A version of this article ran in the June issue of Bicycle Retailer & Industry News.
BLACK MOUNTAIN, N.C. (BRAIN) — Dylan Schemel knew there had to be more to life than the daily grind as a civil engineer in Miami after graduation. A subsequent 10-year stint as a FedEx distribution center manager also proved unfulfilling. With the former motocross racer at a crossroads professionally, it was a desperate friend with a bike in need of a tune that helped him find his true calling.
From that simple repair, Schemel, 40, eventually would start Pisgah Bike Works, a carbon fiber frame manufacturer based out of a small space among up-and-coming retailers comprising the new WNC Outdoor Collective. Finding a permanent home among other entrepreneurs in the heart of Black Mountain at the foot of the Pisgah National Forest caps a frenetic past 18 months. Schemel quit the FedEx job in December 2019 only to enter a market gutted by the growing COVID-19 pandemic in the spring.
“When I left FedEx, I was afraid of getting back into a job that I was unhappy with,” said Schemel while at his shop in late April amid bikes needing repairs and new Pisgah Bike Works frames in various states of build. “I applied to hundreds of openings, and there was nothing. So a buddy of mine comes by and says, ‘I just went to a shop and told me it would be seven weeks before I could get a tuneup.’ He had a brand new bike and it wasn’t shifting right. This was June 2020.”
Building a client base
And that has proven to be the beginning of a new career opportunity and excitement Schemel hadn’t felt since he was an up-and-coming motocross racer. While performing repairs from his garage last summer, he expanded his knowledge and service by taking a one-day wheel-building class at Asheville Bicycle Institute. Through word of mouth and some Facebook postings — not to mention long wait times at local bike shops — Schemel began building a client base.
“I felt like I was never going to do something that I’m really passionate about and love,” he said.
Schemel’s passion and a potential career revolved around motocross in Florida in the 1990s and early 2000s. Beginning racing at age 7 and moving up in the amateur ranks eventually to the 250cc class at age 20, he suffered a serious accident during practice on a triple jump.
Hitting his neck against the handlebar, he cracked his trachea. “I was lucky. The doctor said he never saw an accident like that. He didn’t know how I wasn’t paralyzed.”
After spending two weeks in intensive care, Schemel’s doctor told him he might not speak again because of vocal cord damage. He did regain nearly full use of his voice. “My kids love it because I can’t scream,” said Schemel, laughing.
The accident ended the professional motocross dream and led Schemel to dabble in cross-country mountain bike racing and eventually to college