As long as I can remember, I’ve been an avid cyclist. My folks have told me that when I was a toddler, they gave me a trike. According to my mother: “You rode that tricycle for a million miles.” Apparently, I rode outside, I rode inside, I rode any chance that I got. My first memories on a bike, however, were learning how to ride without my training wheels in the driveway of our home in Sudbury, Massachusetts. It was a Summer day & I was doing the “Dad hold onto the back of my bike” thing. The whole endeavor was accompanied by lots of crashing & an equal amount of frustration & crying. But, it did not take long for the 5-6yr old me to get it.
Years later, my parents got me a sweet Schwinn bike. It was green & had a gold banana seat with silver piping. Big “ape hanger” handlebars rounded-out the package. I was about 8yrs old. I remember riding & riding that bike. I hit dirt trails in the woods. I braved the narrow & windy roads around Sudbury. I rode way farther from my home than any kid would be allowed to do today. My brother says he can remember me riding a wheelie all the way down our road.
I also had a taste for modifying my bike. I ordered a parachute, like on the back of a drag car, from the back of a Boy’s Life Magazine. I could pull a ripcord & it would unfurl behind me. Whenever I was so insanely fast that I might lose all control, I’d pull that ripcord & lock-up my brakes. My cool factor was unquestionably beyond measure. I also got a special button on my handlebars that would engage signal “blinker lights.” They were attached to the lazy bars that held up the back of my banana seat. People behind me would always know what I was doing, just like with a car.
The first “big” purchase that I ever made in my life was a bike. I desperately wanted a road bike with “dropper bars.” My folks told me that if I could save funds on my own, they would pay for half of the purchase. I found a Huffy bike that looked just-right in a department store. I worked & worked. I ran around the neighborhood, knocking on doors & asking people if I could sweep their driveway. I’d offer to rake leaves. I sold lemonade at the corner of my street. True to my parent’s word, when I’d saved-up about $40, my folks took me to the store. At the counter, my father pulled out his wallet & paid the rest for that $80 bike. After we purchased it, we carefully loaded it into the back of the family wagon. I was still in elementary school when I finally cruised my neighborhood as the first kid with a real-life “European Racer,” as they were called back then. It was a big deal & still ranks as one of the proudest moments of my life.
Flash forward years & when I was in high school I worked at a hardware store. The really cool thing is that next door was a bike shop & both businesses shared a common basement. I got to know the bike shop owner well. When I’d saved enough money, I purchased a brandy-colored Fuji 12sp bike. This was one of the first 12sp equipped bikes in my town & became another moment of pride for me. I rode that bike so many miles that I cannot begin to guess how far I went. I remember cranking my bike down the road behind a car one day. Like in the movie Breaking Away, the driver stuck 1 finger out the road to signal that I was going 10mph. I ramped it up & within a minute he stuck 2 fingers out the window to tell me I’d hit 20mph. The road was flat & he soon began waving for me to “hurry.” He then flashed 5 fingers to signal that I’d hit 25mph. After that, I hit the wall & wore out...coasting for a few minutes. That event gave me a story to tell friends & family.
After high school, I went to Utah to attend college at BYU. While there, I began making payments on a road bike (I’d given the Fuji to my dad...who rode it in Boston for years...until it was stolen). Half way through my payments, I got engaged to Becci. I went to the shop & changed my deposit over to two Haro Extreme mountain bikes. Becci & I paid them off a week before we got married. We loaded-up my Bronco, headed to Colorado & spent a week mountain biking in Aspen. This was in 1991, relatively early in the history of the mountain bike. Although the bikes left much to be desired in terms of weight & riding acuity, I was hooked. Riding at the edge of control, fast, through mountains & woods...the feeling of excitement & exhilaration that I had on my first ride still stays with me each time that I ride now. Even though I own a business that sells bikes, bikes are still my escape. When I ride, the world fades away. Problems...gone. Stress...gone. Deadlines...gone.
Fast forward a few years. While teaching in Utah, I spent at least one weekend out of each month in Moab, riding with a fellow teacher. Soon, people started asking to come with us. Thus, began our guiding business Kokopelli Tours. We didn’t make a lot of money, but we spent approximately a third of each Summer in Moab, & none of the costs came out of our pockets! Soon, that business evolved into Core Performance Cycles. We purchased a small, but growing, bike manufacturing company, refined the frame designs & began selling custom bikes. In truth, we did not sell tons of bikes, the costs & logistics of manufacturing bikes is all-encompassing. But I learned a lot & had the fever of doing bike-related stuff as a side gig.
I moved from Utah to Bentonville (about 20yrs ago), to be a Walmart vendor. When I explored places to ride. I was crestfallen to find absolutely no trails in NWA (can you believe that?). I headed to Devil’s Den to trace trails there & was crushed to find trails that were not even close to being worth 2hrs in my car. Damn… I came to the conclusion that providing for my family meant that I would have to sacrifice my love of mountain biking. It took a while, but wow, was I proven wrong! I remember driving into Bentonville for work one morning & noticing a line that I instinctively recognized as a trail cutting down the side of the hill near the freeway. On the way home that night I parked in the doctor’s office parking lot & hiked up the hill.
I distinctly remember the moment -- after my hike -- when I raced into my house, slamming the door, & yelled to Becci that someone was building bike trails in Bentonville! That trail changed the trajectory of my life.
