One of central Indiana’s most active cycling advocates started with a dare.
Before Randy Clark founded his company, Bicycle Garage Indy, he had never been much of a cyclist.
He was working with Eli Lilly and Co. and smoked more than two packs a day when a friend and fellow smoker challenged Clark to give up cigarettes with him and put their energy into training to bike from Indianapolis to Knoxville, Tenn.
“The last time I had ridden a bike I was a kid, but I went out and bought all the gear, totally buying in,” Clark said. “We probably trained a total of 600 miles, then the trip itself was six days and
That trip helped launch Clark’s secondary career and change cycling in Indiana. After more than 30 years at the forefront of bicycling in central Indiana, he is stepping down from control of Bicycle Garage Indy. He’ll be replaced as chief operating officer of the business by Scott Helvie, a former employee and longtime cycling enthusiast. Clark will remain the chief financial officer and chairman of the board, eventually stepping away from the business completely in five years.
As he makes the transition, Clark has reflected on the route his life has taken and what cycling in central Indiana might look like in the future.
“In the last five or six years, we’re in a different orbit than we had been in at any time prior to that. A lot of work has gone into advocacy and developing this market more fully,” Clark said. “Things have changed, and they’re a little different. But everyone still loves to bike.”
Inside Bicycle Garage Indy, racks of new road bikes and mountain bikes are arranged for people to hop on and test.
Low-key cruisers, trick BMX bikes and even tandems are available for the more specialized cyclist. Everything from helmets to bike shoes to specially padded shorts for long rides are available to purchase.
The business’s Greenwood location serves as a gateway to long-distance rides throughout Johnson County nearly every day of the week. A newly constructed northside store is a cathedral to bicycling that overlooks the Town Run trails.
Downtown, its store is a hub for cyclists commuting to work and riding through Indianapolis.
Clark considers that impressive growth from what started as an unlikely idea to bike to Tennessee.
Bicycle Garage Indy was born from that trip to Knoxville in 1980. The trip was life-changing; Clark doubts that he’s done anything that fun since. Afterward, he became a regular cyclist.
On a trip to Bloomington one weekend, he and friend were talking to the owners of Bicycle Garage Inc., a longtime cycling store near Indiana University.
Discussions turned to starting a bicycling shop on the northwest side of Indianapolis, where an existing store had recently gone out of business.
The four men formed Bicycle Garage of Indy Inc.
Over the years, the leadership shifted, and the owner broke off. Clark was left as the sole owner of Bicycle Garage of Indy, and in 1986, he retired from Eli Lilly to devote his life to manage the store full time.
“People think you’re nuts when you leave Lilly anyway. And I really couldn’t leave until I had full control of the company. But that’s how it all got started,” Clark said.
From that initial store in Castleton, Clark has expanded across central Indiana.
The store in Greenwood opened in 1998, taking over a shop that was located along U.S. 31. Clark was interested in a new location, and in 2006, opened its location on County Line Road.
“We’ve been very tickled with that location. In retail, you need great visibility and great access. We certainly have the visibility, have great access with I-65 there,” Clark said.
As the clientele grew, Bicycle Garage Indy also worked to provide more opportunities for clients. Workers led rides in the evenings and mornings for people interested in getting more serious about cycling. Classes on maintenance, repair and preparing for long rides helped educate the public.
“It’s not just about selling people a bike; it’s about getting them on it and enjoy it,” Clark said. “We’re providing opportunities to ride out of our store. We’re interested not only on selling the products to the person but motivating the person to use it.”
His successor shares that philosophy.
Helvie started cycling when he was a teenager and carried it on after he went to college at Purdue University. As a junior in college, he realized he didn’t want to go to graduate school and thought a career in the cycling industry would be interesting.
Interviewing with Clark in 1999, he quickly became an asset to the company. Helvie ended up working for Bicycle Garage Indy for five years.
Giant Bicycles, one of the largest bicycle manufacturers in the world, offered him a sales position in 2004. So he went to the other side of the cycling industry, selling to his old boss.
“They offered me the position with the stipulation that I clear it with Randy first, since he was a large customer at that point. One of my tougher conversations involved sitting down and explaining what I wanted to do,” Helvie said. “Randy was extremely supportive in that move.”
Because he remained in touch with Clark, Helvie was in a good position to transition back to Bicycle Garage Indy once Clark decided to step aside.
Helvie will take over as the chief operating officer and become a minority owner, handling the day-to-day operation of the business. Clark will continue to be the chief financial officer, overseeing finances for five years or so, before taking his retirement and transitioning ownership to Helvie.
“It’s a perfect plan for me because I can start tapering off, and I’m not at home bothering the wife,” Clark said.
Helvie plans to carry on Bicycle Garage Indy much as his mentor has. The store will continue to advocate for cycling lanes on roads, better trail systems and more safety awareness to encourage more people to hop on a bike.
The mission is easy, considering it’s something he has been ardent about for most of his life.
“For me, I’m definitely a cyclist, and I love when I can pull some shoes on and my helmet and go for ride,” Helvie said. “The opportunity to run my own business was the most appealing thing to me. It just happened to be something I’m incredibly passionate about.”