by Lorie Lewis Ham
Sunnyside Bicycles is owned by John and Vanessa McCracken. They have had a shop in Fresno since 2010, and just recently opened a new one in Reedley. Sunnyside does so much more than just sell great bikes, so we took some time to sit down with Vanessa and chat about their stores and what they offer.
KRL: What are each of your roles at the shops?
Vanessa: We are owner operators, so we do it all. John is the service writer and head mechanic at the Reedley store, in addition to sales, purchasing, receiving, merchandising, and teaching clinics at both shops. I handle the payroll, bookkeeping, and marketing, in addition to sales, leading rides, teaching clinics, and outreach at both stores. We also get to do fun stuff like clean toilets and wash windows, of course.
KRL: When did you open your first bike shop & where?
Vanessa: John’s first bike shop was Sanger Bicycles in the late 1980s-early 1990s, but the first shop the two of us opened together was in Madera in 2002. We had taken a Sunday drive and were talking about where we saw ourselves in the future. John mentioned that he’d always wanted to open another bike shop, and the very next day he found a bike shop for sale in the classifieds. We went in to talk to the owner and took over operations three weeks later.
KRL: When did you open the Fresno store?
Vanessa: We moved our store to Sunnyside in 2010 to be closer to our families. John grew up in Tivy Valley and lots of his family still lived out there, and my family was in the Sunnyside/Sanger area. We work crazy hours, so being as close to family as possible is the only way we get to see them!
KRL: What inspired you to want to own a bike shop?
Vanessa: At the time, we just didn’t feel like we were getting treated well as customers. John grew up riding and racing bikes, but I didn’t really ride other than recreationally as a kid until I started riding with John. I remember being mortified because the bike shop guy laughed at me for putting the gloves on upside down when I tried them on. I was so humiliated and discouraged. We wanted to open a shop where cyclists and non-cyclists would feel comfortable and welcomed, and we wanted to encourage and empower people to ride and not embarrass and humiliate them.
KRL: What makes your shops different from others?
Vanessa: Our mission is to educate, empower, and inspire as many people as possible to ride bikes as often as possible, and to use the power of bicycles to build up, engage, and support our local community. These aren’t just words we say, these are words that we absolutely live by. And it’s not just our mission – each member of our staff shares our vision and has a passion for helping as many people as possible discover the joy and freedom of riding bikes. I think people see our authenticity and recognize that everyone at Sunnyside Bicycles has a love not just of bicycles, but of getting as many people as possible to ride as often as possible. Our genuine passion definitely sets us apart.
We also believe in community, and in the power of bikes to build community. If you think about it at a very basic level, we are much more inclined to smile and wave and acknowledge each other when we are passing by on a bicycle versus in a car. I know neighbors who lived on the same street for years without knowing each other who became great friends after meeting on a bike ride. It’s a very basic connection that has the power to unite big groups of people, as evidenced by something as simple as our shop’s bike ride to eat breakfast together. Once a month, we invite our customers to join us for a ride to eat breakfast at a local cafe. We regularly get 65-75 people show up for this ride, and all we’re doing is riding to breakfast! It’s been amazing to see such a diverse group of people come together and find commonality over their love of bicycles (ok, and maybe waffles, too), and it’s just remarkable to watch lifelong friendships develop from this ride.
It’s important to us that we give back to the community, and we’re super proud of how much support our customers have given to all of our various charity drives over the years. Whether it’s collecting books or blankets for the less fortunate, or a food drive to help neighbors, or a simple raffle to raise funds for local charities, we are always blown away by the generosity of our customers (our Sunnysiders). Another thing we do that our customers have really embraced is donate 10% of all Sunnyside Bicycles-branded apparel to local charities as our thank you. We try to tie everything we do back to bikes and give our customers a little extra incentive to give, and it’s worked. Over the years, we’ve collected hundreds of blankets for the homeless, thousands of books for kids in need, a ton of food for the local food bank, and thousands of dollars for local and national charities. We are excited to do more of the same here in Reedley.
KRL: Are you originally from Fresno?
Vanessa: Actually, both of us grew up attending Sanger schools and graduated from Sanger High School a year apart. (But we didn’t know each other in high school – isn’t that weird?) John grew up in Tivy Valley and went to Centerville, while I grew up in Sunnyside and went to Lone Star. John actually attended Immanuel High School his freshman year before transferring to Sanger High.
KRL: Have you owned other businesses or had other professions before this?
Vanessa: John owned and operated Sanger Bicycles while in high school. (His mom ran it in the morning until he got out of school in the afternoon.) Prior to opening our shop in Madera, he was a welder and also sold motorcycles at Clawson Motorsports. My background is in education. I graduated from Fresno State with degrees in Liberal Studies and Linguistics and was working at Dataworks Educational Research as a Lead Curriculum Calibrator prior to quitting to work at the bike shop full time.
KRL: What do you offer at your shop beyond selling bikes?
Vanessa: The obvious answer is that we sell all the accessories and apparel to make riding your bike more fun and more comfortable, and we also repair bikes. But we do so much more than that. We really try to do everything we can to get you out riding more. We teach clinics to help people feel more confident and empowered on the bike. We hold flat repair clinics so our customers won’t be stranded on the side of the road. We teach a Bikes 101 course that goes over all the different types of bikes and what the levels and gears do so people won’t be intimidated to try.
