As The Wheel Turns: Elevation Wheel
Updated: Jun 17, 2022
Chris Murray: Owner Elevation Wheel Company
If you are following along with the work we have been doing, Randy Connor, from our previous article, recommended we talk next to Chris Murray, owner of Elevation Wheel Co. I reached out to Chris this summer to see if he would want to be part of the Van Why project. Before we jump into his interview, I wanted to share a quick story.
September 2020, a small group of our friends set out to ride in Colorado for a week. Our first night we stopped to camp at the Land Between the Lakes near Paducah, KY. We set out for a quick ride before dinner to shake out the legs after the long drive. That short ride, on day one of a 10-day trip ended with one of our crew breaking a wheel.
In what could only be described as destiny, I called up Chris at Elevation Cycles, explained the issue, and without hesitation, he made sure we were taken care of before we headed to ride Buffalo Creek, CO. It also gave us a chance to get some photos of the shop. It just so happens that our crew with the broken wheel was Joey Werble, the photographer of this piece. The only thing missing was Chis, who was out leading a ride down Pikes Peak - a valid excuse.
Fast forward to October when Chris and I sat down to talk via Zoom. Without further ado, let's get to the interview:
I was a skateboarder first but got sick of little stones sending me flying. So I got into bikes. Raced BMX for a little bit, but then I found mountain biking on a TV show on OLN and just got really hooked on it from there.
Chris Murray's two-wheel adventures started with a Schwinn and his first mountain bike was Marin Muir Woods. Although he started in BMX, it was at a purpose-built bike park in Southeast Indiana that stoked his love for mountain bike trails. This was the place that helped really hone his skills. The park was ahead of the curve by 20 years. It was a revolutionary concept at the time, showcasing professionally built trails dedicated to MTB and BMX riders. And so the joy for riding was stoked and fueled into a lifetime passion for Chris, lucky kid to have grown up near that bike park in Indiana.
Post-college at the age of 20, Chris tagged along as his friend chased a girl to Knoxville, Tennessee, from his hometown in Indiana. Working several jobs in Knoxville, he landed at Harper's Bike Shop. It was here that he learned several valuable lessons, one of which was how to build a great set of wheels.
At one point I decided it would be a good idea to trade my car for a motorcycle. And then, sold my motorcycle to buy a bike, not considering the fact that I had a 40-mile commute, which ended in breaking spokes every week. Harpers was nice enough to let me build a wheelset and I never had another issue after that.
Chris then had the opportunity to move from Knoxville to work at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. He started in the venues department, then the Velodrome. It was here that he started building wheels out the back of his car, building for the teams, and doing some mobile mechanics in a van. Always on his own terms.
I realized anytime I got frustrated working in bike shops, it was never the job, it was always the boss.
He eventually crossed paths with trainer Andy Sparks. Andy was crucial in pushing Chris to form his own brick-and-mortar shop. This was the point when Chris had to decide to either go pro or open to open his own bike shop. Andy advised that “it’s always better to invest in yourself." This helped solidify Chris' concept into reality, and Elevation Wheel Company was born.
Chris' partner, Andy Sparks, runs Partners United training center in the back half of the shop while Chris and his team build wheels up front. On our visit to the shop, one of Andy's trainees was putting out 1900 watts on the trainer! Reading that sentence alone burns 500 calories. Being exposed to pro-level athletes is always an awakening and eternally impressive.
Chris was able to start his venture with little investment. He sought instruction from YouTube and Google. We tend to think chasing a dream requires a fortune, but it can be done with minimal investment. Just hustle. Run some numbers. Set goals. Commit and never stop improving.
I feel pressure to keep up with everything I have committed to. It keeps me anxious but focused. I am a believer in the idea that you have to be uncomfortable to grow.
And he has grown. Since opening in 2017, sales continue to grow with the majority coming from wheel builds and service. As we learned from Luke at FC Pedaler, excellent service will never go out of style. This has been a common theme within our projects at Van Why, taking care of your customers and employees is the key to a strong rotation of repeat customers.
We have a big emphasis on quality service. Shops can do a good job competing with online competition by focusing on service, and it will expose people who aren't genuine. Our shop has been consistently growing.
Typically, during the winter, Chris' bread and butter are the track cyclists' need in repairs. With the pandemic, however, the Velodrome was closed and that posed a risk for the shop. But all in all, Chris stays optimistic, seeing the balance of overhead and income as they both increased steadily over the year.
We don't carry much inventory, so the bigger shops benefited more from the pandemic. With parts in low supply, it was tricky to meet the demand. But, I did benefit from more people getting into the sport. More people started to ride, and therefore more people needed bikes fixed.
Within Elevation, Chris has built a community of riders and held races. Community-building has been another consistent theme within Van Why interviewees. In these insane times, staying in contact with a community has been paramount. While it has been harder, it is increasingly more critical.
When asked what the craziest thing has happened so far, he admits that owning his own business is a wild ride. And he wouldn't change a thing. Advice from Chris to anyone looking to chase a dream:
It’s not always a party. It’s gonna be hard work. Set a good direction, but be flexible. It is absolutely worth it. Be willing to push through those tough periods, and be willing to adjust. I think having specific expectations is a way to set yourself up for failure. You need to have a good direction and know where you want to go, but if you are too married to things following a specific path, you’ll drive yourself crazy.
We thank Chris for his time and for sharing his perspectives. If ever you find yourself near the Colorado Springs/Denver area, go see Chris and his shop (with a mask on during the pandemic, please). Even if it’s just to say hi, grab a coffee, and check out his collection of cycling paraphernalia.