Eric Hawkins is the owner/CEO and Chief Mechanic at Park Tool Company the world’s largest manufacturer of specialty bicycle tools and fixtures. Raised in a bike shop, Eric’s career started assembling Sting Rays and Varsity(s) at his father’s shop in the mid 70’s then on to work at Park Tool starting in 1983. Park Tool was started by Eric’s father and a business partner out of the back of a bike shop in the mid 60’s and has now grown to include over 500 products and is distributed to bikes shops and home mechanics in over 75 countries.
We hope you enjoy this week's Banjo Brothers Five Things.
BANJO BROS: WHAT ARE YOU RIDING?
EH: I love a destination. A ride to me has to have a purpose, like getting to work or back home or to run some errands. My wife and I do our best to explore some of the trails around which is fun. The purpose of those rides has to end with lunch or a beer somewhere. If you want to read the other side of that it means I rarely just go for a ride. Purpose!
BANJO BROS: WHERE ARE YOU RIDING?
EH: Like pretty much all life long bike guys I’ve got a few spares in my stable but my favorites are: A heavily modified Salsa Fargo. Flat bars and narrower, more road worthy tires. It’s a perfect pack mule for my commute to Park Tool which is about 8 miles. Heavy, but I like how it feels and rides. My road bike is a ten-year-old Orbea Orca but again not original. We acquire lots of parts and components for our video and repair help work so I nabbed some Campy parts a while back. Thinking about upgrading this winter to some kind of electronic shifting. I still like the geometry of the frame and it’s always fun to get my hands dirty. I did get a Surly fattie last year but haven’t had much chance to ride it yet. I’m also a unicycle guy. I’ve got a 24” wheeled Schwinn and a 6 foot Schwinn Giraffe that I actually rode a little this past summer.
For me, working on bikes is just as, if not more satisfying than riding. I love to restore old bikes and build up new rides from the frame up. Today’s technology is just so cool….it’s hard not to get excited about working with the latest stuff.
My father was a Schwinn dealer so I grew up a shop rat during Schwinn’s glory years, the 60’s and 70’s. So, I’ve built a nice collection of mostly Schwinns from that era. I’m guessing that now numbers somewhere around a hundred bikes. Some have some value but mostly I’ve chosen bikes that mean something to me growing up hanging around the shop.
I love the whole idea of a bike shop. I love the smell and seeing the bikes in for repair and the mechanics. It’s a little slice of Americana. A small business where you go for advise and to see the cool gear in person and to have them fix your stuff.
BANJO BROS: WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO, READING OR WATCHING?
EH: I’m not much of a reader. I’d rather build something or fix something. Same goes for movies…not really something I’m a fan of although if I do watch a movie it has to be historical or with some action to it. That said, my wife is a huge movie nut, so in the end in the name of family harmony, I can be a good sport occasionally. No blogs. No podcast. No patience. I do still read the paper every day (on real paper no less). Still, like to hold it in my hands and turn the pages.
BANJO BROS: WHAT ARE YOU COOKING, EATING/DRINKING?
EH: I’m a big breakfast guy. I can eat it any time of day and I usually make it myself. My favorite is eggs poached in milk on toast, then the milk poured over the top. My mom always told me it had Scandinavian origins but even most Swedes I know think it sounds terrible. They can’t get over the soggy part. I love it. Other than that we eat a lot of chicken. My wife is a great cook always trying something new, which occasionally works out for me! I’m really not too adventurous. My fast food indulgences are take-out Chinese or a Sack of Whities.
BANJO BROS: WHAT'S STUCK IN YOUR CRAW?
EH: I don’t really get riled up about much (my personal opinion of myself) but here are a few things that I’ve been thinking about lately:
On-line Comments: Really? You just took the time and energy to make that stupid observation? Feel better about yourself now?
Bike Shops: I love the whole idea of a bike shop. I love the smell and seeing the bikes in for repair and the mechanics. It’s a little slice of Americana. A small business where you go for advice and to see the cool gear in person and to have them fix your stuff. There aren’t many retailers in other industries like that anymore. While it's easy and sometimes cheaper to shop online I worry about bike shops now and really all brick and mortar retailers. In the end, the good ones will survive and flourish as they keep adapting to a changing world. I tell people who ask my bike advice to find a bike shop you like…there’s no substitute for that personal contact…..and that bike shop smell!
Tariffs: Don’t get me going. O.K., just a few thoughts. Even though we import very little from China, the local price we pay for steel and aluminum has gone up anywhere from 10-100% over the past 10 months. Tariffs were put on basically all imported steel and aluminum, not just from China. So even though we’re making 80% of our parts in America we’re getting pounded with higher material costs making it harder for us to compete especially in other countries. In the end, it’s harder now than ever to make products in America.
It seems non-industry people believe the bike industry is smokin’ hot. It’s green, they see the bike paths and the dedicated riders so they assume the sport and the industry are growing. Not true. Lots of discouraging numbers over the past few years. One reason we're not growing, in my opinion, is the lack of kids riding bikes. I’m gonna sound old but, when I was a kid we rode our bikes everywhere. School, baseball practice, friends houses, to the Tom Thumb for a bomb pop or just cruising around and jumping whatever we could find.
We need more kids on bikes without having to have a government program to do it. I love what NICA is doing with Jr. High and High School mountain bike riding and racing. Making it cool again to ride a bike. And it's getting their families involved too. Love that.
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MORE ABOUT THE FIVE THINGS INTERVIEWS FROM BANJO BROTHERS
A big Banjo Brothers thank you to Erick Hawkins for participating in this week's edition of Five Things. These short interviews about life and bicycles will appear every Friday on the Banjo Brothers Blog. If you liked this FIVE THINGS from Banjo Brothers you should check our full series of past five things interviews.
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