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6/5/2003

FUN is always in season

By Pam Mellskog

The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — Above the door that divides the Fun Wheels motorcycle-repair showroom from the shop, a sign reads: “Anything left for over 30 days will be sold for amount due.” It’s grim news for someone with an outstanding spark plug work order.

But despite the toothy pay-up notice, this homespun business at 1333 Coffman St. has survived in a narrow service and repair niche for much friendlier reasons. With its mom-and-pop ownership — longtime companions Nancy Groom and Brad Bradley launched it together in June 1993 — customers will find expertise without ego.

After all, the shop exists in part because it mainly services and repairs motorcycles that dealerships won’t touch — models 10 years or more off the factory line.

But catching scraps off the big table of new motorcycle sales and service has its perks, said the 64-year-old Bradley. He’s turned wrenches on collector’s items such as the 1960s-era Honda Dream, the 1950s-era Sunbeam and the Vincent Black Shadow.

And these poetic model names speak to the spirit of Fun Wheels, the couple said. The problem is that the road trips and joy rides that make Fun Wheels indispensable to area enthusiasts — it is the only shop of its kind countywide — are mostly a summer thing.

These days, word-of-mouth business rolls through the door on all sorts of wheels, particularly if gas prices go down at the same time temperatures go up. But shop bills hold steady in the long, dark months in between, Bradley explained.

To better weather sharp seasonal spikes and drops inherent to motorcycle and vintage automobile use, Bradley and Groom boldly moved into other specialty fixes — from off-road police motorcycles to golf carts to bushwhackers to the Rotax motor in ultralight aircraft.

In addition, they now offer off-seasonal prices for repair work — particularly on vintage automobiles, another facet of the multi-faceted fix-it work that Fun Wheels does.

Bradley also signed on for several years as a help line tech for Bor, an Italian dirt bike manufacturer. Besides contributing to the bottom line, the position refined his expertise on another motor.

To grow to the best full-service shop possible, he invested in a library — one service manual at a time — to unlock the secrets of spluttering engines from around the world. For models without readily available documentation, Bradley surfs the Web.

“It’s been really satisfying being able to help someone with a problem that no one else can help them with,” said Groom, 60.

Part of Fun Wheels’ success can be measured in the shop’s steady expansion, from 2,500 square feet when it opened to 7,000 square feet now.

Small businesses like Fun Wheels often fail for lack of capital, inexperienced management and the inability to find a niche, according to Chris Chavez, a Denver-based Small Business Administration spokesman. And family-owned businesses often are more vulnerable to failure, given the heightened emotional investment.

“The family has to be working in the same direction toward the success of that business,” Chavez said. “It’s a real acknowledgement to their success that they’ve been in business for 10 years.”

At the end of the day, whatever the month, the couple leans a lot on intuition to calculate if her customer service in the showroom and his grease monkey work in the shop have been done right.

Repeat business reinforces their commitment to quality work, the co-owner couple said. And that begins with gut-level quality control, according to Bradley.

“Motors have sounds and smells, whether they’re running good or running bad,” he said. “You listen to a motor, and it talks to you.”

Pam Mellskog can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 224, or by e-mail at pmellskog@times-call.com.