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INNOVATIVE HAPPENINGS APRIL 2012

THE GROFFS AND CYCLING
by Joan Gough

There were no mountain bikes in Moab in 1982 and no mountain bikers. That was to change shortly because two brothers, laid off from their jobs with the mining industry, didn’t see themselves in suits and ties in the city. William (Bill) and Robin Groff, along with their father John, looked around Moab and said, “Let’s open a bike shop.” Of course, that wasn’t all of the story.

Bill Groff

John, Bill and Robin were all working in the uranium business when it collapsed in the early eighties. By 1981 Bill had been laid off from his piloting job with Clayton Stocks mining company. Robin worked a little longer in the industry at Ticaboo, a mining town near Lake Powell, and John was soon laid off from the Atlas Corporation milling plant in Moab. While laid off, Bill was riding European style racing bikes with a friend, Lonnie Hass, and they talked about the need for a bicycle repair shop in Moab. Bill was fixing bikes gratis in his garage for friends. On a trip to Salt Lake, Bill stopped into a shop and, arms loaded with merchandise, was standing at the counter. “I couldn’t get anybody to wait on me--they were all too busy sitting around in the back room chatting up each other. I walked out and said to myself, ‘I’ll show you how to run a bike shop.’”

John Groo and Robin Groff

“I came home and talked Robin and my dad, John, into starting the shop. We each invested $2,000.00.” Robin recalls that they discussed starting with a repair business out of Bill’s house, but with some good business advise, decided to go straight to “main street.” They talked to Skip Nightengale of First Western National Bank about a repossessed building on the corner of 100 West and 100 North. Skip gave them a good deal on the rent in exchange for some sweat equity. They spent two months fixing it up and opened in July. Bill remembered, “Ross Bikes was the only company who would talk to us, so we started with six bikes, some posters and parts.” At this time they carried and repaired traditional road bikes.

“We advertised in Bicycling Magazine out of Pennsylvania,” Bill recalled. “We had checked their listing of shops by state in the back of the magazine and there wasn’t a single shop listed for Utah. Our ad read, ‘The finest bike shop in Southeast Utah.’ That brought the Europeans into the shop who were road biking through this area. It was also what brought John Groo to Moab.” Groo and the Groff’s started the first tour company operating out of Moab. They called it Rim Tours. Years later, Kirsten Peterson and Matt Hebberd bought out the Groffs and moved their operation to South Highway 191.

“About a year and half after we opened the shop, mountain bikes started to appear. When we saw them, we decided that was the way for us to go.” This was how Robin recalled it. Bill has a slightly different memory, “Robin said, ‘This is the bike for here.’ I said, ‘It will never last.’ Well, obviously, I was proven wrong.”

The brothers started advertising and going to bike conventions--the big one was in Long Beach. They got to know the people just getting into making the new frames and parts. Robin characterized it as “a vibrant, young industry, very different from the structured, high-end European companies.” He also loved recalling the great parties they crashed. “We invited the mountain bike people to ride in Moab, gave them T-shirts and handed out flyers. The early frame designers and builders started to come to Moab.

10 Years Later

A decade ago, folks around here,
Gave up the ghost, and cried in their beer.
Mining was out, and so were the jobs,
And many surrendered to all but their sobs.

But the Brothers Groff, didn’t follow the rest;
They didn’t move out; they just did their best
to calculate the odds, and then take a long shot.
And, the business they began has become something hot.

They promoted the red rocks for those on a bike
And, along with those folks came others to hike.
The Fat Tire Festival is a thing to behold
And, the greenbacks it brings spread faster than gold.

The shop on the corner of a Moab side street
Has today grown into the “local elite.”
What’s been good for the Groffs has been good for the town.
The boys took the profits and spread them around.

They donate to most causes and treat their own good.
They educate their clients as more of us should
To treat our backyards with ultimate care
So, years ahead there’ll be beauty there.

Ten years have past and the town’s now well set
But, with the success let us never forget
That if the Brothers Groff had just cried in their beer,
None of us gathered tonight would be here.

Donna Brownell
7-3-93


Robin and Bill met Hank Barlow and Kimberly Schappert in Crested Butte (the Moab of Western Colorado mountain biking). They were just starting Mountain Bike Magazine. After riding the Slick Rock Bike Trail, Hank decided to use a photo he took of the Moab Valley from the trail for the premier issue. It was a wrap around cover, a “stunning photo”, as Bill described it, and “the beginning.”

1986 Fat Tire Poster
The poster was designed by a young local artist, Serena Supplee. for the 1986 Fat Tire Festival.

If the feature in Mountain Bike was the beginning, the Halloween party that year clinched the deal. Hank wrote it up in the magazine and said they would do it again the next year and dubbed it a festival. The first year of the Fat Tire Festival was 1986. The poster was designed by a young local artist, Serena Supplee. See poster to the left.

The guest lists of the Festivals reads like a who’s who of the biking industry: riders Lance Armstrong (just 14 years old), Ned Overend and Sara Ballantyne; frame builders Joe Breeze, Scott Nicol, Gary Klien, Sky Yeagar, Gary Fisher, Tom Richie; plus Matt Hebberd (Wilderness Trail Bikes), the Brownings of Browning Research, Ashley Kornblat from the board of Merlin Bikes (now owner of Western Spirit Cycling Adventures), and Gary Halporidge, pioneer of titanium welding, to name some.

As business started to pick up in Moab, Robin spoke on economic development locally and on the Western Slope in Colorado. “If you can get young people here, they’ll like the area and they’ll come here to retire, but right now we don’t have the infrastructure to attract retirees. Today”, he said, “we have developed better infrastructure such as the new hospital.”

A lot has happened between the first Fat Tire Festival and today including a major fire, building expansion, establishment of Rim Supply which John ran until his death in 2002. The businesses were always a family affair. Nancy, Robin and Bill’s mother, worked the desk for years, LaVona, Bill’s wife, was and continues to be the accountant. Currently, the businesses are managed and staffed by the next generation of Groffs--Kelby, Jasper, Tessa and Jessica.

Today there are five bike shops in Moab, three major multi-day tour companies, and numerous daily tour and shuttle companies. There are also other shops specializing in equipment Rim Cyclery once provided for the community--climbing gear, outdoor gear, T-shirts and even snow shoe rentals. What the Groff’s started with creativity, a perfect range of skills in the family, and determination has grown into a healthy chunk of the economy of Moab.

 
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