Exactly two years after he died, Andy Jordan’s friends and family will do what the local legend loved to do most — ride bikes.
The date of the inaugural Flow Master race, a 20-mile cross-country mountain bike race at the world famous Forks Area Trail System (FATS) course, was a complete accident, said Andy’s son Drew.
“The race is going to be on October 21, of all dates,” chuckled Drew, who took over ownership of Andy Jordan’s Bicycle Warehouse downtown after his father died on October 21, 2015. “It was kind of funny. When me and Paul, the guy from SORBA (the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association) who is helping me with the race, kept tossing dates around, it always kept coming back to that one. I was like, ‘This is too much.’”
The date may have been a bittersweet but (somewhat) happy accident, but the reason behind the race is one that falls right into the bike shop’s wheelhouse, if you will. Whether it’s setting up DIY bike repair stations along local trails, holding group rides and maintenance clinics for cyclists of all types and abilities, or volunteering to do bike maintenance at local races, community service has always been an important component of Andy Jordan’s business model.
Flow Master, which costs $50 and is limited to 125 riders, is no different. The money raised will go straight to SORBA-CSRA, a local group that created and FATS, a system that has earned the International Mountain Biking Association’s Eric Trail status.
“FATS is an absolute gem of a trail for us,” Drew said. “There’s people from all over coming to ride those trails. A couple of weeks ago we had this group from southern Florida coming up to ride. We see that group a few times a year, actually. And a few weeks prior to that there were some guys from Pennsylvania out riding it. So there are people coming to ride FATS from all over the region and the country.”
In the past few seasons, however, the 37 miles of trail in Sumter National Forest near Clarks Hill, S.C., has been showing signs of wear.
“We’ve had some hard winters where it was real wet and didn’t have time to dry out, and maybe some people went out there and rode anyway and that ends up expediting the erosion process and you get more ruts forming on the trail and more exposed rocks and roots that you might not expect,” he explained. “So the local club, SORBA, they’re raising money to resurface the trail and, hopefully, even add a little more to the trail.”
The trails are free for all — cyclists, runners, hikers — to use, but SORBA also has a strong community involvement ethic, so Drew felt it was a good way for him to give something back.
“I’ve always wanted to put a race on out there and this was kind of the motivation I needed, knowing they were trying to raise money,” he said. “I like riding out there and everybody in the store does, too, so it’s a good way to sort of earn my turn, so to speak.”
Speaking of earning his turn, Drew has definitely done so at Andy Jordan’s, a store in which he literally grew up.
Opened by a businessman from Columbia, S.C., Andy Jordan took over the shop in 1974. The store was in his possession for three years when Drew was born, and he says his earliest memory is doing what virtually every kid who comes into their 13th Street location can’t resist doing.
“I just remember being in here and riding bikes around the store,” he laughed. “It’s something every kid likes to do.”
“I don’t know what it is about this building, but as soon as they come in here, they want to start running around, getting bikes down and riding around.”
That was when he was 5 or 6 years old and racing BMX bikes, and the shop was always the place to be before practice or weekend races. That was in the early 1980s, when Drew said BMX teams would tour the country, set up ramps and do tricks for crowds.
“There’s this documentary on the history of BMX called ‘Joe Kid on a Stingray.’ It came out many years ago, but I remember sitting down and watching that and having to hit rewind and re-watch it because our store was actually in that and it was from when one of the teams had come to town to do a show,” Drew said. “We used to have shows on the side of the building in the alleyway. They would set up big ramps and just put on a show for an hour or so, have someone playing music and guys just doing tricks. I remember those days for sure, back in the heyday of BMX, and skateboarding was also getting really big at the time. In fact, one of our local artists who’s now pretty famous, Paul Pearman, he used to skate for my dad back in those same days.”
Drew also remembers doing demo races and shows at the roller-skating rinks, but it’s odd things about the past that come back to him without warning.
“It’s kind of funny the little things you remember,” he said, smiling. “The store was a lot of little rooms then instead of one big open space and I just came across a picture the other day of the old floor. You can actually see it on some of the areas where they’ve stained the floor, you can see where the old tiles were. I remember those tiles. It was just all these old-school, checkerboard, 12 by 12 tiling.”
As the shop grew and evolved, so did Drew’s role in the store. What started as just hanging around, “being a pain in everybody’s butt, I’m sure,” turned into actual work during his high school years. He had a difficult time convincing the folks at Richmond Academy of that, though.
“They had OJT, so you could leave school a little early if you had a job to go to,” Drew remembers. “When they found out that I was going to be working for my dad, they were really giving me a lot of flack about it. So I had to fill out all this paperwork and they would call down here to see if I was actually here. They just assumed that since I was working in the family business, I wasn’t really working in the family business, but I was. I would probably argue that working for your family is a little harder than working for the guy at the fast-food restaurant.”
Drew continued to work at the shop part-time throughout college and, during that time, it was his father who tried to talk him out of making the bike shop a career. Citing the stress of owning a business, Andy encouraged Drew to branch out. As much as Drew tried, however, it only seemed like there was one place he was meant to be.
