Mountain bike pioneer Simon Jamison has enjoyed the spoils of taking an unorthodox path – in sport and in business – and now he’s put his Melbourne store on the market.
He opened one of Australia’s first – if not the first – dedicated mountain bike stores in the late 1980s and, more recently, has operated a popular bike servicing business that has benefited from his typically unconventional approach.
The latter, Quality Bicycle Repairs in Surrey Hills, has been in operation for 13 years and Simon has decided he’s ready for retirement.
“We were the first store I was aware of in Australia that only sold mountain bikes and we rode that wave through the ’90s.”
Simon and his younger brother Mick were among Australian mountain biking’s early batch of elite competitors and were building their own MTBs in the early 1980s, “when there really wasn’t anything around to buy”.
In 1988, they decided to turn that experience and insight into a business opportunity and they bought East Key Cycles, in the inner Melbourne suburbs.
Mick and Simon converted the shop into Victorian Mountain Bike Centre, which became well known as VicMTB among the mountain bike fraternity.
“We were the first store I was aware of in Australia that only sold mountain bikes and we rode that wave through the ’90s,” Simon said.
“While most stores had high-quality mountain bikes by 2000, for quite a few years we were one of few Melbourne stores to sell them.
“We were 100% involved in mountain bikes, which really helped with running a bike store back then. Everything was pre-internet. Customers really relied on that you told them and what they’d read in Bicycle Australia.
“They were exciting times to be in the industry.”
The brothers were early members of the Fat Tyre Flyers, one of the Victoria’s leading MTB clubs, and were competing with success at an elite level.
Simon won a handful of national-level cross country events in Australia and the US. He led the Australian national series midway through the 1993 season and was part of national teams at the world championships in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
“Then Rob Eva and Cadel Evans came along and it suddenly became a lot more difficult to compete at the highest level,” he said.
“As soon as the AIS got started, we were amateurs competing against professionals, but we had a lot of fun.”
Baptism of Fire
Like an off-road rider launching themselves down a technical trail, Simon also threw himself into his first experience as a bike store owner.
“We took over East Kew Cycles three weeks before Christmas and guy we bought the store from hadn’t bothered to assemble any bikes because he knew we were coming.
“Back in those days, you’d have 250 bikes on layby from Christmas and ours were all still in boxes.
“Mick had been working in bike shops since he was 15 or 16 but I had to learn very quickly.
“We must have built about 20 a day, so about 200 or 250 in total, and on the final night we still had a mountain of boxes to go. We closed the shop at 6pm, Mick stacked the boxes up next to the front door and said, ‘we’ll build our way out’.
“We were there until about 6am. Then we went to our parents’ place, had a shower and something to eat, and went straight back to keep working. When you’re young, you have plenty of energy. We thought it was great fun.”
A decade later, the brothers sold the business to their shop’s mechanic, but not before it was also at the forefront of online sales.
“When we started vicmtb.com.au in about 1999 there were already a few others selling stuff online but we actually had an online store that really worked.
“We had a partner in the business who was an IT guy and I remember him coming to me one day suggesting we get a new computer. He told me ‘it’s got a 1GB hard drive and you’ll never need anything bigger than that’.
Launching Quality Bicycle Repairs
After selling the VicMTB store and online business, Simon took an extended break from the industry before he was drawn back in and established Quality Bicycle Repairs in 2009.
“I always found repairs were the most enjoyable and most profitable part of having a store, so I decided to make it the exclusive focus of the new business,” Simon said.
“The demand seems to be endless and there’s not price competition like you have when you’re selling bikes.
“We don’t discount, we don’t have warranty issues. There’s a whole lot of advantages to just doing repairs.
“You don’t have carry a huge volume of stock. My stock is spare parts and that’s an economical thing compared to quarter of a million dollars or half a million dollars worth of bikes on the floor.”
“For the past couple of years, I’ve only been opening the store a couple of days a week and it’s working extremely well.”
Quality Bike Repairs carries about $65,000 to $70,000 of stock, including a large quantity of Shimano and products from Bicycle Parts Wholesale, BikeCorp and PCI Sports.
Simon also discovered focusing exclusively on servicing and repairs allowed an exceptional level of flexibility in work practices and opening hours.
“For the past couple of years, I’ve only been opening the store a couple of days a week and it’s working extremely well.
“It started during Covid, when it was difficult to open, and I’ve stuck with it because it’s a really efficient system. But I don’t think there are any other businesses doing it.
“I’m only open for 16 hours a week and I get the other three days to work relatively uninterrupted.
“I don’t answer the door or phone and sometimes I even draw the blinds over the windows.
“It works really well for 95% of my customers. They drop their bikes in on Monday – I’ve got Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday uninterrupted to do the work – and they pick them up on Friday.
“You get heaps of work done and I think being uninterrupted helps with the quality of the work.
“You wouldn’t get the guy who works on the engine of your Boeing 747 answering queries at the front desk at the same time he’s reassembling a Rolls Royce jet engine.”
Simon says the limited opening hours also adds an air of exclusivity that particularly appeals to Melbournians.
“In Melbourne, everyone wants to find that secret café hidden up a laneway and you have to know the secret knock to get in,” he added.
“I’ve never done any advertising or marketing, but I’m flat out.
“I still do most of the servicing, with a couple of part-time employees I call on from time to time.
“However, 10 to 12 years is long enough in any one location, is my way of thinking, and I’m approaching retirement age.
“My wife and I have built a house in the Gippsland and we’re looking at retiring down there.”
Click here to find out more about the business, which includes a 60m2 workshop, the potential to add bike sales and an upstairs two-bedroom apartment as part of the premises lease.