History of Block
Block Bikes was started September 11th, 2003 as a clubhouse to support the Block Alternatives BMX team. Block Alternatives is a screen-printing and sportswear business that started back in the fall of 1991. Block Racing, the original brand, had started out as a frame built by Cyclecraft in Kingsport Tennessee which Rich Bartlett had been sponsored by in 1990. When the frame business didn’t make ends meet, Rich moved back home to Lancaster, CA. His cousin Kevin Ambler funded the start up of Block Alternatives. With the little bit of screen printing knowledge Rich got from printing a few shirts with Ronnie Bonner at Underground Products, Block Alternatives was born. Kevin used his days off from is Pasadena Fire Department job and the guys were overwhelmed with print jobs before they knew it. Printing shirts for local business, Pasadena and LA County Fire stations, and trying to fill Block Alternative orders to bike shops, Hot Topic and Pacific Sunwear, the garage was no longer cutting it. Rich’s wife April quit her job as a paralegal and came on board for sales and marketing and everything just blew up. A few moves between 1991 and 1995 finally found them in a 5000 square foot unit with 25 employees. Rich’s Dad even came aboard for the build out of the new facility and to run the embroidery department. Block plaid BMX pads were the rage and were being shipped out as fast as they could be produced, sometimes as many as 500 sets a day. Block Alternatives was selling to almost every distributor in the bicycle industry. Then in 2003 the adjacent unit to Block Alternatives became vacant and the landlord asked if we would be interested in renting it to expand the business. We jumped on the idea and indirectly Block Bikes was born.
At first the 2500 square foot unit seemed gigantic but it slowly filled up. The layout was simple. The back quarter was sectioned off as the repair center. The opposite back quarter was laid out like a living room with couches and TV with videos and video games always going. Straight up the center was kept clear and ramps were set on opposite walls. We had a 2-man BMX starting gate that we would take outside for organized practice sessions twice a week. There were a number of shirt racks scattered around the store and one singe row of bikes on PVC stands.
It didn’t take long and the shop started filling up. That wasn’t the intention. Originally The Block Shop was going to be a repair center, carry minimal stock, order daily, and do repairs quickly, efficiently and professionally. Our BMX Team was talented and had good results at the nationals against all of the big-name Bike Shop Teams. Slowly the shop gained notoriety and it started to get stocked up. Most of the major brands were already spoken for in the Antelope Valley so it was difficult to get product. Most brands only sell to one shop per region and the shops that already existed did everything in their power to stop Block Bikes from getting traction. Block Alternatives had been in the cycling industry for nearly 15 years and had been printing tee shirts for a few of the bike manufactures like Schwinn, Mongoose, GT, KHS, and Ellworth to name a few. So with the desire and competitive drive we opened the shop on a KHS parts account and Hyper, Schwinn, Mongoose & GT Bikes. We also did a large number of rider owned BMX companies that were really the bread and butter of Block Bikes. The other bike shops in town called every manufacture they could to try to get us cut off and tie up every line that they could think of. We would not give up! It seemed for a little while that no one would work with us. We were finally able to secure an account with Marin Bikes, then Kona and from there we were off and running.
Block Bikes has always prided ourselves with quality, knowledge, and being professional. We’ve had our ups and downs. Some good employees, some not so good employees, as well as some amazing employees. We made changes and adjustments constantly and continued to improve as a whole. The shop kept growing and our competitors were scared and did everything in their power to set us back. That motivated us even more and we got creative.
Then came - Block Jam! In November 1988 Rich Bartlett put on a BMX dirt jumping event in Leona Valley with support from Travis Chipres, Gork Barrette from BMX Action Magazine, GT Bicycles and Vision Streetwear. The event was called The King of Dirt and some of the most popular riders in BMX racing and freestyle showed up. Even John Tomac rode his mountain bike up from Simi Valley with his roadie buddies to check it out. The event made the streets of Leona Valley look like cherry season with cars lining the street for half a mile. This event was a precursor to what would later be called X-Games and is still rated as one of the best bmx dirt sessions ever!
