These days, when Bill Lewis talks about switching gears, it has nothing to do with cycling.
The longtime owner of Adirondack Bicycle has decided to close his shop and pursue his passion for wildlife photography.
He’s quick to note that he’s not retiring.
“Retiring is for people who have no curiosity,” the 69-year-old explained. “Curiosity is the stuff of life.”
Soft-spoken and humble, Lewis reluctantly agreed to take a break from cleaning out his small shop Tuesday to be interviewed. He sat on a stool behind the counter and let his mind coast back over the years.
He recalled his first bike ride, around age 4.
“My grandfather had a little, tiny bike with solid, wooden wheels that my father rode when he was a youngster, and when I got big enough I rode the bike for the very first time in his backyard around a birch tree — around and around — I didn’t dare stop. They were all in the house while I was having a good time riding and then I was ready to stop and I didn’t know what to do,” he recounted with a laugh.
Since then, he’s ridden upward of 150,000 miles on one bicycle or another, mainly in the area. But he said he’s done riding now. His wife, Mary, has knee trouble and can’t ride anymore, and he doesn’t want to ride without her.
Lewis started riding back when he worked as a steam valve designer at General Electric. Mary was a stay-at-home mom then, and the couple had only one car. Reluctant to leave her stranded at home, Lewis began to ride his bicycle to work from their home in Burnt Hills.
“Being a technical guy, I always had to repair my own bike and the next thing I knew, all my cohorts were after me to fix their bikes and I finally decided, ‘I should get paid for this,’ ” he said.
He opened Adirondack Bicycle at the corner of Route 50 and Fifth Street in 1975 and has been behind the counter there ever since, often accompanied by Mary, who lent a hand with bike repairs.
For the first few years, Lewis ran the shop part time while working full time at GE. Mary would often ride her bike to GE and the couple would bicycle together during Lewis’ lunch hour. Later, she’d fix dinner and bring it to the bike shop.
Lewis said he has a million stories about his years building, fixing and tuning up bikes, but lacked the time to tell them all. He took a minute to speak about the custom bicycle frames he used to make, pointing to a lone blue one hanging from the ceiling.
“I made two samples. All the rest that I made were for someone specifically,” he said. “What I did was, I would measure their bone structure and then design the frame to be a perfect fit, and as far as I know, every one was.”
When asked what stands out most about his years running the shop, Lewis didn’t say a word. He just grinned and pointed at Mary, who had stopped in and was standing on the opposite side of the counter.
Mary smiled back.
“Just being here with him was good,” she said. “To be able to be together for those years was really nice, and we learned a lot about each other, working together.”
“People would come in to buy something and ask for a bag and I would put my arm around Mary and say, ‘I’m sorry, she’s mine,’ ” Lewis joked.
“He still does that. People just die. They don’t know where to look,” Mary said.
The couples’ laughter filled the shop, now empty of bicycles. Still for sale there down to the end, at a discount, were odds and ends including tubes, pedals, gear shifters, derailleurs and cranksets.
Lewis had planned to stay open until Saturday, but decided that his last day of business will be today. He’ll stay around a few days after that to finish cleaning up.
Since word has gotten out about the store closing, he said he’s had at least 100 people stop by to bid him farewell.
Customer Gina Kornrumpf of Rotterdam had high praise for Lewis. She and her husband, Bill, have had their bikes serviced at his shop for about 30 years.
“He’s been a gem in our lives. He’s made my biking experience over the years just so, so special,” Gina Kornrumpf said by phone. “I always say that I trust him with my life, because you think about that when you’re going down a mountain pass at 40 miles an hour and your brakes are on. I trust whatever he does on those bikes is going to be perfect.”
Her husband agreed: “He’s a real mechanic. We’re all gonna miss him.”
Tuesday morning, Adirondack Bicycle was still fully stocked with one thing: examples of Lewis’ nature photography. Framed shots covered one wall: a doe standing in a field, ears pricked; a fox hunting in tall grass; a glassy mountain lake; a patch of black-eyed Susans. Lewis has had his photos published in magazines including Adirondack Life, New York State Conservationist and Fur-Fish-Game. Now that his life won’t revolve around bicycle sales and service, he plans to devote more time snapping shots in the wilderness.
He said he’s thankful to all of the customers who have come through the door at Adirondack Bicycle over the years, but firmly stated that he won’t miss the days of fixing flats and adjusting brake cables.
“It’s time to move on,” he explained with a smile.