STORY BY JESSICA LYNK
Senior Aaron Hermsen and Junior Joaquín Valdes were studying abroad in Shanghai in the fall of 2013, when they first met each other. They went on the trip as strangers, but left as business partners.
“We ended up stumbling upon a guy with a [bike] shop in his apartment and we saw it was simple and how relatively easy it would have been to start a business in the states, so we kind of starting operating before we even left China,” Valdes said.
The apartment they went to was small but effective.
“It was a super small apartment, but he made really reliable, durable, quality orientated fixed-gear bikes that we loved and we started riding them,” Hermsen said.
The two got inspiration to start a fixed gear bike company after seeing the culture of biking in Shanghai.
“We got going on these Tuesday night rides while we were there and it was basically a mass mob of 200 to 300 people riding down the street of Shanghai kind of doing whatever you want to do,” Hermsen said. “It was a very liberating feeling. The culture of Shanghai biking was so immense and diverse that we wanted to bring that kind of culture back to Des Moines because it did not persist here. It isn’t a part of our society.”
After coming back to Des Moines, the two got enrolled with Lorentzen Student Hatchery, a business incubator in the business school designed to help students with start-ups.
Now the two run Frank’s Fixies out of Norman apartments, along with their third business partner Isaac Shella-Stevens. The company sells bikes, apparel and more recently added screen-printing to the mix.
Their apartment acts as a shop and a show room. They also rely heavily on technology to help them with inventory and communication.
“You can pretty much work from wherever you are. It doesn’t matter. We don’t really need an office,” Valdes said.
The team has worked to not only create bikes, but also make Des Moines more bike-friendly.
“To be able to replicate what happened in Shanghai we need to have roads that are bike friendly, commuter friendly,” Hermsen said. “They haven’t had that yet, so we haven’t been able to fully get the culture here because we need to fully get the infrastructure.”
One of the ways they are attempting to do this is by partnering with the LEAD capstone in order to advocate for more bike lanes in Des Moines and around the Drake neighborhood.
The petition is meant to help get more people on bikes.
“It [the initiative] will give Drake a safe more eco-friendly option to explore the surrounding areas of campus,” senior Megan Nelson said, who is involved with the capstone.
The initiative will help make this possible and also make group rides possible, like the ones Hermsen and Valdes went on in Shanghai.
Since the team started, they have transitioned from how they originally opened, which was making custom bikes, because it got too expensive.
They have focused more on designing their own fixed gear bikes to then sell.
“Now we are at the point where we just want to make a bike that we know is going to serve a lot of people,” Valdes said. “[We want a bike] that is going to look pretty good, pretty unique, so we put a lot of time and effort in designing them, talking with the manufacturers to see what can be done and what cannot be done.”
They are currently waiting for a shipment of 32 bikes in early May, so they have gotten more involved with the apparel to stay busy.
“Because we are retailers for apparel, because we make our own apparel, it is pretty easy for us on to screen print on the side because we have the equipment,” Valdes said. “Right now we are just waiting for bikes, so we are pretty much open for anyone who would like to approach us and we are starting to market that more and more.”
The apparel side has been a way for Frank’s Fixies to make money all year round and get all students involved.
“The whole apparel side of this has been a hit, especially during the off season,” Valdes said. “Not all college students have the money for a $450 bike, especially when it is not even the time to ride a bike, but they love buying our apparel. It has been quite successful.”