Saturday, February 25, 2023

Frostbike Remembered

(L-R) Jason Boucher, GT, Ari Andonopouolous. Image by Ari.
As this probably would have been the traditional weekend for Frostbike, I thought it might be fun to share some things I remember about this event. 

Of course, it was an industry thing. You had to be a bicycle shop employee, owner of a bicycle shop, or related to the industry through a brand that Quality Bicycle Products carried to attend this deal. It was something a lot of us in the Mid-West looked forward to every year during the long, cold, mostly slow business days of Winter. Frostbike represented a marking of Spring soon to come, better times, and most importantly, a chance to see some people you wouldn't have seen otherwise the rest of the year.

Ostensibly started as an "open house", Frostbike used to happen on the same weekend that Island Bicycle Supply Company held their open house. You could hit both in a day if you were from out of town. That was a nice example of two competitors cooperating for the benefit of both entities. I attended a few of those "concurrent events" back in the 1990's and that was an amazing time to be a bike shop employee. If you had ever been in Island Supply's warehouse, as I had been from basement to attic, you know just how amazing and crazy that place was.

The original Vaya was presented as a touring bike, but it was quickly adopted by gravel riders. Seen here in 2010 at Frostbike.

The location where QBP was before their current location was a smaller place by a LOT, but I do recall going there and marveling at the then cutting edge rotating shelves. The parts picker would enter a computer code into a machine at the end of an aisle and then the whole aisle of shelving would rotate to bring the bin with the desired part to the parts picker, eliminating a lot of legwork and saving time.

Then J&B Importers bought Island Supply, rolled it into their nationwide network of warehouses, and that ended the era of concurring bicycle "open houses". QBP didn't take long to open a big new place, (where they are currently located in Bloomington, Minnesota), and their deal quickly took on the airs of a trade show with vendors putting up booths inside the warehouse to show things QBP was going to be carrying for dealers to order. 

The opening night of Angry Catfish's shop concurred with Frostbike so we went to the party.

The "trade show" aspect of Frostbike weekend grew in the early 2010's, but along with that a social aspect grew as well. Often times I would head up on Friday afternoon, stop in Northfield, Minnesota, and gather at Mike's Bikes for tomfoolery and fellowship. Then attending Frostbike the following day, and on Sunday. Usually there was some sort of social gathering planned for the Saturday evening that Frostbike was happening. Surly used to have this bonfire thing on the grounds of QBP, which I never made it to. However; I did get to a few "Cutter's Ball" events and the opening of Angry Catfish was another cool event that happened back then. 

Making laps inside of Mike's Bikes in Northfield, Minnesota is something I'll never forget.

Eventually all good things come to an end. Frostbike did as well. Once QBP opened regional warehouses the need to gather at one central location was lost. Then a leadership change at QBP signaled a more "business summit" take on Frostbike. The trade show aspect died, and along with that, the folks that used to attend stayed home. There was no good reason to go any longer, and so Frostbike just kind of faded away. 

Mike's Bikes closed up, and people moved on with Life and with the times. Since that period will never be replicated, I am really glad I was a part of those times. There were those 'races' inside Mike's, the Greek pizza, the laughs and the serious talks. The camaraderie felt amongst those in the cycling business at Frostbike. Seeing things I never would have seen. Hiding amongst the office desks upstairs in the office area at QBP to sneak into an invitation only party.  Being the guy that got Jason Boucher's Honda towed because I didn't understand Minneapolis' aggressive parking and towing policies. Hiding in shame in the famous One On One Bicycle Studio's basement in their original location. Driving to Frostbike and home from it in crazy blizzards and through ice and snow. 

And of course, the last time I went to Frostbike when I walked all night long through Minneapolis because my partner was too drunk to drive me to my motel room in Bloomington. That pretty much capped off a decade or so long run of craziness and was the end of going to Minneapolis in the Winter for a cycling related affair for 13+ years over the span of the 90's to the mid-2010's. 

Frostbike. I miss those times, and I'll never forget them.

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