It is a rare occurence to meet someone who is living his dream. While many can say they enjoy their profession, their dream may be halfway around the world. When you meet those rare people, you know it right away. There is a sparkle in their eyes, a contagious enthusiasm, a pride in the way they speak of their craft that leaves you feeling better to have made their acquaintance.
I recently met such a person. His name is Kris Dunbar and he and his brother Howie own Aztec Cycles in Stone Mountain Village. Like many Northern transplants, Dunbar moved to Atlanta in 1996 "in search of something new." What he found was a platform to perfect his childhood passion of riding and repairing bicycles.
For 14 1/2 years Dunbar worked as service manager at a local bicycle shop right outside of the city of Decatur, Georgia. In 2010 - 25 years after fixing his first bike - Kris felt that the time was right to open the doors to his own brick and mortar cycling shop. In June 2010 Kris, along with his older brother Howie and business partner Michelle, opened the first Aztec Cycles in Lithonia. A second location on E. Mountain Street in Stone Mountain Village opened five months later.
Any regrets on opening two locations so soon? Not hardly. When recently asked "What's the one thing you do for money that you would do for free?" Dunbar's answer was simple - "exactly what I'm doing now." Read on to learn how a kid from Brooklyn went from salvaging bikes from dumpsters to repairing the bikes of Olympians.
Patch: You have opened two locations in less than six months. How did that come about?
Kris Dunbar: A very unfortunate but fortunate situation happened for us. We were told that we were going to have to close our (Lithonia) location due to Eminent Domain. We found this (Stone Mountain Village) location, and two weeks after we signed the lease, we were told that we did not have to close our Lithonia location. So we decided to keep both of them open. My brother works in the Lithonia store and I work in the Stone Mountain store.The timing worked out great because there was a bicycle shop here in Stone Mountain across 78 that moved back into the city of Decatur when we moved in here.
Patch: How did your life-long relationship with bikes begin?
Kris Dunbar: We (my brother and I) were two little kids that couldn't afford bikes. We found them in the dumpsters, in trash cans, or wherever we could and we traded parts with friends. My dad had a garage full of tools, and we started using them on the bikes, finding creative ways to make things work. When I was in my early teens a bike shop opened accross from house. My interview was basically him looking at my bike with all of the clamps holding it together and figuring that I must know what I'm doing. He took me in and showed me all of the right tools to use to make the job more effective. Once I learned the specifics I got more into the industry itself.
Patch: So when did you get into cycling?
Kris Dunbar: I started really riding in my early teens. I was a 14-year-old kid on a raggedy mountain bike, riding with middle aged men on $2,000 Italian bikes. They took me in and showed me different features, and I ended becoming their bike mechanic as well.
Patch: Since you ride and repair, are you partial to a certain type of bike?
Kris Dunbar: I've worked on tons of bikes. I have customers that have raced in the Olympics and I've had customers come in that didn't know how to ride a bike. Some can't afford a good bike and others have no problem dropping a couple of thousand dollars on a bike. It doesn't matter what bike you have. As long as it's fixable I guarantee you'll enjoy riding it.
Patch: So is Aztec Cycles a bike repair shop and a bicycle store?
Kris Dunbar: We tend not to sell bikes. We sell bicycle service and cycling itself. We also do a lot of restoration and refurbishing. This works out good for people who want to ride, but get intimidated by the high cost of new bikes.
Patch: It's clear you are a strong advocate of cycling. What are the benefits of cycling?
Kris Dunbar: Commuting for one - especially with gas prices the way they are now. Other benefits are exercise, recreation, and the one thing we really push the hardest: family bonding. Getting mom, dad, and the kids out on a bike will create a lot more memories and is a lot more cost effective and healthy than sitting in a movie theatre for three hours.
Patch: So what does Aztec Cycles offer by way of cycling?
Kris Dunbar: We offer weekend rides. We have people meet us in front of the store and we take a nice casual 10 mile ride on the bike path right here in Stone Mountain. Every week we alternate between family and women-only groups. We try to challenge people to go a little further than they have before. On Thursday evening we do an endurance ride for folks that are a little bit more into the industry and know a little bit more about their bikes. There is a 28 mile option and a 15 mile option.
Patch: You mentioned someone said something pretty cool to you recently.
Kris Dunbar: I had someone call me an artist the other day. At first I was dumbfounded, but really this is my art. Every bike is unique to its owner and I try to tell people to get very creative with their bikes. The same thing you can do with a car, we do with bikes. Custom builds, funky paint jobs, additives, upgrades and extras. The new bikes are really cool, but it's something about working on something that's never going to be made again. Whatever type of bike you have, bring it to me and I'll make it ride a little better than it did when you brought it, and ultimately you'll have a smile on your face.
Patch: So this column is called "Meet The Owner." Tell us a fun fact about you.
Kris Dunbar: For one I don't think that I'll ever grow up! (laughs) Seriously, I took the simplest thing in my life and made it work for me. We found something that we really enjoyed as children and we still enjoy the same way as adults. This is a 12-year-old's dream come true. From then until now I've been working toward this point. Opening this business is the best thing I could have ever done. This is not a money thing for me. This is being able to control a portion of my own destiny.
Aztec Cycles offers a variety of rides at no-cost to bring community awareness to cycling. For information on ride times and locations visit www.aztec-cycles.com.