An oasis in the grass

Heather Barringer is the owner of the Newton Bike Shop, while her husband, James Barringer, is the shop manager. ?We work as a team,? Heather says. Photo by Wendy Nugent

The Predator rode a bicycle through Newton last summer and took advantage of the hospitality at the bike hostel in the Newton Bike Shop.

Well, it wasn?t actually the Predator. It was an actor, Brian Steele, who played two predators, Berserker and Falconer, in the 2010 movie ?Predators? starring Adrien Brody, Topher Grace and Laurence Fishburne.

Steele, also known as creatureboy, was riding through Newton during the Trans Am Bike Race for 2014, which was the re-creation of the Bicentennial Race in 1976, said Heather Barringer, owner of the Newton Bike shop. Since Newton is on the Trans?america Trail, which was the path of the race, cyclists stopped in Newton. The trail spans from coast to coast and is one of the more well-known trails in the bicycling world, Heather said.

Throughout the race, bikers stayed or rested at the hostel, including the race winner, Mike Hall; and Juliann Buhring, the fastest woman bicyclist in the world, who was in fourth place at the time. For this race, men and women were pitted against each other.

?It was a rest, service, drop ship point, basically whatever they needed,? Heather said. ?They all had different needs and came in at different times.

?For every racer, the service on their bikes was free in 2014. They only paid for parts. We also served them a meal for free. We would touch base with them on their social media a few days ahead of arrival, if possible, and ask what supplies they might need and what they might want to eat.?

The Newton Bike Shop wasn?t a required stop, Heather said, but they were an unofficial checkpoint. Each participant was filmed as they arrived, and that was put on Facebook ?for the world to watch,? Heather said.

A crew was in Newton for four days filming the top five to six cyclists for another purpose ? they were filming for a documentary by Mike Deon.

?It was a fun part of the summer,? Heather said.

The documentary, ?Inspired to Ride,? is about the race, and will be released in April. Newton is highlighted in the film. Riders traversed 4,233 miles through 10 states during the competition.

The documentary?s website (www.inspiredtoride.it) stated, ?Inspired to Ride? follows closely the journey of a handful of these cyclists as they prepare, compete and experience what riding 300 miles a day feels like with only a few hours sleep.?

The shop was busy night and day during the race. Customers helped operate the rest site for a couple of weeks. Half the time, Heather said, riders came through in the middle of the night. She?d make them food, and her husband, shop manager James Barringer, would service their bikes. The shop plans to take part in the 2015 race.

The hostel room can sleep five, although during the cycling season, they?re overrun by cyclists with as many as four to 10 staying overnight. The Barringers run the hostel as a motel, Heather said. It?s a place for touring cyclists to get some rest and work on their bikes, and they?re charged $9.95 per night. Bikers are allowed to labor on their bicycles after store hours, and James said they plan to add a loft for more sleeping space.

The hostel area of the store has a variety of rooms, including the sleeping room, kitchen, a very clean repair shop with 690 tools, a bathroom and a room to wash bikes and clothes. There?s free Wi-Fi and Netflix. The hostel supplies needed items ? everything from towels to tampons. Some bicyclists say they?ll stay just one night, Heather said, but they enjoy their time there so much, they end up hanging out for two to three days.

?It takes them about an hour and a half to realize they?re in heaven,? James said.

This definitely benefits the Newton community, as bikers spend about $20 to $120 per day while there. This is money that?s coming from out of town, James said. Cyclists can be anyone from retired surgeons, doctors and lawyers, to people moving, to kids cycling to college. They?ve had a variety of cyclists go through town, such as the Harvard rugby team and people raising money for charitable causes.

Newton Bike Shop owner Heather Barringer works at her desk during a winter afternoon. Photo by Wendy Nugent

The shop has a book and video available that tells riders about the hostel?s services, such as showers at the Newton Activity Center and the kitchen. Staffers also provide them a list of bike-friendly businesses, as bicyclists like to shop and eat at local businesses in the towns in which they?re staying, Heather said. For example, Prairie Harvest probably has served more than 20,000 cyclists during the years, James said.

?We?re very much into collaborating with our other local businesses,? Heather said. ?We try to share in the commerce that?s coming into our town that people don?t think about. It always comes back 10-fold. We?re known worldwide. We just want to see as many people pedal as possible.?

he Barringers ran their bike shop out of their Newton home before going to the downtown location at 131 W. Sixth St., opening in June 2013.

?We?re entering our third cycling season,? Heather said.

Before moving downtown, the shop already had a large customer base. The business outgrew the house, as the family could no longer park in their three-car garage, and there were bike items strewn about in the back yard. They also ran the hostel out of their home.

?We couldn?t do it at our house anymore,? Heather said.

The front part of the store has a front counter and a variety of items for sale, including bicycles. The east wall is painted bright green with ?Newton Bike Shop? in black; the sign is joined by signatures on the wall of cyclists who have come through there.

One cyclist, organizer of the Trans Am race Nathan Jones, wrote, ?You are an oasis in the grass desert. Keep it up!?

When the business opened, they sold used and consigned bicycles. As they grew, they carried new products. For example, they sell the Jamis line of bicycles. In addition, people can special order bikes.

?We have what you need and what you want,? Heather said. ?We can get that here in a couple of days.?

The shop also fixes bikes.

?We service everybody,? she said, adding if people are pedaling it, they?ll fix it. ?It?s about the rider and not the bicycle.?

The couple said they service all bicycles, from the single mom whose kid has a flat tire to the guy with an upper-end carbon fiber bike.

?We bring a lot of memories back here by restoring people?s bicycles,? James said.

In addition to repairing and selling bikes, they also take trade-ins and buy bikes from patrons. Since bicycles aren?t allowed at the Harvey County Landfill, the shop has taken on the responsibility of being a bicycle recycle center. Sometimes, they sell parts while other times they sell the bikes if they?re up to their standards, Heather said.

The shop also donates bikes to the Salvation Army.

Before opening the shop, the Barringers had an interest in cycling.

?We?ve always just been outdoor people,? Heather said. ?My husband actually biked across the United States. We just love to be outdoors and active and fit.?

Heather said people can bicycle as a family, and when bicycling, people also notice more of their surroundings. Heather added it?s something almost everyone can do.

Newton was James? surroundings from 1984-89 when he attended Santa Fe Middle School and Newton High School. Then, he moved away.

?My mission is this is a small town that changed my life, and I want to change what?s happened to it,? James said. ?Newton is not a small town that?s closing up. It?s a small town that?s just opening up. My vision creating this was putting this town back on the map,? which he believes was done with the movie and the touring bicyclists.

Getting the cyclists to Newton didn?t cost much money. All the Barringers had to do was hand out cards to cyclists passing through?and smile. A smile, a thank you and a handshake are part of the Barringers? way of doing business.

?My goal here is to do my part to not let the community get consumed like most small communities,? James said, adding what he means by consumed is people moving away or box stores taking up much of the business.

There is a way for Newton to not get consumed.

?I want the community to focus on the fact that we are a bicycling community, and bicycles bring walk-in commerce,? James said. That is the main reason the Barringers run the bicycle hostel.

James added they?re not interested in selling a bicycle ? they?re wanting to sell the bike shop, the whole experience of a neat, pleasant place to purchase items, as well as personalized customer service.

The shop does an amazing amount of business, and they do that because they?re personal to each individual customer, James said.

?Without a bunch of overhead, that would explain why we are so personal,? he said.

by Wendy Nugent