Vancouver entrepreneur Paul Dragan has taken his passion for bicycles and turned it into a successful retail enterprise focusing on selling bikes for the urban cyclist.
The first store opened in 1986 as Reckless Rider Cyclery in Kitsilano and the company, which was renamed to Reckless Bike Stores, today has four locations.
“I was 23 years old and never imagined that I’d be in the retail business my entire life,” said Dragan, who was a semi-professional European bike racer from 1980 to 1983 and a British Columbia and nationally-ranked triathlete from 1986 to 1989.
“I had a background in hospitality. Waiter. And I really enjoyed the interaction with the client, with the customer, and at that time to get paid talking about bicycles I thought I had won the jackpot. I thought this was unbelievable that somebody would pay me talk about bicycles and bicycle parts.”
When he was in France and Italy as a bike racer, Dragan saw that there was a business around bicycles. Grown men in suits were selling bike parts and manufacturing and that really piqued his interest in the business.
“We like to call ourselves urban mobility solutions. We provide bicycles that allow individuals to move better through urban environments,” said Dragan. “What we don’t do is we don’t sell mountain bikes. We don’t sell BMX bikes. What we do sell are city bikes, electric bikes, folding bikes, cargo bikes. Anything that allows you to use your bicycle in conjunction or a substitution for your private automobile.”
Dragan created the house brand RekTek to manufacture in-house bicycles in 1987. The name of the retailer changed to Reckless Bike Stores in 1993.
Dragan opened a seasonal store on the North Shore in 1998 and expanded to Yaletown in 2000 and into Victoria in 2002 with two stores. But the company closed its Victoria operations in 2010.
A Reckless Electric store opened in downtown Vancouver in 2014 and recently Reckless Shipyards opened in Lower Lonsdale, North Vancouver.
“We’re very cautious when me move because I always say in retail it’s easy to open the store but the hard work is operating it and making a profit for the next three, five, seven, 10 years,” said Dragan, who made headline news in 2014 when he survived a shooting by an ex-employee.
“In the past I had some stores in Victoria that I expanded to, but I learned it was a little challenging to manage those from Vancouver. So after that I vowed that I would never open a store that I couldn’t ride my bicycle to. This particular location in North Vancouver we identified it about five years ago and we were waiting for the city infrastructure to catch up with the neighbourhood.
“For our business we really need good connectivity to and from the store. And what I mean by that is we don’t need a four-lane road to get to the store. We need a pretty practical path that allows you to access our store.”
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Dragan offered these fun facts about the business:
It was the first store in Vancouver to sell triathlon bikes/wet suits in 1986;
It created the “Reckless Rider Triathlon Team” in 1987 which was the first in Canada;
It was the first retail store to organize and promote its own triathlon races in 1987;
It was the first Vancouver retailer of the “Hybrid” style of bicycles in 1988;
It was the first Vancouver retailer of the “electric bicycle” in 2000; and
It was the first Vancouver/Victoria retailer of “Dutch style” bikes in 2007.
In 2015, it was the Retail Council of Canada’s Independent Retailer of the Year.
Urban centres across Canada have embraced the increasing demand for infrastructure to accommodate cyclists on city streets. More and more dedicated bike lanes are popping up in all major centres these days.
“I’ve been promoting that market ever since I opened because I realized that having a bicycle in the city made you enjoy the city more. For me that ability to go back and forth on my bike that’s been part of my whole life ever since I was 14 years old. Now of course the engineers and the planners have caught up to the fact that the private automobile, although it’s very important, shouldn’t be the number one choice for getting around downtown,” said Dragan. “It is a choice, but it shouldn’t be your number one choice.
“We have had for years in every city a pretty bike path or a place to ride your bike, but it didn’t connect to anything. What now is happening – again what the engineers and the planners have caught on – is that these routes have to connect and then you can go somewhere. It’s like someone said to me. It’s like the internet. When there are only a few people using it, it wasn’t very good. But as you built that network and you could go anywhere you wanted on the internet, it became very useful.
“So when you have a build out of a bicycle plan and you say gee I want to go from the northeast to the southwest and I can do it on my bike – and especially now with an electric bike – you go wow that’s 20-minutes faster than my car.”