We lead a monthly Breakfast Ride to encourage rides to meet new people and find new riding partners. We lead short fun rides to encourage families to get out and ride. We lead rides for more experienced riders who want to push a little harder and ride a little farther. We’ll ride with customers on test rides so they feel safe and we can show them the ropes. We sit on the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee so that we can make cycling safer and more accessible in town. We are on the board of directors for the Fresno County Bicycle Coalition so that we can help educate area cyclists. We are League of American Bicyclists-certified instructors so we can teach cyclists how to ride safely in town. We don’t just sell you a bike and send you on your way. We try to do everything we can to give you the tools to ride more often, more confidently.
KRL: When did you get the idea to open a shop in Reedley and why?
Vanessa: We actually weren’t planning to open a second location at all until Paula called us on April 3 to tell us Bobby was retiring and that she and Bill were going to have a space available if we wanted to open a second store in Reedley. We have always loved Reedley and its community, and we love how bikeable everything here is. We came very close to buying Bike Trax from Bill and Paula years ago but it wasn’t feasible since our store was still in Madera at the time. The timing just seemed right this time. We had been planning to expand the Fresno store and got the call just as we were preparing to sign the paperwork. We have a great team of people able to keep the Fresno store running smoothly and we really felt like we couldn’t say no to the opportunity to serve the Reedley community twice!
KRL: Are both of your shops the same?
Vanessa: Both shops definitely have the same mission and vision. We will carry a little different inventory at each location, though, which will be the biggest difference. The Reedley location is so much bigger than the Fresno store and that affords us a little more flexibility in what we stock.
KRL: What are the locations of both shops and hours?
Vanessa: The Fresno store is at 6105 E. Kings Canyon, next to Gb3 at the corner of Kings Canyon and Fowler. (It’s about as close to Reedley as you could get and still be in Fresno.) Fresno hours are Tuesday through Friday from 10-7, Saturday from 9-5, Sunday 12-5 and closed Monday. The Reedley store is at 1760 11th St. between G and I, right off the bike trail. Reedley hours are Tuesday through Friday from 9:30-6, Saturday from 9-4 and closed Sunday and Monday.
KRL: Do you think it will be a challenge running both?
Vanessa: We know there will be a learning curve as we adapt to managing two locations, but we don’t anticipate it being an overwhelming challenge. We have a phenomenal team of people in Fresno and we have complete trust in them and our systems to keep things going smoothly.
KRL: When did you open the Reedley shop and do you have a date for your grand opening yet?
Vanessa: We opened for business on June 16. We could have used a couple more weeks to finish renovations and completely unpack, but we felt horrible turning away people who needed their bikes fixed. It’s the beginning of summer – people want their bikes fixed! So we opened up a little prematurely so that we could help them. We don’t have a date for our grand opening yet, but we will soon. People can follow our Facebook page or website for updates, and sign up for our monthly(ish) email newsletter that lists all our special events, clinics and rides.
KRL: Any special events coming up you are involved in?
Vanessa: We’re excited to be running a free bike valet every Wednesday evening this summer during the Farmers Market. We want to eliminate whatever hurdle keeps people off their bikes. If not wanting to find a place to lock up your bike keeps you from riding your bike downtown, then let us park it and keep an eye on it for you! Because our goal is to encourage everyone to bring out their bikes and ride downtown every week, we will enter everyone who uses the bike valet this week into a drawing to win free stuff AND give them a $10 gift certificate to our store. We’ve also worked out an arrangement with our friends at Valentino’s Italian Restaurant where riders can show them their orange bike valet wristband and get a free appetizer with their meal. We are pretty excited about seeing everyone ride out Wednesday nights!
KRL: What is it that makes you love bikes so much that you wanted to sell them?
Vanessa: There is a true sense of freedom and independence that we feel when we are on our bikes, and we just want as many people as possible to experience that feeling as possible. We love what we do. We get to share in so many wonderful experiences that people have all because of something as simple as a bicycle. From the mom who rode her bike 16 miles with her sons for the first time on our Breakfast Ride to the dad who finished his first Climb to Kaiser (155 miles, 15000 feet of climbing) to the woman who raced her bike across America – we get to share in the joy and empowerment these customers feel as they accomplish their goals.
KRL: Do you think bikes have become more popular due to the cost of fuel and a concern for the environment?
Vanessa: We do notice a bump in interest every time there is a surge in gas prices for sure. One of the greatest things about Reedley is that so much is accessible by bicycle. We have truly run 95% of our errands in Reedley by bicycle. It would be very easy for someone in Reedley to add a few trips here and there by bike versus car to save money on fuel.
KRL: Anything else you would like to add?
Vanessa: We just want to say thank you to everyone for welcoming us so warmly to Reedley. People have been extremely kind and gone out of their way to stop by and wish us well. We are overwhelmed with gratitude and will continue to work hard to earn everyone’s business!
Vanessa will be doing an occasional bike tips column for us–the first one will be the end of August! And watch for some Sunnyside Bicycles coupons!