Entrepreneurs and municipal leaders envisioned cycle shops, cafés and outfitters cropping up along the trail from Weaver to the Georgia line. Although about two decades have passed since the first sections of the trail were paved, only a few people have opened trail-related business in Calhoun County.
“Those things were envisioned, but in terms of the time frame, no one really knew,” said Pete Conroy, who helped develop the trail. “There is room for many, many more.”
One noticeable gap in the trail-related businesses in Calhoun County, some stakeholders have said, is a lack of bike rental businesses.
“If we really promote this trail correctly and we have things people want, like rental bikes, I think it’d really improve the ridership of it,” said Jack Holder, director of the Eubanks Welcome Center in Piedmont. “That’s a real opportunity in this area.”
City officials and local entrepreneurs said they realize there is a demand for bike rentals in the area. Some have also said that they have considered opening bike rental operations on the trail in Calhoun County.
But while they’ve talked about it and even planned for it, few have tried delving into the business.
“If someone would go ahead and take that chance I think it would work,” said Weaver City Councilman Mike Warren. “I think it’s kind of on the verge here. It needs to be pushed a little more.”
Patrick Wigley, owner of Wig's Wheels on Noble Street, may know better than anyone the reasons entrepreneurs haven’t entered the bike rental business in Calhoun County. He opened an independent cycle shop seven years ago, but hasn’t begun renting bikes.
That’ll change later this month, Wigley said, but he won’t be renting bikes for the Ladiga. He’ll be renting them for Coldwater Mountain Bike Trail, which opened earlier this year.
But, Wigley said, an established business like his own can support bike rentals on the side. The rental-retail business model is being followed by other cycle shops in nearby cities.
The Ladiga’s sister trail, the Silver Comet, has at least one rental location on the trial in Smyrna, Ga., Smyrna Bicycles. The owner of that establishment, Brown Loper, said his business is about half as strong as he would like for it to be.
Rental sales make up about 25 percent of his business’ revenue. The other 75 percent is comprised of sales and repair, Loper said.
“Although the demand is great, there is not a great enough demand to do that by its self,” Wigley said of the prospect of renting bikes.
Since the 33-mile trail opened at least two businesses – one that has since closed in Weaver and Scott’s Bikes in Jacksonville, have tried the rent-retail model. Even an established shop will have to overcome other obstacles to have a successful rental bike rental business in Calhoun County, Wigley said.
Wigley said he’s known of six people who have discussed renting on the trail. He considered setting up satellite locations in Weaver, Jacksonville or Piedmont, but hasn’t moved forward with those plans.
To begin a rental business entrepreneurs must first purchase a fleet of rental bikes, Wigley said. Usually such a fleet consists of about 15 bikes and can range greatly in price.
The bikes he plans to rent, Wigley estimated, would cost about $700 each. The initial investment can be prohibitive for entrepreneurs, he said.
There are also logistical matters to consider when renting bikes. Ideally, Wigley said, a rental location would be at one of the trails.
Entrepreneurs who, like Wigley, have brick-and-mortar storefronts miles from the trail's edge have to consider how the bikes will be transported. Will renters have trucks to move them in? Will the business owner deliver the bikes? Will they also rent bike racks for transportation?
The rental business can also demand a lot of time. If renters are scheduled to return by sundown, but run late, someone would have to wait for them to return, Wigley said.
There are technical concerns to consider too, Wigley said. Renters damage bikes on the trail and repairs can be costly. Wigley said bike rental business must have access to technicians to keep a rental business operating.
“Even the most experienced riders are going to bend tires,” Wigley said.
Liability insurance is also a key component of the rental business. And, Wigley said, a costly one. To rent bikes, people will have to sign wavers and promise to pay for any damage that is not considered usual wear and tear.
Despite the obstacles entrepreneurs face in beginning a successful rental business, some still hope an entrepreneur takes the chance to offer people the chance to pick up a bike for a day on the Ladiga..Holder, director of the Eubanks Welcome Center is among them.
“That is a very big shortcoming of this trail,” Holder said.
Conroy is more positive. He said he views the lack of rental locations as a business opportunity.
“We would love to solicit something like that,” said Conroy.
Staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.