Heaven on wheels

Published 10:56 am Wednesday, October 15, 2008

FRANKLIN — Banana seats. Sissy bars. Head badges. Apehangers.

They’re bicycle terms. Not sure what they mean?

The Rolling Hills Bicycle Shop would be an excellent place to find out.

Owner Freddie Jackson has had a love of bicycles since he was a child and his enthusiasm is evident as soon as one steps foot through the back door of the shop.

“He’s been collecting bikes for 35 years,” Manager Alex Roberts said during a tour on Tuesday. “He still has the first bike he ever had.”

This is an enterprise built from other people’s junk — literally.

About 4,000 bicycles of all shapes and sizes line the 10,000-square-foot shop. There are banana seat bikes and Schwinns, cruisers and track bikes. In the front there are bikes that help hawk ice cream and one four-wheel bike made for two people to ride a beach boardwalk.

Most of the bicycles need some degree of cleaning and restoration. Many were dirtied from the flooding of 1999. The building needed to be spruced up too, but since much of the building is concrete wall and I-beams, it did not receive too much damage, Roberts said.

A pedi-cab in the workshop is being restored, and Roberts said he’s trying to figure out a way to install an ipod sound system on it.

Most of the bikes in the storage area were saved from dump sites or garbage bins.

“People don’t pay attention to what they have and they throw it away,” Roberts said, surveying the three-deep pile of bicycles behind him.

A pre-1970s Schwinn bicycle, especially with the decal intact, is worth holding on to, Roberts noted.

“The original decal is worth more than the bike itself,” he said.

Any bicycle that has a two-toned seat is probably a classic, too.

Some of the bicycles in the storage area are waiting to be restored, and others are used for parts.

“We make most of our money off of repairs,” Roberts said. “Anything that has to do with a bike, we do it.”

Jackson specializes in road bikes. Roberts does BMX stunts.

“We also do skateboards,” Roberts said. “We deal a lot with customization.”

Roberts said a lot of people come into the shop and talk about gas prices. But the No. 1 reason people want a bike is to get exercise.

“They want to stay in shape,” he said. “A lot of people come in here fresh out of surgery. They need it for rehab.”

For his part, Roberts said biking gave him the confidence he lacked.

“I’ve gone further in my life since I got on a bike,” he said.

Jackson also owns a shop in Newport News. The Franklin shop is open from noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Jackson said he has plans to turn part of the store into a bicycle museum.