By Cassidy Castleman for our website, www.PracticalCycle.com written in 2015
My dad, Tim Castleman, dreamed of opening a bike shop for many years. He imagined a place where ordinary people could find practical bikes that they could use in their everyday lives.
Whenever he would start daydreaming I would literally roll my eyes. "Not this crazy idea again," I would think to myself, and frankly I didn't believe it would ever bear fruit. In fact, neither one of us could have predicted that Practical Cycle would become what it is today.
If you would have asked us to write down our wildest fantasies we would have sold ourselves short.
So here's our story:
Once upon a time, Tim bought a beaten up old tricycle at a garage sale for $5. After fixing it up, he slapped a sticker on it that said "ONE LESS SUV" and started using it to run errands and haul all kinds of stuff around town.
Then, on a fateful bike ride downtown, Tim was "doored" by a valet parking attendant. He broke his shoulder pretty bad, and ended up with all sorts of plates and screws holding him together. Ironically, Practical Cycle would eventually be funded in part by the settlement from that accident. Talk about poetic justice!
In 2009, he received proton beam therapy for prostate cancer. His membership in the Brotherhood of the Balloon (don’t ask!) inspired him to use the gift of life he had been given to make a difference in the world.
In early 2010, he discovered Pedego Electric Bikes, and founder Don DiCostanzo talked him into investing in the minimum three bikes to become a dealer. He took delivery of those first three bikes in his garage, and I haven't seen my dad on a non-electric bike since that day.
The final piece of the puzzle was finding the right location. Tim fell in love with a gold-rush era building in historic Old Sacramento right next to the bike trail. It was perfect!
When the realtor proposed a totally unacceptable lease, the owner of the building, Bill Beale, agreed to meet with my dad personally. After reviewing his business plan and seeing the sparkle in his eyes, Bill believed in him and decided to give him a chance. "You write the lease," Bill said, and Practical Cycle was born.
Everyday since has been an exciting adventure. We've made a lot of sacrifices and worked very hard.
For the first two years, Tim worked 50-60 hours a week without a paycheck. After dropping out of school and quitting my job, I fixed up a tiny apartment in the back of the store and slept in a sleeping bag for over a year.
We made a deal with a local bakery delivery driver to bring us a loaf of sourdough every morning and that's what we ate for lunch in those early days!
It's also been a ton of fun! We've met scores of amazing people and made more friends than we can possibly count. We've enjoyed some wonderful experiences and made lots of unforgettable memories.
Naturally, my dad and I don't always see eye-to-eye, but our father/son bond is stronger than ever. We've both learned and grown so much!
More than anything, we've had a tremendous amount of help along the way- sometimes from the most unexpected places. We would have accomplished very little alone. We are deeply grateful and humbled by what Practical Cycle has become.
It's really taken on a life of its own. So much so that in our seventh year, we realized that our Old Sacramento location just couldn't keep up with demand. That's why we opened a second location in Folsom, which is a wonderful place for a bike store, given the many local bike trails.
Today business is booming, and we are an award winning Pedego dealer for 5 years and counting (fingers crossed)! We're consistently exceeding all of our goals by large margins. Most importantly, we believe we're making a positive, meaningful difference in the lives of our customers and the world as a whole. My dad and I both feel like we're part of something much greater than ourselves, and that's what it's all about!
By Tim Castleman in 2023
The idea for Practical Cycle grew from the new awareness that came in 1999 with Y2K and solidified after 9/11/2001 and the subsequent US Military invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. I asked myself what our "vital interests" are in that part of the world and quickly understood it was all about the oil. For years I researched alternatives such as ethanol from biomass, biodiesel from used vegetable oil, hydrogen, electric cars and more and soon understood that a big part of the problem is unchecked consumption. Oversized vehicles racing each other to the next red light and jet air travel emerged as two areas where significant saving could be realized with a few simple changes. First I started using the train system instead of flying, I got an old Mercedes diesel car and filled it with biodiesel and I started riding a bike again. Among these the bike was the most effective and had an added bonus of liberty. No need to fill up and I found I could go all the way to Oakland on a train with my bike. I re-discovered the American River bike trail and a new awareness of everything around me.
Enthralled with my newfound transportation choice one day I came upon an old burned up trike frame at a neighbors yard sale and bought for cheap. On the chain guard it said "Worksman" and researching for parts I learned this was an American company still in business in New York City! I called them up and soon all of the parts I needed were on the way and I rebuilt that old trike to useful condition. I started taking it to the grocery store and every time people would ask where I got it. I checked the local bike shops and they were very not interested in carrying trikes, their business was racing bikes and mountain bikes, not utility bikes.
The American company "Worksman" made and sold a variety of utility bikes for airport, factories, food vending and small loads of cargo. I loved the product line so much I got the idea that they should have a store specializing in utility bikes. I started writing a business plan and when doing the spreadsheet calculations discovered why there was no store specializing in this type of cycles. The low margin combined with slim demand caused the business model to fail on paper for years.
Then I discovered electric bikes and a new company with impressive marketing based in Southern California. Suddenly the business model worked if I could sell 10 of those a month in addition to the Worksman line. I called them and asked if they though that was possible and of course Don DiCostanzo assured me it was.
This all happened at the same time as I was becoming more fed up with the failures in the cannabis business and when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer the treatment that seemed the best choice was in Loma Linda where I would need to go every day for a 30 minute radiation treatment for about 10 weeks. I used the time to hit the onsite gym, close out the CCI petition and finish the business plan for the bike shop. I finished the course of radiation in early January, 2010.
