Bikes are Francesca DeRanzo’s world. For 10 years, she worked at bike shops or companies, including a brief but happy stint as an East Coast sales rep for the high-end bike manufacturer Specialized. In that time she also cycled across the U.S., exploring thousands of miles of trails and country roads. But then she tried separating her work from her passion, selling traffic signs for a Wichita-based company. It didn’t go well: She was miserable, and her coworkers didn’t get her obsession with two wheels. “I thought about how we spend most of our time working and sleeping, and the only thing we can change is where we work,” DeRanzo says.
She considered opening a bike shop but found a bricks-and-mortar loan daunting. That’s when she came across Velofix, a Vancouver-based mobile bike-repair franchise that lets her operate out of a custom van and work right in her customers’ driveways. Paying off a van seemed doable, so DeRanzo launched her Velofix venture in St. Louis in February.
Why St. Louis?
I used to pass through here while working for Specialized and was drawn to it. The cycling is fun, and winter is about 80 percent rideable — on the flat Mississippi River Trail for hundreds of miles, or drive 30 minutes and mountain bike in super-gnarly hills.
Why would someone choose Velofix over a normal bike shop?
No one is excited to put their bike on their car and take it to a shop. And bike shops can be booked up weeks out, so people miss a lot of time with their bikes. I’m open when the shops are not. People don’t have to change their schedule. There are many people who ride their bike to work and have me fix it at the office. I’ve also had people just give me their garage code and leave a check for me. When people need something last-minute, I can help them. Our motto is “Save time, ride more.”
Are the local shops mad that you’re poaching customers?
I’m not out to take over people’s customers. I’m out to create new cyclists, put people back on bikes, and inspire people to ride with their kids. I want them to call me to get the bikes in their garage in shape.
You own one of those old-timey bikes with the giant front wheel. What’s the deal with that?
I always wanted a high-wheeler bike, so I found an original from the late 1880s from the Western Toy Company out of Chicago. It’s the scariest, most fun thing to do! It’s like sitting on a friend’s shoulders and having them run around. I’m about 50/50 at getting on it. You have to push yourself off and do a one-legged squat thing, then jump. It’s pretty sketchy.