Larry Michael will smile and tell a story whenever he’s asked why he loves his job as the owner of Second Wind Bicycle & Nordic in East Wenatchee.
“I was here alone on a Saturday, and a lady came in and bought a bike and a helmet,” he said. “She was probably 50 years old and hadn’t ridden a bike since she was a kid. After we closed, I went out for a ride, and as I was coming back into town, I passed her going down the loop.
“She had her helmet on backward, and her seat was too low, and she was doing all this stuff wrong, but she had a look on her face — it was just like she was 13 years old again. She was having such a good time. I’ll never forget that. That’s what’s really fun.”
For the past 20 years, Second Wind has sold and provided repair services for a variety of bicycles and cross-country skiing equipment. The business also rents skis.
“We kind of keep it to the basics,” Michael said. “We used to rent bikes, but we’re not renting them anymore. There just wasn’t enough business around.”
Michael grew up in the Wenatchee Valley, an area that’s abundant with outdoor recreational opportunities. But ironically, Michael didn’t become interested in those kinds of activities until he moved to Seattle to go to college. From 1979 to 1983, Michael attended the University of Washington, where he played on the Huskies’ football team.
“I didn’t have a car over there, so I rode my bike around (everywhere),” he said. “A couple of my friends were getting into biking, and we went out on rides on the weekends. Then we used to do a bike tour from Seattle over to here for a couple years, when school got out. I started doing a little racing.
“That was about the same time Ridge to River got going, and about the time they first started showing the Tour de France (on television) in the United States. I grew up playing team sports, (but as I got older) I got more into biking, skiing, the outdoor sports.”
After college, Michael moved back to Wenatchee and grew apples for four years, but during that time he became more and more interested in his outdoor hobbies and decided to go into business for himself.
He moved to Sun Valley, Idaho, and worked in a shop for a couple years, then moved back to Wenatchee in 1991 and opened Second Wind, located at 85 9th St. N.E. in East Wenatchee.
As a Wenatchee Valley native, Michael knew that his business had the potential to succeed in this area.
“I always loved it here,” he said. “There are a lot of different outdoor activities to do here, and you have got a good mix of summer and winter. You can bike almost the whole winter if you’re really nuts, and you can ski five months a year, and it’s great, especially this time of year. You can go up and hit Mission Ridge in the morning and go golfing in the afternoon, or go on a bike ride, or whatever.”
That diverse mix of opportunities allows Second Wind to do steady business year-round.
“We always say, we have certain people that just ski and don’t bike that much, and certain people that don’t ski at all and just bike,” Michael said. “There are certain people that we don’t see all winter. You see them, and it’s like, ‘Oh, it must be spring. You’re back.’ (The) same (thing happens) in the fall. ‘Oh, it must be ski season. You’re back.’ ”
Michael believes that his store’s focus on bicycles and ski equipment makes it stand out.
“We’ve always been strictly bikes and skis,” he said. “There are a lot of other big outdoor stores that have a bike section. We’ve always specialized in bikes and cross-country skis. We don’t dabble in a million things.
“The other thing (that separates us is that) our shop people and our sales people are the same. That always bothered me about other bike shops before I really thought about owning one. You go in and you’re like, ‘I want to talk to that guy back there because I know he really knows bikes, but I gotta talk to this guy out here.’ ”
Michael’s lone full-time employee at this time (he’ll employ three or four more people in the summer months) is a perfect example. On any given day, Jeff Massey can be seen hard at work repairing a bicycle in the store’s back room, then chatting with a customer on the sales floor minutes later.
“You get rich doctor-lawyer types, and then you get people scraping money together for an inexpensive mountain bike, but once they have one, they’re all bikers, so it’s cool,” Massey said. “There’s people cross-training for other sports, there’s 19-year-old kids that just saw the Tour de France for the first time and want to be a pro rider, there’s people that are recovering from a knee surgery — all different backgrounds.”
A graduate of Eastmont High School, Michael played for the Huskies from 1979 to 1983 as a tight end. During his freshman and sophomore seasons, Washington, led by coach Don James, advanced to the Rose Bowl, and played in the first two Aloha Bowls in Hawaii during Michael’s final two campaigns.
“This pesky team from Eastern Washington beat us and knocked us out of the Rose Bowl those two years,” Michael said, smiling. “I forget what they were called.”
When Michael was growing up, he thought, like virtually every other elite high school and college athlete, that he would play professional sports.
But he’s satisfied with the path that he ended up on.
“I always knew I wanted to do something with sports or outdoor stuff, so I kind of combined them together – outdoor sports,” he said. “I like dealing with people that are into the same types of sports. It’s fun to get people into those sports. When they really start getting hooked, whether it’s biking or skiing, you see that light in their eye, and it’s fun.”