Steamboat bike shop to carry on Wheels tradition after former owner’s death
June 13, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — For more than 20 years, the late Chris Johns’ passion for biking and his desire to serve the Steamboat Springs community could be found behind the doors of his Yampa Street business, Wheels Bike Shop.
"Without Wheels, there would be an incredible void within the city of Steamboat," said Chris’ brother Craig Johns. "I think the shop accomplished several things. The building is historic, and it's an icon. We believe that it was a watering hole — a place where locals would go and have a good time.”
In the weeks following Chris’ death on March 6 at age 51, his family and close friends, including Jon Peddie and Loui Antonucci, vetted people who were interested in keeping the doors of Wheels open. Peddie and Antonucci helped mentor Chris Johns in his early years and were big supporters of Wheels.
The group, which included Chris' dad Norris and his brothers Mike and Craig, decided that Hazen Kreis, a Steamboat Springs businessman with a passion for cycling, was the best fit. The deal closed in May, and Wheels Bike Shop reopened, as usual, with the start of the mountain biking season.
"The family just wanted the best opportunity to have Wheels — the name and the shop — continue," Peddie said. "Hazen was one of several people who the family spoke with, and I think he is just an awesome fit for the same kind of reasons that Chris was so special to our community. He is immersed in Steamboat's culture and certainly in Steamboat's bike community."
The importance of being chosen is not lost on the new owner, who is honored to carry on the Wheels tradition.
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"Wheels is wheels," Kreis said. "We are going to ride wheelies on our test rides and go from there."
The new owner wants the shop to reflect Chris Johns’ spirit and make sure his impact is remembered. Wheels will offer a college scholarship every year in Chris Johns’ name.
Chris Johns, who was known to many as “Wheels” or “Johnsie,” died in March from complications related to epilepsy. Hundreds of friends and relatives attended services and celebrations commemorating his life in early April.
Johns grew up in Massachusetts where his passion for biking was born on the BMX track, and he continued to race mountain bikes throughout his life. He came to Steamboat with hopes of becoming an Olympic mogul skier, but when he blew out his knee, he had to change directions.
While he was recovering, some of his friends at Sore Saddle Cyclery convinced him to start working on bikes.
"He cut his teeth learning how to do things at a very high, world-class level," Craig Johns said. "Actually creating, and building from scratch, wheels. That was his thing. He became an expert at building wheels and fixing wheels. That was the beginning of his fascination of becoming a world-class bike mechanic."
Chris Johns started repairing bikes in the garage of a home in the Brooklyn neighborhood where he lived and then opened Wheels Bike Shop inside Use it Again Sports and had a shop on the west side of Steamboat Springs behind the bowling alley.
In 2011, Johns moved to the business to its current location at 841 Yampa St.
Kreis said the store will continue to sell Norco and high-end Yeti mountain bikes, as well as Bulls electric-assisted bikes.
"We are very much, deep in the mountain bike world," Kreis said. "We have a little bit of road influence, but not much. The Norcos, for us, are going to be our aluminum frame, price-point bike, and Yeti is our top-of-the-line carbon frames."
The store also offers bike rentals and a selection of mountain bike gear as well as bike repair service. Kreis said head mechanic Cole Wendland, who has been with Wheels for the past three years, will continue in that role.
Kreis said customers should not expect a lot of changes at Wheels.
"Chris left a beautiful platform, we are going to continue that," Kreis said. “The customer base that Chris had was fantastic, and we want to continue to meet their needs."
Wheels is open from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week.