There aren’t many bike shops anywhere that can claim a longer history than Owenhouse Cycling in Bozeman, Montana. Because over a century and a half ago, Owenhouse was an old timey general store that, to be honest, we’ve only ever seen in westerns. Selling saddles (for horses, not bikes). Farm stuff. Tractors. Big bags of sugar and grains (We made that part up, but probably!). Of course, way back in 1879, bicycles were a pretty hot new fangled tech. So, Owenhouse Hardware Co. sold those, too.
“We started selling bikes back in the late 1800s,” says Eric, the fourth generation in his family to run the shop. “That’s just where you bought bikes then. Over the years it’s grown from a little segment of our business into a full fledged bike shop.”
Despite Owenhouse not opening a full-fledged bike shop until the 90s, Eric grew up with a work experience that any current or former bike shop employee will know all too well.
“I was really young, 13 or 14. Breaking down cardboard, taking out garbage, sweeping floors.” The not-so-typical side of the story is how Eric ended up taking over the family business as his responsibilities grew. At the same time, Bozeman—a popular but still “secret gem” of an outdoor destination—was changing, too. “Bozeman’s always been changing. The outdoors has always been a part of Bozeman from the ski side, but more and more people were heading here for the riding.”
Bike shops weren’t new territory for Bozeman at that point. But the bike thing was working for Owenhouse. Sales were good. People were buying them. They had good brands on their side (Owenhouse picked up Rocky Mountain in the 1990s). So rather than wait for someone else to really blow up the space, Eric made the call to focus that 150 year old store way more on bikes. And if you’ve read any other articles in this series of shop features, you’ll recognize a trend that Eric picked up on: grow the community. So, Eric started a local cycling team.
“We realized there was a real need in Bozeman for a youth program. So we had this grassroots effort to become part of the bicycling community. From that came Bozeman Youth Cycling.”
Going into its fifth year, the program has seen massive growth. BYC now has 400 riders between its Youth and NICA program starting out as early as Grade 1 and through to high school.
“We love seeing whole families get involved. It starts with the kids, then some parents get going too, trying to stay ahead of their Grade five or Grade six kid.”
Change might be constant in Bozeman, but in Eric’s mind, that’s no bad thing. As the BYC program grows, as parents get into it, and as emerging riders learn solid foundations in trail etiquette and building, the vibe is infectious. Non-riders and a growing demographic of new riders have picked up on the vibe, and frequently pop their head into Owenhouse—talking about the positive experiences they’ve had with BYC members on a personal and community level. If you’ve ever visited Bozeman, it checks out. It might be one of the friendliest places in the world, and that quality has not been lost in translation.
150 years is a long time. No doubt, when Owenhouse transitioned to focus more on bikes instead of hardware store stuff, some folks were left disappointed (even though Owenhouse, to this day, still operates as a hardware store in addition to bike shop). And that makes sense. Change is complicated. But when done right, change can also create exciting, new, incredible things. In Eric and Owenhouse’s case, that’s manifested itself as a growing, friendly, excited community of riders, trial builders, parents, kids, and shop workers. And with miles and miles of fast, long, flowy trails in every direction (not to mention some stellar road riding), the future of bikes is bright in Bozeman—in large part thanks to one shop’s 150 story.