By Eva Sanchez
Sunday, Oct. 3 might have seemed like an average day for a College Park Bicycles customer if it hadn’t been for the large cake that read, “College Park Bicycles, 42 years!” and the assortment of homemade fudge spread on the counter. The service area was bustling, bikes were in various states of repair, and College Park Bicycles founder Larry Black was as busy as always, running around helping multiple people at once, celebrating his last day working at the shop he loves.
“I started helping out at bicycle and motor shops when I was 14, and I just became fascinated with a bike,” said Black, the now-former owner of College Park Bicycles. “I started becoming what was called a bike freak.”
Larry and Linda Black opened the shop, on Knox Road in College Park, more than four decades ago. The two met at a summer bike maintenance class offered by the University of Maryland, hit it off, and the rest is history.
“I’ve been bugging him to close at least one store for five years or more. I have mixed feelings, but I’m more happy — he’s still in denial,” said Linda Black, Larry’s wife and co-founder of College Park Bicycles. The Blacks have recently become grandparents, and that motivated them to sell the shop.
If Black had it his way, he would never leave the shop. Bicycles captivated him when he was growing up; they combine the two things he enjoyed most, mechanics and sports. He’s worked with them ever since.
Black believes in the power of the bicycle and sees them as a sustainable and important asset to transportation everywhere. “I don’t really care about the commodity of a new bicycle,” he said. “I like bringing older bikes back into service. I believe everything has a long, infinite life in a bicycle.”
Black’s positive, can-do attitude saved College Park Bicycles during the pandemic. Just like any store, the shop struggled when so many businesses had to close, but Black’s vast collection of old bikes — some 3,000 of them — kept the shop running.
“We sold 400 of those old bikes in a year and a half, and we’re still selling them everyday,” he said. “[The pandemic] has done a lot for the sport of bicycling and our old bikes, and that is what saved the stores.”
The Blacks have built lasting relationships through the shop, which was evident as friends poured in to celebrate them. Julian Westerhaut, a friend and former employee, flew in from Chicago for the event.
“It’s the changing of an era, Larry’s shops, both this one and Mount Airy have always been very very different, as far as bike shops go, and Larry is one of a kind,” said Westerhaut.
Through his shop, Black gained a reputation in the city, one built on passion and community service. And he’s passing the torch to someone who’s equally passionate about biking as he is.
“You know how they say in these interviews, ‘You’re not the person we advertised for, or we were looking for, but you’re the person we want’ — that’s him. Not the person we were looking for, but the person I want,” Black said, about Marden Timen, College Park Bicycles’ new owner.
“Everybody who works bikes has their story,” said Timen. Timen’s father wouldn’t let him ride a bike when he was a child; he thought it was too dangerous. But Timen had been bitten by the bike bug, and he creatively bent the rules.
“I would pay the guys who came to school with their bikes; they were happy to rent it to me, and for like one to two hours, I would just ride around school,” said Timen.
Timen is opening the shop’s doors to the community, saying that he wants the shop to be for everybody. “Cyclists with long time experience or somebody who just started biking. Anybody, we will take care of you,” he said.
Throughout the party thrown in his honor, Black was tinkering with bikes. Whenever a customer came through the door, Black put friends that gathered to celebrate him on hold so he could field a bike question. Every time Black got the chance to discuss bike mechanics, his eyes lit up.
“If you do what you like, you’re not working. I don’t have to work. I haven’t had to work for 30 years,” he said. “We do it ‘cause we want to do it, and that shows when we make a transaction with a customer.”