What started as a little bit of necessity turned into a lot of passion to make something better. That passion turned into expression for a local business owner, who has made a career of helping people enjoy the outdoors with the most finely-tuned equipment.
Malletts Bay Bicycle & Ski has now been open for the last five years.
As a kid growing up in Colchester, Charlie Whitney took apart his bicycle when he was 12 because he needed to grease it down for improved functionality. That was the spark which ignited a passion he developed for being a bicycle mechanic, and Whitney expanded upon that once he realized he could use his skills to build bikes as a form of expression.
“There are many different bicycles, and they all have their own application,” said Whitney. “And it was probably when I started to learn how to build wheels that I was able to really create a bicycle that has a particular ride to it. It's more than just a bicycle. It's like an extension of yourself.”
Whitney started working at the Skirack in Burlington when he was 16 and spent 10 years there – around a two-year stint in Atlanta – before working on bikes and skis at shops in Richmond, Lake Placid, and Cambridge, Mass. While he says he left Colchester many times since disassembling that first bike, Whitney was always drawn back to his hometown.
The last time he returned was in 2016 when he moved back and opened a business of his own with his wife and fellow Colchester native, Rebecca Sofferman: Malletts Bay Bicycle & Ski. Now on the heels of celebrating its fifth year anniversary in March, the shop is rolling into another season of servicing local customers’ bikes and renting out others to visitors from around the world.
“It's always good to enjoy hearing back from people that they enjoy the work that I did so that they can enjoy their bike and enjoy the area,” said Whitney.
Malletts Bay Bicycle & Ski: Tuning
Keeping up maintenance on a bicycle can add “exponential” duration to its life, Whitney says. He’s been using the same road bike he’s had since he was 15 by giving it that detailed care over the last 35 years. “It’s like an old friend,” he said.
Whitney extends that care to what customers of Malletts Bay Bicycle & Ski need when they bring in their own bike. He performs basic tune-ups which consist of giving adjustments, cleaning, air and lubrication where needed. A deluxe tune-up includes installing new brake cables, brake pads and chain. Whitney also offers an overhaul service that gives additional care such as fresh grease, bearings, or a bottle bracket where required, and he can even simply fix a flat tire so riders don’t need to buy a new one.
Getting a tune-up just takes a day, and bikes can be dropped off a couple days in advance from the scheduled appointment. But Whitney says he’s currently booked out so far that the earliest appointment he can make right now would be in June. However, he said he’s willing to quickly look over someone’s bike if they bring it by to make sure it’s safe to ride before it can get serviced.
Malletts Bay Bicycle & Ski: Rentals
Visitors to the 794 West Lakeshore Drive shop can also rent one of its hybrid or comfort mountain bikes at hourly, daily, or weekly rates. While some local residents opt to rent a bicycle for a random ride, Whitney says most of his rentals go to tourists from all over the world. In the store sits a globe tattered with pins that represent his customers who have hailed from India, Argentina, New Zealand, China, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Japan and every state in the U.S. – except North Dakota.
Many of those who visit Whitney say they’ve only come to the area and his shop to experience riding on the Colchester Causeway, the longest non-motorized path over open water in the world. Whitney says it’s one of his favorite places to ride as well, but he also enjoys the Burlington Bike Path and even just cruising around the bay.
Malletts Bay Bicycle & Ski: Sales
Malletts Bay Bicycle & Ski has sold bikes off the floor over the last five years, but the COVID-19 pandemic has hampered the supply line and made new items hard to come by this year. However, Whitney said he’ll help customers order a specific model they want if he doesn’t have it in stock.
The shop also carries riding gear including helmets – for adults and kids – gloves, clothing, bags, water bottles, seat covers, and tire pumps.
And true to its name, it doesn’t just operate during the warmer months. As the leaves change and the snow starts to fall, the focus shifts to fat bikes and skis for the winter. Whitney and Sofferman sell Nordic skis in addition to tuning snowboards and both cross-country and downhill skis.