Not long after, Slaughter Pen’s initial trails were opened with little fanfare. For the first few years, there were only 20-30 of us riding them. We pretty-much all knew each other, when we rode, & what abilities & riding styles each other had. Wanting a bit more “radical” stuff, Chris Klein, Dale Bailey & I built the first wooden features in the trail system. We scavenged treated wood from demolished homes & building site dumpsters to build the initial bermed corner on the Tatamagouche trail. On a cold Thanksgiving day, my eight yr old son, Liam, was the first to ride it. That berm stood for over a decade. (There is a rebuilt version of it there currently). I worked with the Boy Scouts to build the semi-covered bridge over the slick stream & rocks at the back of Tatamagouche. We also built three long wooden bridges over the muddy ground along a wet section of Tatamagouche. One of those bridges remains. The other two were pulled-out & a large rock garden was (re)installed. Chris, Dale & I built numerous other features that have crumbled with time or have been removed as the trail systems’ technicality has been slowly muted.
Later, Brent Stinespring, Chris Klein, John Santana, Andy Bowman & I began cutting trail at Blowing Springs. By this time, numbers of riders were increasing at Slaughter Pen & we wanted a trail system that would relieve some of what we thought at that time was a strain on the system. (Hahahaha little did we know about the volume of riders that would come!) Brent also wanted trails that he could use as part of an “outdoor classroom.” We strove to create a more “techy” system than what the trails in Slaughter Pen were evolving into. Eventually, trail building companies came in to create a larger system, but the majority of the trails on the south side of the park were all cut by hand by the four of us.
By this time, a legitimate mountain biking culture was beginning to form in NWA. Coincidentally (or maybe not), I was becoming increasingly frustrated with the business world that was paying my bills. It was, in my estimation, like living under the Sword of Damocles. I felt that at any moment -- regardless of my performance on the job -- the blade could crash down & leave me passed-over for a promotion, I’d become embroiled in arcane office politics, or worse: I’d be laid-off to make a year look more profitable. During this time, I’d been searching for a performance-focused bike shop, like those I’d frequented in Utah. I settled on a small BMX/Skate shop called Mojo Sport. They had great mechanics, could get parts fast & at decent prices. I got to know the staff & was soon using my marketing skills to help them promote the shop. Chris Klein & I consulted with then owner -- Todd Mains -- to bring in mountain bikes & road bikes. We helped him choose brands & types of bikes that would work well in NWA’s geology & geography.
Concurrently, I was working for Unilever & one of the features of my position was to manage the local Degree triathlon race team & interface with local cycling event staff. We sourced all of our road & tri bikes through Mojo Cycling. Working more closely with Todd Mains, I realized that he was being overwhelmed with work. He was trying to manage Mojo Cycling, while also running a profitable business selling sporting goods into WalMart. After consulting with Becci, I approached Todd & offered to purchase Mojo Cycling. It took approximately four months to get everything in place, but I took possession of Mojo in October of 2010.
I immediately walked into a VERY different world. The look, tone, feel of the shop depended upon me. Staffing hinged on my choices. The product mix was generated by my experiences. I remembered shops in Utah where the staff all wore ski caps in the Summer & acted like they were doing you a favor by helping you to purchase over-priced gear. They never asked questions & the gear they sold regularly failed to suit your needs or riding style. I made a conscious choice to make Mojo Cycling a place where anyone could visit (regardless of skill level) & not have to worry that the staff would look-down on them, their skill level or the bike they rode. Mojo would walk the thin line of serving entry-level riders, while also serving as a hot rod shop for riders who wanted to create distinctive hi-performance pedal machines.
Soon, our bike builds were being featured on catalog covers, on international bike manufacturers’ websites & even as the featured bikes at the world’s largest bike trade show, the Taipei Bike Show. We have shipped bikes as far away as Utah, Idaho, Florida & Maine. Manufacturers of hi-end cycles & cycling parts, like Canfield, Revel, Transition & Deity have noted that Mojo Cycling’s “sphere of influence is a circle of more than 500mi around our location. What we do here, reverberates in sales created by us in a five state area of the midWest.” A shop in Missouri opened a few years ago & they actually advertised that they were a “Mojo-style bike shop.” Others follow our trends, copy our outreach or even come in & take secret pictures of our product displays. These stats make us proud. It means that we are on the right track. But we can always improve.
Despite the attention that we receive for our custom bikes, the Mojo staff always places the customer first. We never sell products by price or margin, but by the item that’s best suited to each individual rider. Each staff member has a unique talent range that they bring to the team. Their knowledge & enthusiasm is encouraged, because it’s important. Employees champion their favorite products & make sure they are placed in our product mix. We test virtually every product before it’s placed on our sales floor. This way, we can assure you of the quality of the product that you intend to purchase. If a brand lags in the caliber of their products, we delete it from our product mix. If you are a long-time customer of the shop, you will know that if a company lags in quality, we drop them. Period. Mojo fiercely remains an independent shop. We remain so because we answer only to our customers & not to quantity mandates set by companies that do not know our geology, topography, climate or local riding culture.
Now, Mojo is growing beyond me… It’s growing beyond my vision… The hard thing is watching something that you worked so hard for grow & mature beyond your own goals. The harder thing is to let go & watch other people step-up. My employees are fantastic. Each retains the vision of a shop for all people. All strive to make Mojo a safe & comfortable environment for anyone. But, times change. The fine line we walk is changing. Now, we have to continue giving highly personalized service to our diverse group of local patrons -- as a neighborhood bike shop. But, we must also serve as a destination point for tourists. These two riding groups visit Mojo Cycling with very different expectations of what constitutes “a good bike shop.” Shops that cannot walk this line will be hard-pressed to stay relevant in the highly competitive NWA cycling dynamic.
We take this challenge seriously.
Mojo currently resides in its 3rd location since I purchased a small BMX/skate shop over a decade ago. We’ve grown. We’ve helped the NWA cycling culture to grow & mature. We’ve helped scores of excited customers to grow as cyclists. Our local scene is growing...morphing. It’s adapting to a new set of riders & riding needs. We’ll continue to focus on you, providing assistance & components that will help you achieve the most from your cycling experience.
Dave Neal, Owner