Bob Beal
Performing some trials bike maintenance at the shop

I haven’t (yet) met Bob in person – only online. As we commented on each others’ Instagram posts during the past few months, I discovered that not only does he ride trials, but he also owns a bike shop and frequently rides trials with others in the area. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there was a cool story here and that it’d be fun to interview Bob. I’m also thinking I might need to take a road trip to NH sometime soon!

Tell us a little about yourself (brief background, your profession, etc.).

My name is Bob Beal. My brother James and I own Cycles Etc, a bike shop with locations in Salem and Manchester NH. James and I began working here in 1995 when he was 12 and I was 18, and it was always our dream to own a bike shop together. Now we do and it’s pretty awesome. We are very fortunate to be in an industry we love, serving riders of all ages and disciplines.

How long have you been riding bike trials? What is your riding level (beginner, intermediate, expert, elite)?

I began noodling with trials in 1994 at UNH. I guess I’m straddling the line between beginner and intermediate, depending on the context and the company.

How did you discover bike trials and how did you get started?

Two things happened at roughly the same time. One of the older guys at the shop gave me a VHS tape of Hans Rey’s Level Vibes. I must have watched that video hundreds of times. To this day my brother and I quote it often. At roughly the same time, my college riding buddy Seth Dunten was beginning to get into trials and exposed the rest of us to track standing, hopping in place, pedal kicking the front wheel up to hop on the back wheel (we called it Pogo-ing back then).

You and your brother James started working at Cycles Etc nearly 30 years ago, before you became co-owners of the business. Tell us briefly what your shop has to offer. How did you both develop a shared passion for cycling?

Our DNA is overwhelmingly mountain bike, though we sell and service all sorts of bikes, from kids bikes with training wheels to high end full suspension boutique mountain bikes to BMX, gravel and road.

Does James also ride trials?

James hasn’t been a practicing trials rider for quite some time, but he can still hop up some staircases and pedal kick up to the back wheel and “POGO.”

It looks like you do some trials riding at the bike shop. At just one, or both locations? Do you have any other connections to trials activities through the shop, or is your trials riding more of a personal interest?

We ride at the Manchester location on Tuesday nights. We call it TNT (Tuesday Night Trials). Sometimes we hit cool spots around the city. Other nights we set up a pallet and timber course in the parking lot. Then occasionally we hit other areas or parks on the weekend.

Tuesday Night Trials crew group shot
Tuesday Night Trials crew

How would you define/describe “bike trials” in your own words to someone who never heard of it?

When I show a video of trials to a layperson, they always say, “It’s like parkour on a bike.” So that seems to work, but I usually describe it as solving physical puzzles and conquering obstacles on a bike.

What type of bike trials riding do you prefer (style, obstacle types, moves, solo/group, etc.) and where do you like to ride?

I tend to gravitate towards bikes with no seats, locking the brakes and hopping about, and getting on and off of things. I love long staircases, granite slabs, picnic tables and cement walls, and reasonable sized drop gaps.

Why do you ride bike trials and what keeps you motivated to keep riding?

To me, it feels good to progress at something that is hard and requires a lot of work to get good at. I think we all benefit from attempting hard things. The process is both confidence inspiring and very humbling. Trials also benefits mountain biking immensely.

How often do you ride trials? What sort of routine do you have for practice versus riding for fun versus making edits, etc. – how much time is dedicated to each?

I am also a musician, and love the process of practicing. When you learn music, you do lots and lots of repetitions of fundamental movements and techniques to build a foundation that supports being able to perform music well in a live setting. I like to approach trials the same way. I will stack some pallets in the yard, and choose a technique or a series of techniques and just repeat the same move or series over and over until it feels smooth and takes less physical and mental effort. In a perfect week, I will get 2 sessions on the trials bike, 2 to 3 mountain bike rides and at least 2 strength training sessions at the gym to keep the aging body capable and build the things I need for the bike that the bike doesn’t develop as much.

What other styles of cycling do you do? How has trials helped you improve your skills in those other biking disciplines (and vice versa)?

I love mountain biking, gravel riding, fat biking, rail trail rides. I kind of shy away from road riding these days. Drivers seem more distracted than ever, and I’d rather be in the woods anyway.

What’s the bike trials scene like near you? How many other riders are there? Do you have regular group rides? Comps?

