Chris Pfund’s Montauk Bike Shop Rides Into the Sunset

"The cycling industry is taking big hits."
The biking industry nationwide, not just in Montauk, has been taking big hits, Chris Pfund says.

Chris Pfund, when he began Friday morning to talk about the looming end of the Montauk Bike Shop, which he is liquidating after 31 years, choked up a bit.

“But,” he said, “I have been very fortunate. I’ve been able to make a living while following my passions. I first began working on rental bikes and mopeds when I was 8 and my father had a hardware store here. So it will be one less sandbox to play in: I’ll still have my sound company and EventPower,” a triathlon promotion company that he heads, along with his wife, Christina Fatsis, and Vicki and Pete Ventura. “And I’ll continue to give corporate bike tours. But it’s the end of an era. . . . It’s sad.”

“The store’s been here since 1963, and we began renting out bikes from the very beginning,” Pfund continued. “Kevin Koltz, who was putting himself through college, had the idea. He supplied hardware stores from Westhampton to Montauk with bikes that summer people would ride, three-speed English racers, and split the profits. It was a good idea. People were a lot more active then. He’d come around and maintain them once a month.” 

“We were the first out here to have bikes and surfboards for rent, and custom T-shirts, and umbrellas and chairs and mopeds. . . . We had 30 or 40 bikes to begin with, and when the hardware store was liquidated in 1999, we spun into bikes.”

When this writer said he remembered fondly riding an American Flyer through the streets of Pittsburgh as a preteen in the early 1950s, Pfund motioned him down to the basement storeroom where, in the back, were, among many other bikes hanging from ceiling racks, two of them.

He, himself, used to ride a bike all the time as a youngster, he said, with a guitar on his back that every now and then he’d play while riding along. There were photos of him doing that, he said in answer to a question, but not immediately at hand.

Kids weren’t riding bikes anymore, he said, and that was to a great degree why he’d made the decision finally to close the Montauk Bike Shop down.

“I used to teach classes on cycling at the high school, for about seven years, and there were kids, at least one or two per class, who had no idea how to ride one! The people you see riding along the shoulders are all older — the younger generation isn’t doing it. It’s not just Montauk, it’s countrywide. The cycling industry is taking big hits. It’s the same in triathlons and golf. Ask Tom Dess at the [Montauk Downs] golf course. He says you can easily get a tee time there in July.”

He had been trying for a couple of years to turn his business around, trying to make it work, “but all the hotels have fleets of 20 of their own bikes now and give them out to their guests for free. Rentals had been our cornerstone. How do you compete? Their insurance must be expensive, I know it is for me, and they’re not even giving them helmets! I’ve tried to make up for it with sales, but it’s not been enough.”

Pfund said he had missed just one day of riding, mostly off-road, on his mountain bike, in the past nine years. He’s been a triathlete since 1984, “and,” he said with a smile, “I always finish fourth.”

“Just out of the money.”

“Just out of the money . . . usually by seconds. My wife will say, ‘Did you do your job?’ ‘Yes,’ I’ll say, ‘I got fourth place.’ I did get second once, at the Schiff [boy scout] reservation in Wading River, in an off-the-road duathlon — run, bike, run. I’d been hit by a car on my bike three days before and broke three ribs. My brother Kurt and I decided to do it anyway. I did the runs, Kurt, who was out of shape, did the bike. I was third in on the first run, and Kurt didn’t lose any time on the bike, so I had to go for it. I swallowed some aspirin and went crazy on the last leg and came in second.”

Yes, he agreed, there were still bike shops in East Hampton and Sag Harbor and Southampton, “but Montauk is different. It closes down about now. You do the summer thing, you make money and you’re feeling fat at around Thanksgiving time before you start sweating buckets again. . . . If I could figure out how to keep this place going I would, but I can’t do one more winter with this place open.”

There were, he thought, about 100 bikes, all brand-new, in the store. He had sold a bunch the day before, including one to Kai Costanzo, whom he sponsored when Costanzo, then 19, set a record in the Montauk Lighthouse triathlon that still stands. Pfund said he expected this past weekend to be busy. A liquidator is overseeing the sell-off.

The family, he said, owns the building. He would be seeking a tenant, “somebody who wants to move in on January 1.”

He wouldn’t move to Charlottesville, Va., as his mother and brother had, he said in answer to a question. “I love Montauk, especially in the winter. If it’s snowing I’ll go cross-country skiing or mountain biking . . . and you don’t have to talk to anybody. It’s the spring I hate,” he said with a smile. “March and April are nasty.”

Chris Pfund said Friday he could remember missing only one day of mountain bike riding in the past nine years.