Fred Boykin and Mark Zuckerberg have more than one thing in common. Zuckerberg attended Havard. Boykin went to the “Harvard of the South.” Another shared interest: Both presided over successful business startups in college. Zuckerberg (with a little help from others) conceived Facebook. Boykin and his Emory chums started Bicycle South.
One thing, though, Boykin can claim over cash-laden Facebook: 41 years of service. For most of that time the shop has been at the corner of Clairmont and North Decatur Road, a short pedal away from the campus it started on.
As Boykin recalls those early days, he was dating a girl from Iowa whose dad “was French and big into bicycles. I’d visit in the summer and really enjoyed the rides.”
About the same time, at Emory University, the bike fad was taking off. Boykin and his friends at this point were college juniors, and came up with the idea of buying bike kits, putting them together and making a sell-on profit. The concept worked so well that a storefront became the next step.
“I liked Decatur and before you know it, I’ve been here 40 years,” he said.
During those decades, Boykin has seen pedal-power fads come and go, and a customer base expand beyond students and young people. Society became more attuned to healthy lifestyles and in-town living, while gas prices have led others to pursue carbon footprint-free transport.
Also in the meantime, Boykin became a Decatur city councilman and worked with bike-advocacy group PATH to spearhead more trails and access through the metro areas, culminating with bike routes that stretch across much of Atlanta and DeKalb County.
The model for more biking access, said Boykin, was created in Europe and is becoming more adopted in the United States. “The Dutch started looking into it in the ‘60s and 70s and made a policy shift [to implement bike-friendly programs],” he said. “Europe has done extremely well so there’s some role models to follow. Lots of countries are doing it; some of what’s been going on is modeling those areas.”
Still, Boykin would like to see further, significant infrastructural improvements. “I do think elected officials should be looking at this,” he said. “It’s hard to get somebody to listen to us. The GDOT [Georgia Department of Transportation] is so road focused.”
However, while contemporary attitudes have made biking less hazardous, modernity has posed new challenges to Boykin’s business. Today, the internet, not the interstate, is a greater threat. That’s where Bicycle South has relied on the more traditional approach to retail.
“It’s tough, you have to be very aware of what’s going on, there’s the internet and tons of competition,” he said. “You just have to be honest with people and give them the best service you can. If we were ripping people off, we wouldn’t have lasted this long.”
What customers can expect from Bicycle South over others, including the internet, is expert advice on bicycles and which model best fits the customer’s needs.
“Suppliers are always looking to get their product out through the internet. I’ve seen way too many bikes that aren’t built well, and these can be dangerous for the rider or provide a bad experience,” he said. “There are plenty of places that will sell you a bike in a box.”