Hellertown Bike Shop’s new owner is a familiar face

East. Reading time: 4 minutes

Saucon Valley Bikes in Hellertown has established itself as one of the best bikers in the Lehigh Valley area. The company was recently sold by founder Steve LaBrake to friend and former employee, Joel Nankman of Hellertown.

“El presidente se ha ido. Long live the president. (Translation: “The President is gone. Long live the President.”)

Those words could rightly be placed over the door of Saucon Valley Bikes in Hellertown, which has just undergone an unprecedented transition in its nearly 25-year history.

Founder and longtime owner, Saucon Valley Bikes’ President Steve LaBrake recently sold the company he founded in Hellertown in 1999 to a friend and former employee, Joël Nankman, a resident of the borough.

Nankman is well known to many of the store’s customers from his years on the job and through an extensive network of connections he has in the cycling community.

Along with his wife, Jessica, Nankman writes a personal cycling blog. He also wrote for Ride a bike magazine and with Jessica has raced for major bike brands such as Giant.

A vet in Easton, Jess grew up in Northampton and met Joel on a trip to St Maarten, she explained.

Originally from Suriname, Joël lived on the Caribbean island at the time, while Jessica attended a veterinary school not far from there in Saint Kitts.

When she had a puncture during a ride around Saint-Martin, Joël stepped in to help fix it and the couple quickly bonded over a shared love of cycling.

After racing for a pro team in the Netherlands, Joel eventually joined Jess in moving to his native Lehigh Valley, where one day in 2009 he entered Saucon Valley Bikes out of curiosity.

“Joёl had a warm feeling, like coming home with something he knew, when he first entered SVB,” notes his staff biography on the store’s website. “He quickly became a regular in the store and a normal sight on the Wednesday night rides.”

Joёl started working there soon after, and the rest, as they say, is bike shop history.

Buying Saucon Valley Bikes was exciting but also a bit stressful, Joёl said, because his professional background didn’t include extensive experience running a retail business.

“It’s slowly getting exciting,” he said of his property, which went official earlier this month.

As part of the sale agreement, LaBrake will remain a full-time staff member for next year, and part-time thereafter. This will help ensure a smooth transition, both men said.

With the succession, customers won’t notice any difference in their experience at the store, where business has boomed since the COVID pandemic inspired many Americans to get out and discover — or rediscover — recreational hobbies like bicycling.

Joёl said the cycling industry is still affected by manufacturing and supply chain issues that began during the pandemic amid increased demand; The problems which he says have been exacerbated by the fact that there are no manufacturers of shifting components or bicycle tires in the United States, which has created a bottleneck in the production process.

Despite this – and despite the higher price of bikes due to record inflation – sales show no signs of slowing and sales of e-bikes in particular continue to be robust, he said, noting that a few well-established bike shops in Lehigh Valley have recently closed.

Local trail networks continue to grow, and the store’s proximity to the nearby Saucon Rail Trail has also helped it cultivate a loyal customer base that extends far beyond Hellertown.

In addition to bikes, Saucon Valley Bikes also sells a wide range of cycling clothing and accessories, with the shop catering to individuals and families of all skill levels. Bike repairs and maintenance are carried out on site by a trained team on the lower level of the building.

Jess Nankman is the Brand Ambassador for LIV Bikes and as such runs clinics for female riders at Saucon Valley Bikes throughout the year. She said the clinics empowered participants by giving them more confidence. That confidence comes from learning everything from how to dress for rides to how to fix an apartment on their own.

She said she would continue to host the clinics, which are advertised on the store’s website.

On the occasion of the disappearance of President Steve’s torch to Joёl, there will be a “Welcome Home” party at Saucon Valley Bikes this Saturday, August 27 during regular business hours (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.). The store is located at 824 Main Street, Hellertown, Pennsylvania.

Refreshments will be provided and there will be a wheelie contest, with participants invited to see if they can “out-wheelie” Joёl.

More information about the event can be found on the Saucon Valley Bikes Facebook page.

Saucon Valley Bikes Shop Hellertown

Joёl Nankman and his wife Jessica are often joined on bike rides by their dog Clifford, who is now Saucon Valley Bikes’ de facto mascot. Nankman recently purchased the store from founder Steve LaBrake, who will remain on staff for a transition period. A former full-time store employee, Saucon Valley Bikes will celebrate the passing of the reins to Joёl with a “Welcome Home” party this Saturday, August 27 during regular store hours from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.