“My junior and senior years was when I tried to picture myself doing something else, picture myself at a corporate positions or something like that, and I never could get that vision. I almost had this calling to be here,” he said. “So in ’99, I graduated from Augusta State, walked across the stage, then walked through the door here and was full-time from that point on.”
When you’re 40 years old and the bike shop you’ve been involved in has been around for 43 years, chances are you’ve seen your fair share of change. That’s especially true in the bike biz, Drew says.
“You used to have a road bike, a mountain bike, a BMX bike, a kids bike,” he explained. “Now, you have a road bike that’s almost a mountain bike, mountain bikes that are almost road bikes and everything in between. It’s way more specialized, no pun intended (Specialized is one of the three brands of bikes they sell, along with Giant and Liv). People have very specific needs for the riding they want to do.”
And bikes are big, taking up a lot of space in a store. They’ve found an inventive way of storing bikes, hanging them from the ceiling, but they also do their research.
“We try to do some of the shopping for you ahead of time,” he explained. “We look at all the road bikes, the mountain bikes, the hybrid and comfort bikes, and try and figure out which bikes make the most sense and have those bikes in stock. We do special order a lot of stuff for people, because you can’t have every single bike available in here, as much as our vendors would like us to do that, but we have a lot of stuff where you can walk in and ride out. The same goes for parts. We stock the stuff that we feel make the most sense and then whatever we have to special order, we do.”
More than a decade ago, Andy Jordan’s went to a computerized inventory management and point of sale system, something the store’s namesake was none too thrilled about.
“He was not too excited about it, to say the least,” Drew laughed. “And it took a few years for me to ease him into the idea of it. But once we had a few years’ worth of data under our belts, he said, ‘Okay. You were right.’ He loved running reports. I mean, I would have to run them for him and we would sit down and look at them together.”
“He hated the computer at first. Honestly, he probably hated the computer the entire time he was here, but he liked the information it provided you with.”
“I honestly don’t know how he did it as long as he did straight off of gut.”
Since implementing the system, stock duplication has decreased dramatically and that data that Andy loved so much shows Drew exactly what’s selling and what isn’t.
The internet hasn’t always made life easier, however. Not only are you out of luck if the wi-fi or power goes out, but customers are flooded with information and deals. Drew admits there’s no way a small business like Andy Jordan’s can match internet pricing.
“And we are very transparent with our customers about that,” he said. “I’ll tell someone that there’s no way I can match that price, but here’s all the stuff you get when you get it from us. If you buy something from us, you might pay a little bit more for it, but if something needs touched up on it, we’re going to look out for you and do our best to get you back running as soon as possible. There are a lot of little things after the sale that you’re going to get from a local shop versus buying stuff on the internet. You’ve got someone who’s going to have your back.”
Technology isn’t the be all, end all at Andy Jordan’s and, over the years, they’ve kept loyal customers as much through their commitment to service as they have by the quality products they offer. And we’re not just talking about knowledgeable salespeople and a bike service and repair department that can pretty much work magic, although they do have that. We’re talking about a commitment to the cycling community. Not only was Andy Jordan one of the biggest supporters of Wheel Movement when the bicycle safety and education organization formed in 2011, but the goal of every employee is to give each cyclist the best experience possible.
They do this through everything from custom bike fittings, with options that range from a one-hour session to a Body Geometry fitting that can take three hours, to hosting bike maintenance clinics. They offer weekly group rides, as well as a women’s only ride, hosted by Drew’s wife Kim, once every four to six weeks.
Check the “Maps & Rides” section of the store’s website (listed below) to find out more about group rides.
Andy Jordan’s also makes a point of volunteering at races such as the Ironman 70.3 Augusta triathlon held each September. But the preparation for that, and other races, happens way before the event itself. Now, Drew says, is about the time Ironman athletes will begin serious training, which means many trips to the shop to make sure bikes are in top working order. And out of town athletes will often ship their bikes to the store, where the shop’s staff will reassemble and tune them up before the athletes compete.
It’s a lot of work and, ironically enough, work that often keeps Drew from riding.
“A lot of people think that since I own a bike shop I ride all the time; unfortunately, it’s not exactly true,” he admits. “But Kim does a good job of telling me when I need to ride my bike. I’ll come home stressed out or be working on my day off and she’ll say, ‘Go ride your bike.’”
The connection with the cycling community makes it all worthwhile, though.
“The cool thing is, when people are walking through our door, they’re excited to come in here, they want to be in here,” he said. “There’s a lot of people who like being here so much they stop by just to hang out.”
“It’s like their third place, so to speak. You know, you’ve got home, you’ve got work and what’s that third place? For some people it might be a bar, but for a lot of our customers and friends it’s here.”
“That’s pretty cool and it’s pretty flattering when you sit back and think about it.”
So, at the upcoming FATS Flow Master mountain bike race, consider raising a water bottle to Andy Jordan, whose legacy continues 43 years after he first opened his doors.
FATS Flow Master
Forks Area Trail System, Clarks Hill, S.C.
Saturday, October 21
Sign-in, 7 a.m.; race, 9 a.m.