Culturally, bikes and coffee go hand-in-hand — just ask the Europeans.
“A lot of bike rides start at coffee shops or end at coffee shops or stop along the way at coffee shops,” says Mark Ball, owner of Velocity Bike & Bean in Florence, Ky., “and certainly in Europe that’s the way it is. I think they go together because of that.”
Ball grew up in Columbus and started working at a bike repair shop at age 14. “I got my first bike when I was 5 and it was all downhill from there, so to speak,” he says. “I enjoyed the community that I felt among other bike riders.”
After a decade and a half at the shop, he went on to work for a motorsports company and then a manufacturing company, which brought him to the outskirts of Union, Ky., where he and his wife, Lisa, and their daughters live. (The family is friends with famous Union native Josh Hutcherson, who has been known to pop into the store.) Looking to mesh his love of coffee, community and cycling, Ball opened his coffee and bike shop in 2011.
As an avid cyclist with a mind for mechanics, Ball always wanted to open his own store, but it wasn’t until 2010 when the idea for Velocity Bike & Bean developed. “I really liked coffee and wanted to open a coffee shop, initially, because I thought it would be quicker and easier,” he says. “I thought, well, I’ll put the two together — that’ll be an interesting thing to do. The two, coffee and bikes, each kind of have their own cyclical revenue stream, and so I’ve got one that’s a little better in winter and one that’s a little better in the summer, and they kind of balance each other out.”
Originally, Ball was hoping for more of a full-service bike shop with a coffee bar, but it’s become the opposite — most of the foot traffic comes in for the coffee.
His bike and bike repair business increases during the warmer months, with his main bike business involving working on road bikes. (Velocity was listed as No. 16 in The Active Times’ “America’s 50 Best Bikes Shops 2013” list.)
Unfortunately, the shop doesn’t have the room for a large bike inventory. Most of the bike gear is stationed in the back of the store, where bikes for sale — a small collection of consignment and used bikes — and bikes that need repairs are lined up. Ball says on the first nice day of the year, usually in March, bikers come out in droves and suddenly the bike business is hectic. He doesn’t necessarily have any full-time employees, just volunteers like his family and friends. His wife, who ironically doesn’t drink coffee or ride bikes, helps out with social media and running the place.
Despite practically doing everything himself in the shop, Ball enjoys working on the bikes and thinks not just anyone can learn how to repair them. “As a bike mechanic you don’t get your sea legs probably for a few years, truly,” he says. “It’s so much deeper than that. It’s more than just being able to fix a tire or throw on a derailleur. It’s kind of like an X-factor, an indescribable thing.”
In developing his vision for the shop, Ball wanted to edify a sense of community, democratically bringing bike people, coffee drinkers and non-bikers together in Florence, which didn’t have a lot of social spaces. “I wanted to make sure that it was a place that didn’t alienate people that weren’t serious coffee drinkers and/or serious cyclists,” Ball says. “I just wanted everybody to feel as though they were treated exactly the same as the next guy and not feel as though they’re being looked down at because they may not have as much knowledge as somebody else.”
On a recent weekday morning the place was crackling with groups of people convened at tables, holding meetings while drinking pour-overs, Seabirds (espresso, half and half, cane sugar) and other caffeinated beverages brewed with beans from Carabello Coffee, which used to roast its beans in the shop before moving to its own place in Newport, Ky. Live music on Saturday nights draws people in, too.
Ball hopes to grow the business within the next few years and arrive at a place where he can hire a few actual employees — like a coffee bar manager — and have four times the square footage so he can accommodate more of his passion: bikes.
VELOCITY BIKE & BEAN is located at 7560 Burlington Pike, Florence, Ky. For more information and hours: 859-371-8356 or velocitybb.com.