A Montana Adventure

By Beacon Staff

“I’ve always loved bicycles,” Renny Johnson said. “All aspects of them. As a kid, I used to ride my little BMX bike all over, stopping at the bike shops to tune it up and just talk bikes with the folks that sold and fixed them.” Renny and his wife, Sarah, own Montana Adventure Sports, a shop on Electric Avenue that sells and repairs all manner of sports equipment, including skis, snowboards, paddle boards and backpacks. But it’s known for its bicycles.

It takes more than the prospect of exercise to draw me into a shop selling equipment designed for that purpose. This time it was curiosity. I knew Renny’s shop by reputation, that of having bicycles that cost more than some cars. And I was curious why.

“It’s a somewhat misleading reputation,” he told me. “Yes, we have bicycles that sell for over $9,000, but the majority of bikes we sell fall into the $500-to-$2,000 range. At the high end, you get a bike that’s custom fitted to you. It’s like buying a custom-tailored suit. You choose the style, the ride characteristics and the aesthetics, right down to the finishes and the decals. It’s a lot like customizing a hotrod or a motorcycle. But that’s just one side of our lineup. I love vintage bicycles, too, and we’re also into full-service restoration of those.”

Vintage bicycles? “Yeah, the bikes we rode as kids; the bikes our parents rode as kids. An AMF Roadmaster, for example. Or a Schwinn Stingray.” I remember the Stingray; pretty radical for my taste, at the time. “Someone is cleaning out Dad’s garage and finds this vintage bicycle and wonders what to do with it, so they bring it in to us. We can, in many cases, make it look and ride like new. It takes special equipment and knowledge to do that and, in that respect, we’re kind of unique.”

And what kind of bike does Renny ride? “I’ve ridden the whole range, from vintage steel-frame bikes to the high-end composite ones. And to some extent, the type of bike depends on your need. Personally, I like to think of the bicycle as a great form of transportation. A great way to commute to work, or to the grocery store.”

Renny and Sarah have been connected to the valley for some time. Renny’s parents run a horse training and boarding facility here, and have for almost 18 years. But what inspired Renny and Sarah to open a business in Bigfork? “I was working in Chicago as head of the construction design department of U.S. Cellular. Sarah was working as an attorney in California. We’d been married in Bigfork 10 years earlier, so we were familiar with the town. But then we visited family here a couple Christmases ago and it hit us, ‘What a wonderful, quaint little town.’ We designed our logo that evening at the Tamarack Brewery and I went back to Chicago and put a business plan together. We opened Montana Adventure Sports on June 3, 2012.”

Just like that? “Well, we’d been thinking about leaving the corporate world for a while, and thinking about a sports store, but hadn’t found a place to put it. California was already full, in terms of this kind of store. But then we found Bigfork, with all the opportunities and none of the shops. And we liked the fact that it has a solid year-round population and that most of the key stores are open all year.”

A couple of things catch your attention as you walk into Renny’s store. First, it’s remarkably uncluttered and you can walk from one end to the other without knocking something over. And second, as you walk in, you’re greeted by the sight and aroma of a full-service espresso bar. A California thing? “It’s really a European thing, which more and more shops are picking up. But that’s not why I did it.” No? “I just like the way it warms the shop up, both physically and aesthetically. And did I mention? I’m also a trained barista.”

Montana Adventure Sports is located in the middle of Bigfork at 439 Electric Avenue. Its website is www.MtAdventureSports.com. And yes, it’s open all year.

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