It’s hard to imagine a business owner being more connected to his customers than Al Jozwiak. Owner of Bikes-N-Boards since 1987, Al is a lifelong fan of getting some exercise in the great outdoors. You could say his shop is the perfect vehicle for his enthusiasm.
“We’re not only involved in sales and service but we’re also involved with community projects and trail building and trail development,” he said. “It’s probably almost an equal passion for me.”
The shop demands that he stay front of the pack when it comes to the Next Big Thing in bicycles. His dedication to outdoor sports insists upon giving those bicycles, and snowshoes, and skis, a place to roam freely.
Fat bikes are the Big Thing this year. “I’ve had one for about four years now, but this is the biggest year for impact and interest in the fat bikes,” Al said. “They are simplistic – most don’t have suspension and some are single speed. I think what makes them unique is that you can ride them year round.”
A groomed trail is needed, however. And not surprisingly, Al has a hand in creating and grooming an eight-mile trail by Mud Lake, off Crystal Lake Road. Mustache Sustainable Trail Solutions (MSTS), Bikes N Board’s group of area trail builders/volunteers that primarily work for RASTA, Boy Scouts of America and private landowner Terry Strong worked together on the project. A similar trail in Enterprise is groomed by RASTA volunteers. Snowshoes and cross country skis can also be used on the trails, and Jozwiak noted they are dog-friendly.
“We did this because the sport is growing faster than the trails where you can use them,” he explained. “There have been issues with people riding them on snowmobile trails. Silent sports and fat bikers don’t want snowmobiles on our trails and I think it goes both ways. I don’t think they want us on their trails and that’s reasonable.”
Al was also involved in with the Hodag BMX Club in its infancy. “I think it’s very important for a community to have different outlets for kids and adults,” he said. “A lot of people around here are hunters and fishermen which is good, but I think diversity is also good.”
The ‘boards’ in the business name refers to snowboards and the clothing that goes along with the sport. The internet, according to Jozwiak, has changed how both are bought and sold. It’s a subject near and dear to his heart. He says it’s a big picture problem.
“People are going to shop from their smartphones and that’s just the nature of business today. I understand that it’s convenient. I don’t think it’s very good for our communities,” he explained. “It’s going to affect sales tax coming into the community, and if businesses go out like many have, it affects the tax base for fire and police, road maintenance and all the issues that make a community strong. It is a bigger deal than what people realize when they are ordering their items on their phones.”
But for Joswiak, his is a service business, too. And that cannot be bought online.
“It happens every day, you buy things on the internet and they aren’t assembled correctly, they don’t fit, and there are problems and we have to solve those problems,” Jozwiak said. “Snowboard bindings don’t fit with the snowboard, and bicycles are even more complex.”
Because of that, Bikes-N-Boards hires only adults to build the bikes that come in. “We’re pretty picky about how things are put together. If a bike rolls out of here and it works incorrectly, it not only reflects poorly on us but it potentially could be dangerous.”
Perhaps less technically complex, and less costly are snowshoes, which Al says are a great affordable way to get outside in the winter. He sells Redfeather brand, which is made in La Crosse, and also a higher end shoe which the staff will help patrons customize.
Another affordable option for getting outside in the summer is disc golfing, which is increasing in popularity every year. The discs are about $10-$15 each and many of the courses are free.
Looking ahead,Jozwiak sees the bicycle continuing to evolve. “Coming down the pipe is electronic shifting for bikes, and hydraulic disc brakes,” he said. “It gets increasingly more complex. Suspension and much of the bicycle technology is coming out of the motorsports industry.”
Jozwiak is thoughtful about the future of outdoor recreation in the Northwoods, and his humble part in the equation.
“We’ve developed a lot of trails in the area, and in the end I think that’s what’s important. What you leave behind. It’s not just about making money. I look to what we’re going to leave behind for our children, grandchildren, future generations.”