How the Brains Behind Bicycle Sport Shop Went from Being a Cycling Enthusiast to Owning an Austin Institution
BY SARAH THURMOND | PHOTO BY GEORGE BRAINARD
Published: April 20, 2018
For almost 30 years, Wichita Falls native Hill Abell has been a cycling advocate. When he’s not riding the trails of the Barton Creek Greenbelt, he serves on the boards of Bike Austin and the city’s B-Cycle bike share program, working to increase ridership and bike facilities throughout the community. This National Bicycle Month, he’s encouraging all Austinites to take part in Bike to Work Day on May 18.
Where does your name, Hill, come from? Hill is my mom’s maiden name. Since her parents had three girls and no boys, she wanted the name to go on another generation, naming me William Hill. But I’ve always gone by Hill.
Were you always into cycling? I grew up riding a bicycle, as most kids did back in the ’60s, early ’70s. I came to Austin to get the heck out of Wichita Falls, as much as anything else, and to go to school at UT and ACC…I was on a restaurant career track. I had worked in restaurants the whole time I was in college. I had decided I wanted to be in restaurant management, so I had signed up to go to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York…Of course I did a lot of studying at Barton Springs. Bicycle Sport Shop opened on Barton Springs Road at Kinney. I stopped in one day because I saw all the bicycles they had, and I had just learned about mountain bikes. This was in ’83.
Was there much of a mountain bike scene then? There was no mountain bike in Austin prior to 1983. The phenomenon had really only started in California and Colorado in the late ’70s, early ’80s. And so Austin, of course, being a cool spot, bikes started appearing. The University Co-op was one of the first stores to have a mountain bike, and then Bicycle Sport Shop brought some in. They were these really exotic, really expensive bicycles. I ponied up $550, which today that’s like buying a $4,000 bike, so for a 22-year-old guy spending $550 on a bike, it was a big deal. I fell so head over heels in love with the activity of mountain biking, riding on trails, and the bug bit me hard.
How did that interest lead to a career in the industry? I actually never graduated from college, because this opportunity to buy Bicycle Sport Shop came up. I was in the store all the time, looking for new parts, or I was breaking parts. Owner Cody Stevens got to know me and said, “You would be a great bicycle salesperson. You should come to work for me.” I started working for him on Saturdays, and I had the time of my life. Then we were having a beer after work one night, and Cody said, “We’ve decided to sell the store.” A light bulb went off in my head. I borrowed money from my mother and effectively bought the inventory. That was May of ’85, and we’ve been doing it ever since.
Read the rest of the interview here.