For trials, we have a crew of 8 riders for Tuesday Night Trials. Occasionally one of our mountain bike pals join us on a dirt jumper, BMX, or on our spare bike (Jitsie 20″). It’s less like a scene and more like a little punk rock family really.

How do you manage fear when doing new/bigger moves or lines?

I’m pretty conservative on the risky end of things. My tolerance is about 5 pallets high and maybe a sturdy picnic table from time to time. And I am a self proclaimed fraidy-cat when it comes to heights and skinnies. So I implement what I have heard called “graduated exposure.” I get closer and closer to the scary part through repetitive steps and remind myself that I can step off the bike whenever I want. Sometimes I end up on my back wheel on the edge of a drop many times before I decide to kick off it or come back to it on another day.

Recently, as a group, we tackled rails. I’m terrified of rails, so we set up a rig to ease into it. We tipped an L-shaped bike rack on its side, so the short side of the L was up, giving us 2″ wide target about 2 feet off the ground. Then we put 1 pallet on one side and 2 pallets on the other so no matter which we slipped, we could land on 2 wheels just high enough to not smash our frame on the pipe. I must have gotten on the pallets on my back wheel a dozen times before lunged up to the pole, but by the end of the session, each of us had made a fair number of smooth successful reps.

What are your personal goals with respect to trials (near-term and long-term)?

I’d like to keep improving and stay fit and healthy enough to keep at it. I’m approaching 50, and would love to still be growing and solving physical bike puzzles for as long as I can.

Bob Beal in front of the Cycles Etc bike shop
Bob and his bike shop

Who are your bike trials ‘heroes’ and/or influences? Favorite trials video(s)?

All of them. But at the top, for sure Hans Rey. I learned trials on a GT Zaskar, and got a GT Team Trials bike in the 90s. I even had the blue and yellow GT kit. Libor Karas too. Ryan Leech, Jeff Lenosky, the Martins, Chris Akrigg, Kenny Belaey. The latest generation of luminaries are awesome too. Danny MacAskill has created some of the most imaginative and stunning content ever. Duncan [Shaw], Alic C, Fabio Wibmer. And the competition riders are off the hook these days. Charlie Rolls, Jack Carthy, Vera Baron, Nina Reichenbach, Benito Ros, [Vincent] Hermance, [Thomas] Pechhacker, Matty P, Andrei [Burton] and the Shindig Gang. We are fans of all of ’em here.

What are your perspectives on the trials biking scene in general and in North America in particular?

I feel like the internet has allowed little pockets of trials riders in North America and beyond to connect and feel like they’re part of something bigger and cooler than what’s just going on in their backyard. It is still like a renegade, punk rock, fringe scene here. But it is growing and I’m hopeful it continues.

What would you like to see happening in North America with respect to bike trials?

I would like to see more growth in trials in North America. There needs to be movement on many fronts. Kenny Belaey is leading the charge on getting events for high level competitors in the US. Super Rider, Aaron Lutze is putting out awesome content to coach riders of various levels. Between video content and podcasts, The Shindig Media is contributing immensely.

From the perspective of a shop owner, I think access to gear is one of the challenges. It’s hard to shop for a trials bike. Very few shops sell them. Very few trials brands have a presence in the US. None of the major bike brands have trials models. We carry Inspired Bikes, which we are stoked about, but they don’t have a warehouse in North America, so all the bikes we order are expensive to ship from the UK, and subject to duty fees, so it’s much more challenging at the retailer level to get bikes in the showroom and into the hands of riders. I’d love to see major bike brands make street or comp bikes. They have the economy of scale to make them less expensive and the distribution channels to support the market. But I doubt any of the majors see enough dollar signs to make the effort. Hey Santa Cruz!! How about a MacAskill Aluminum production model?!?!?

Any interesting / funny / crazy bike trials stories or experiences you can share?

In 1996 I went to a Libor Karas show dressed like Hans Rey on my GT Team Trials bike. Is that funny? Maybe it’s just weird. Libor was awesome. He put on a killer show, hung out, and played around on the bike with us for a bit.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to start bike trials or has just started?

Buy shin pads and subscribe to Super Rider TV on YouTube.

How do people find you online? (i.e., YouTube, web, social media, etc.)

Instagram: @cyclesetc (see below for some of Bob’s highlighted posts)
Facebook Trials Group: Tuesday Night Trials (T.N.T.)

What other North American bike trials rider(s) should I interview here?

Jeff Lenosky


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