long, running was about 20 minutes. The training was very different, too. I started in high school, now I race professionally.”
Becker, Watkins said, is one of the best mountain bike racers he’s seen. And he’s seen plenty. He’s trained with Alison Dunlap, the 2001 World Mountain Bike champion and an internationally recognized mountain bike racer, and he helps Palmer Lake High School students with their racing dreams.
Becker’s racing style is among the best, Watkins said.
“He’s one of the top-rated pros in the state,” he said. “He has the drive, the ability. He’s always done exceptionally well. I’ve just nudged him here and there – he did the rest.”
But Becker, who also has won titles at the Collegiate Mountain Bike race and the Colorado Road Nationals, said Watkins’ influence was more than that.
“I’ve raced in the World Cup, with some of the best racers,” Becker said. “Tim helped me with the stamina and the training, as well as some other techniques. We still ride together, even though I’m in Boulder now. Whenever I’m home, we get out on the trail.”
Watkins’ shop in Monument is situated at the new Santa Fe Trail trailhead. Before opening his business, he worked at Criterium Bike Shop for 13 years.
“I provide some coaching because it’s a great way to self-promote the business,” he said. “It’s a great way to create more business. I also think cycling is one of the best sports there is – the level of athleticism is amazing. These people are the most fit and adaptable athletes on the planet.”
Watkins sells mountain bikes and rents ski equipment from the store, but the bulk of his business comes from bike repairs.
He has a degree in exercise physiology and has been involved in outdoor activities since childhood. He was an avid skier and a member of the ski patrol for years. He started riding bicycles after suffering an injury while working as a seasonal forest ranger.
“I loved it immediately, much more so than skiing,” he said. “I still ski a couple times a year, but I broke both feet in the mountains, and it’s painful now. Mountain biking is a non-weight bearing sport, so I started doing it all the time.”
Watkins still gets out for bike rides, whenever things at the shop slow down. But in Colorado Springs, there is little downtime for mountain biking.
“I have a customer who biked 355 days last year,” he said. “You can do that here – it might be cold, but it’s normally sunny. And the racing talent here is amazing. There are some people who are real up-and-comers.”
Balanced Rock started with a partner, a bike shop in Castle Rock. But Watkins and his wife, Trina Lutwinlak, soon decided to try business on their own. They are the shop’s only full-time employees, but hire high school students as part-time workers, giving those with enthusiasm for the sport a chance to learn its business side.
“They (the Castle Rock partner) really left us on our own,” he said. “We even had the freedom to name the shop what we wanted – so we decided we could do this on our own. They sold us some of their store’s new and used equipment, and then we got started.”
The two are still building a customer base, and said the bike business can be a roller coaster, as cycling enthusiasm waxes and wanes with the seasons.
“It can be difficult,” he said. “When I worked at Criterium, they had the same problem. You just have to create the best business model you can.”