I had a little over $50k left from the settlement so I was really going out on a limb with this, but by this time I was getting desperate so I started searching for the right location. I rode my bike every day for weeks exploring options and came close to closing a deal on a couple that in hindsight probably would have failed. I was in the habit of riding to Old Sacramento for a coffee and then back home, just for the exercise and fun of it. One day as I was exploring there I came upon a vacant space that had for many years been Discover California, a gift shop and in the basement Hogshead Brewery. There are two more floors above occupied by offices for lawyers and such. One of them was the Danish Embassy. There was a For Rent sign in the window with a handwritten phone number. This turned out to be the building owner, an 80+ year old gentleman named Bill Beale. I met with hime and his wife Dorothy the next day at the Fats restaurant a few doors down.
I had my business plan in a binder and began to go over the details. Within a few minutes Bill stopped me and said he believed in my concept and in me, what would it take to get me in! We made an amazing deal that fit my budget and I secured the space at 114 J Street in Old Sacramento. Now I just needed some help with marketing and had the good fortune of my son Cassidy being an outstanding salesman that was enrolled at Sacramento State University to learn marketing! I talked him into coming on part time for a little money and pretty soon he got as excited about the business as I was. Our struggle began with what to name it. I was all for Sensible Cycle but Cassidy insisted it had to be Practical Cycle or count him out. He had me over a barrel so Practical Cycle it is.
I worked on cleaning and rehabbing that dusty old building for over a month and on March 3, 2010 we got our business license. We opened the doors for the St. Patrick's Day Parade with a handful of black and white brochures and three electric bikes. We didn't even have a way to make a sale yet, but we were so excited and happy it didn't matter.
Pedego Electric Bikes unlock our early business model.
Our journey as a dealer for Pedego electric bikes began in early 2010. By 2015 Practical Cycle had been Pedego Dealer of the Year three times and based on our success my co-founder son Cassidy was asked to join Pedego to help grow their dealer network. Pedego had about 30 dealers when he began and Cassidy worked day and night to enlarge on what we learned at Practical Cycle and created programs that resulted in growth to over 200 Pedego dealers when he resigned 8 years later.
On February 23, 2010 I took delivery of our first three Pedego electric bikes at my home because the store was not ready.
Tim and Cassidy Castleman on March 13, the first day we opened the doors for business. All we had was 3 Pedego electric bikes but it was the day of the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade so we made a start that day.
Our second order from Pedego was 5 rental bikes and 5 on display to sell.
Inspired by the Worksman Cycles product line, I had been working on a business plan for a bike shop for years. The numbers just didn't add up until I added sales of 10 electric bikes per month into the formula. I liked the marketing of the brand Pedego so I called them up and naively asked Don DiCostanzo if it was realistic to sell 10 bikes a month. Don answered "Absolutely, I used to own a store myself" so encouraged I placed an order for the minimum to get started. I have always been a little prudent that way and wanted to see and try the bikes before placing a larger order for a few rental bikes and a few more to put on display for sale. On March 19 we had those bikes, though didn't have a POS to actually sell or rent them!
Cassidy was in charge of marketing and had the idea to put customer stories on our PracticalCycle.com website. This proved so effective that when he went to work for Pedego they enlarged on the concept with videos they called "Customer Love Stories". At that time Pedego had no accessories, not even fenders for their bikes so we searched our vendors and found compatible accessories and parts to stock. This inventory served as the foundation for the recommended inventory new dealers are suggested to carry to get started.
By October the store was fuller and we featured Worksman Industrial bikes, Linus Transportation bikes and Pedego Electric bikes plus a good selection of accessories to make them more useful. The local art on the walls was on display courtesy of Artistic Edge and helped set the tone of a "high-end" destination store.
This happy customer with add on baskets, upgraded tires and fenders from JBI fit our market demographic and was one of the first "Customer Stories" on our website. October 30, 2010
By November we had expanded our offering to include BionX conversion systems and made a deal with a local social media influencer to be a brand representative for us. This was another concept Cassidy shared with Pedego when they created their "Ambassador" program. Oddly that program was discontinued soon after he resigned. We also started offering XtraCycle long tail conversions and built one of the very first electric cargo bikes using those systems on a simple 3G Cruiser frame. 3G was a non-electric brand that Pedego had introduced us to to supplement and diversify our offering. We needed all the help we could get during these early days of non-profit operations!
Our first brand representative on her Gazelle bike, another brand we carried for a short time. We tried everything!
The BionXtracycle was created with help from our BionX factory rep and is shown here on the night we tested it, November 19, 2010. The concept has certainly taken hold and now there are numerous brands offering something no one had heard of in 2010.
Alexandre Coulombe was our BionX factory rep and here he is testing our creation. He visited in person to help with this and to get us set up as BionX dealers. We made a deal to service a small fleet of demo share bikes BionX had stationed at Cal EPA Headquarters. Also shown are some of the yellow single speed Worksman rental bikes and a Zigo cargo bike we were offering at the time. We really did try everything!
In December of 2010 Practical Cycle added Nihola brand cargo trikes that are handmade in Copenhagen, Denmark.
At this point we had the following brands for sale in our store:
Worksman Industrial Bikes
Pedego Electric Bikes
Bionx Electric Conversions
XtraCycle Cargo Conversions
Plus a variety of parts and accessories
That first year was exciting and challenging! We sold just enough to break even, and that only because I was not taking a paycheck yet! We threw a lot of lines in the water, including a good sized rental fleet starting at $5 per hour for the industrial grade single speed Worksman bikes. It is hard to believe now, but those were far more popular than the electric bikes for $10 per hour and we often gave away Pedego branded watches just to bribe people into taking a test ride! We even accepted special orders for Worksman bikes that took weeks to get from New York at slim 22 to 28% margins just to keep things going.
Our Second Year, 2011
To be continued...