Profile: Chris Hoffman
Name: Chris Hoffman
Residence (town): Windsor, Maine and Williamsburg, Virginia
Raised/grew up (town): Gardiner-Augusta (Maine) area
First of all, please remind us about your links to Maine.
My mother’s family is from Maine and after my parents' divorce, I lived with her full-time. My grandparents and aunt lived in Hallowell. I spent a lot of time riding between their houses and freely roamed Hallowell on my bike. When my mom moved to Augusta, my friends and I would repair and modify our BMX bikes, and ride from Whitten Road out to Riverside Drive. We were free-range latch key kids.
I bought my first good BMX and mountain bikes from Poulin’s Cycle. When I was in junior high we moved to West Gardiner and, shortly after, into Gardiner. This allowed longer rides, through Farmingdale, Hallowell and into Augusta as well as other towns across the river. (This was before the Kennebec Rail Trail.)
I did eventually end up working at Poulin’s for a short time after high school. I talked my dad into helping fund the full 1993 class list at United Bicycle Institute in Ashland, Oregon. This was the start of my adventuring farther than Maine. Other than my visits to my dad.
What is it you enjoy about riding a bicycle?
When I’m on my bicycle I find my zone. The place where I can think, process, spark ideas, and meditate. I do like group rides for socialization. However, I find it takes away from that being at one with the machine and moment thing that feels so great and sets the mind at ease.
Do you remember your first bike?
I do. It was a red Schwinn 20-inch, but I don't recall if it was a Schwinn or a fake Schwinn, but it was a single-speed, had a banana seat, swept-back bars and that foot on the ground when on the seat cruiser feel. I put a lot of miles on that thing going up and down Second Street between my aunt's house, my grandmother's, the fire station, and Vaughan Woods (Hobbit Land).
You work at a Trek-owned bicycle shop. How does that differ from an independently owned shop? What is the name of your shop and in what town?
I work at Trek Bicycle in Williamsburg, Virginia. It's not that different from an independent shop really. Some of the things that small shops struggle with, like marketing, sales, and display decisions, are handled outside of our shop and we are advised on how it should be done. There’s a team of awesome folks that set our technical standards based on experience and data who advise us. The cool thing is it’s a two-way street, and I like that part.
What it has solidified for me is that the independent bike shop isn't going away if properly managed, particularly when it comes to the customer experience that consumers have come to expect from retail. It’s truly a new world, even if you ignore the "internet problem." Give all customers excellent customer service, build a relationship with the community, provide good communication, and speedy, expert service in person, which is harder to get from online retailers, and you’ll have lifetime customers.
My theory is: Regardless of where the bikes or parts came from you still have a labor charge, so don't turn away work. A person in your shop, if handled properly, will recognize your passion and professionalism and maybe purchase their next bicycle experience from you.
What's the cycling like in Virginia?
The Williamsburg area is pretty flat; the big ring is the only ring here.
The Capital Trail is great. Most people start from Jamestown and ride the paved trail all the way to Richmond, approximately 50 miles. I rode this in April, both directions, basically a century ride. It is pretty with interesting historical landmarks and places to stop for food, drink and resting.
Currently, I've been commuting from the Toano area into the shop and, for the most part, it's been quite enjoyable, with almost no automotive aggression. The route I take has bike lanes for all but four of the 12.5 miles one way.
Bike-friendly cities are a process. There are also a few well-done off-road parks and trails. Freedom Park Williamsburg, which I pass on my commute, has basic to advanced trails that include some great features. I've been borrowing some demo bikes, like the Trek Slash 9.8, Powerfly 7, Fuel EX 8 and they are a lot of fun.
In your role as a mechanic, what would be your top tips for bicycle riders?
No. 1. Clean and lubricate your chain; the most important part is cleaning it after. Only the inside bits of the chain need to be lubricated. Extra lube attracts and holds dirt which prematurely wears out your chain. A clean, lubricated drivetrain is a happy smooth-shifting drivetrain.
No. 2. Modern bikes are designed by engineers who spend a lot of time adding and minimizing frame material in just the right places to make them light and strong. I have seen the Wisconsin test lab and after completely geeking out, we learned how they use science to recreate real-world riding stresses but speed up the cycles of abuse, take notes, adjust designs and repeat. This process has helped all manufacturers define torque specifications on all the fasteners on your bike and accessories. It’s really important for the long life of your bike that things are tightened to those standards.
If you don't have a torque wrench, you should get one. And if you have any questions, ask the awesome people at your local bike shop.
Disc vs. rim brakes — which are better?
Disc, hands down. Same performance in all conditions, more fine control, minimal setup, and minimal maintenance. I've only bought disc bikes since about 2003.
What does the future hold for bike technology?
As an electronics tinkerer, robotics coach and hobbyist, this is my favorite question.
Electronic shifting, it's awesome, getting better and prices will come down. It's going to show up at most levels at some point and will require STEM-educated professionals to both design and repair them.
I love e-bikes. They’re going to get more people, doing more things, going more places on bikes. This is going to bring people who don't ride now into the shop; we need to welcome them with open arms. They have no preconceived notions like many cyclists do about e-bikes. It's not cheating; it's a transportation alternative.
This also opens the door for all sorts of new ways to bike, like cargo bikes, vending bikes and family bikes. They can be used on those trips that are short enough to not want to take the car, but you have stuff or multiple people to bring. Those trips will get longer too.
Like bike lanes? More people on bikes means more pressure for bike lane development. More people on bikes means more healthy people. Those people will need service on those bikes. We all win with e-bike adoption.
How much money should someone spend on a bicycle? Any guidance?
I paid more for my first mountain bike than I did my first car; neither amounts were impressive numbers. This is still the case, probably because I don't respect gas cars, and I can't afford a Tesla.
Seriously though, your bike should do what you need it to, for the conditions you will be riding in. Buy the best you can afford without hurting your budget. You can't ride it if you are working overtime to pay for it.
Doug at Poulin's once said to me, "I'll never own a Lamborghini, but I can own the Lamborghini of bikes." I think he was right. Think about how much bike you can buy in a year if you turn off cable TV, eat out less, maybe keep that car another year or five. That's easily a Project One bike, which is way better than a Lambo.