Since 1967, Walt’s Bike Shop has served Columbia’s cycling community, and for the past 20 years, Sarah Ashman has managed the day-to-day operations of the shop. Laid back but passionate about bikes, Ashman says she feels fortunate that she has the opportunity to build connections with local bikers and carry out owner Frank Morris’ vision of the lifetime service policy. When she started in the mid-’90s, mountain bikes were flying off the shelves, and now bike-packing is en vogue, but she says getting people out on mid-Missouri’s trails will always drive Walt Bike Shop’s mission.
How did you get into biking?
Well, my dad was a recreational cyclist. My brother and I both got into it. When I got a bike shop job in college, I loved it. Working at a bike shop is really a community-type job. You get to know everybody in the cycling community. In Columbia, it’s pretty tight-knit. It’s a very social job, which is nice.
Describe some of your most interesting, memorable customers.
We have had some very neat customers. We have one fellow who has ridden all over the place — from here to Alaska. And he’s in his 70s. Mark, the assistant manager and my husband, does a lot of adaptive bikes for customers with physical limitations. Whether it’s balance issues or mobility issues, we do some hand bikes for people who are in wheelchairs.
What’s it like working with your husband?
We take different days off, so even though we work together, we really only work together three days a week. Since we have small kids, we take different days off so we don’t need as much child care. I think we complement each other really well.
How has Walt’s changed in the past 20 years?
We added the outdoors section and the addition of the fitness equipment. Both of those things have kind of morphed throughout the years. The camping department used to be a lot bigger than it is now. That has kind of shrunk and streamlined into bike-packing and other stuff that complements bike touring. Bike-packing is a really big category right now. Instead of putting everything on their back and hiking into the woods, you load up your bike, touring style with racks and bags. Bike-packing is one of the biggest growing categories in the cycling industry right now. The design of new bikes and products is for bike-packing and touring.
What tips do you have for people who might be biking on the road this summer?
Really learning the rule of the road. Knowing how to ride defensively in traffic. The city of Columbia offers a great course called confident city cycling. It is a course that teaches you how to ride correctly in traffic. There’s certain things you think you’re doing correctly to be safer, but there’s actually other ways to do it. We have several customers a year who get hit by cars riding on sidewalks because it’s not when they’re actually on the sidewalk. It’s when they’re crossing the street. The cyclist will just jet right across and the car has no expectation that a cyclist is coming and they get hit.
After two decades, how do you feel about having made a career at Walt’s?
I never thought I’d stay here. I wanted to move west. But I love it here, and I feel fortunate. I never hate coming to work, which is great. I get burned out like everyone else, but I love it. Working at a bike shop is a little bit unique in that you’re part of a community — the bigger cycling community. ￼