On the same date in 2003, just 15 years later, the Block Shop held an event called Block Jam. It ran for 2 days and had 22 bands that changed up every hour. 12 on the first day 10 on the second. We had 2 full freestyle demo trailers. Gary Laurent drove his up from Las Vegas and GT Bikes brought the World Tour Trailer. TJ Lavin also came from Las Vegas to MC the event and brought Tim “Fuzzy” Hall form Utah to keep him company. There was a set of huge dirt jumps, a full street course, a flatland jam, Pharmacy Skate Team demo, a Vintage BMX show & a custom car show. About 5000 people came through over the course of 2 days and another legendary event was created. Block Jam became bigger and bigger each year. The next 4 years were one day events but the last one was rumored to have almost 10,000 people come through the course of the day. The last Block Jam was in 2007. Something we talk about reviving in the future but will be hard to match!
In 2006 The Block Shop became an authorized Specialized dealer and that was the true turning point in the business. It was no longer a “clubhouse” it became Block Bikes and a legitimate bicycle retailer. There was a huge shuffling of the deck of bicycle retailers locally which made it easy for Block Bikes to rise through to the top. One local shop changed owners, one went out of business and Block Bikes just kept growing. We sent all of our employees to Specialized for training and climbed to a whole other level that what we had been in the past. Now with the best brand in cycling and employee education we were well on our way to becoming the biggest and best bike shop in the Antelope Valley. We put 100% of profits back into the business and came up with a sell one, buy two, business plan that most people questioned because they could not see our vision.
In 2006 Gregg Anderson from Rancho Vista Development asked us if we would like to open in his Rancho Vista Center as the bike shop that had been there for years had moved out. Rather than move we decided to open a second shop. The plan was set in March of 2006 and to move in on June 1st. In April, just a month later, Rich Bartlett broke his neck at the Redlands Classic. This was a major setback, but the paperwork was processed and the business was setup by Rich at home while in a neck brace rehabilitating. The second shop was a good intention but probably a bad idea. The numbers were actually solid and the business was existing, but the vibe was not the same. The workforce was divided and a lot of things were beyond control because of the rapid growth. It was stressful and after a little over a year Gregg Anderson released us from a long-term lease. Gregg was huge factor in Rich’s life having sponsored his team for a half pipe back in the late 80s in exchange for 3 freestyle demos (one at the grand opening of Rancho Vista Development and 2 at the Palmdale Fall Festival). Gregg was nothing but supportive and positive. He never capitalized on anyone’s demise and wanted nothing but success from Block Bikes. We miss him dearly!
Once all of the Palmdale inventory was put into stock back at the original Block Shop we were crammed for space. We had outgrown the unit. We talked to the landlord about a remodel but there wasn’t much interest. We started looking into bigger more retail friendly locations but nothing really excited us. For the next few years we delt with the building the best we could. We installed better lights, put up more slat wall, cleaned up, insulated a little. But it was still the unique, hard to find, cold/hot, breezy industrial bike shop it had always been. It got to a point that we needed to move, badly. The complaints kept coming: “You are hard to find”. “It’s cold in here”. “It’s hot in here”. Mothers and sisters didn’t even want to get out of the car. But the fathers and sons wanted to stay all day. We needed a change and quick!
April Bartlett (Rich’s wife) is a real estate broker in the AV and had been doing a lot of land and commercial properties while the residential market was sliding. She had been working with JP Toneman of Toneman Development and was leasing out a few of his units on Ave L in Lancaster. As all of the stars aligned Rich, April and JP walked the unit together which is now Block Bikes. Rich could hardly contain himself. The unit was perfect, everything was already in place, plus JP was the contractor and had ideas to make the unit even better. Negotiations took over 6 months. It was a scary transition as the economy was threatening a down turn. Block Bikes was ready, Toneman was ready and it has been the best decision that Block has ever made. Block Alternatives and Block Bikes moved the same weekend at the end of February 2011 into the Toneman Complex. We had over 40 volunteers & customers help out (2 of them became key employees). It was absolutely amazing to see and feel the community support. Both businesses continue to flourish at the new location and there is no end in sight!
Once in the new location it was time to build the image as the local leader. Block Bikes was voted the #1 Bicycle Shop in the Antelope Valley by the AV Press. The group rides started to grow. The Wednesday night CYCOLOGY-The Lancaster Ride mass bike ride pulled over 100 riders during the summer, the Saturday morning road ride started to average over 60 riders a week. Special events would pull 100 riders and the bicycle scene just keeps growing! The Block Bikes staff has doubled and the employees look forward to their annual week-long schooling up at the Specialized world headquarters in Morgan Hill, CA.
It is now 2018 and we are excited to launch our online presence! We will take our same knowledge and professionalism to the web and provide our customers with the best products at competitive prices. With decades of experience we can answer most all of your questions and influence your shopping to the proper products!