Sunflower Outdoor and Bike puts up $100K to start new cycling league; shop’s plans for bistro moving ahead
photo by: Chad Lawhorn
A downtown Lawrence business is risking as much as $100,000 of its own money in an effort to get a new sport established in high schools and middle schools across the state.
Sunflower Outdoor & Bike Shop has pledged the money to be used to start a new, competitive mountain biking league for Kansas students.
“The simplest way to imagine it is high school and junior high school mountain biking as a varsity type of sport,” Dan Hughes, owner of Sunflower Outdoor & Bike, told me.
But instead of local school districts taking on the expense of starting programs, the sport would be run through an existing nonprofit organization, the National Interscholastic Cycling Association.
Kansas already has formed a chapter of NICA, but it basically has had no funding and has been largely dormant for several years, Hughes said. Sunflower hopes to change that by agreeing to provide up to $100,000 in matching funds for the Kansas chapter. In other words, for every dollar that someone donates to the chapter before Aug. 25, Sunflower will match that dollar, up to a maximum on $100,000. The money will be used to pay for everything from a trailer to timing equipment to other items needed to get the organization off the ground.
Hughes said it is a scary time for his business to potentially be making a six-figure donation, but he said the timing does fit well with Sunflower’s desire to create a new strategic plan for the company, which has been a longtime downtown retail presence at 804 Massachusetts St.
Hughes said Sunflower has taken on a group of investors that are providing funding for a strategic plan for Sunflower. Doing youth initiatives, like this one to help promote the future of cycling in Kansas, is one of the plan’s objectives.
“The thing I want people to understand is that we have the money to do this, but it isn’t because we’ve been living high on the hog down here,” Hughes said. “It is more of an investment and a gamble really.”
Hughes said he and the group of investors — he didn’t provide details on their identities or the group’s size — want to create a new chapter for Sunflower, which got its start in 1972. The new strategic plan for the business includes creating a new coffee shop/bistro, which we reported on in May. (More on that in a moment.) The plan also includes creating a more mobile version of Sunflower’s business, along with several other initiatives.
Hughes, though, said it makes sense for the mountain biking league to be one of the first initiatives because several organizers already have put in the work to create the Kansas chapter. Several mountain biking enthusiasts in Emporia — which has hosted the internationally renowned Dirty Kanza bike race — created the chapter a couple of years ago.
“We felt like this might be the time to swing for the fences on this one because the infrastructure is already in place,” Hughes said.
The national organization, founded in 2009, also is old enough that Hughes has been able to see some of its successes. NICA now has chapters in 31 states and has more than 22,000 competitors. He said California has been one of the most successful states. It now has two leagues, and on any given weekend, it host races that draw from 300 to 500 participants.
In Kansas, mountain biking would be a spring sport. Hughes hopes the fundraising efforts go well enough that the season could begin next spring, but the pandemic will have much to say about that timeline.
Members of the national organization, though, already have been to Kansas to look at several mountain bike courses to potentially certify them as sites for future competition. Hughes said three of the potential sites thus far are in Lawrence — the public trails along the Kansas River and trails on a couple of pieces of private property.
Hughes said he expects good interest from Lawrence and Douglas County youth. He said there already are several competitive youth riders in the area, and he said potential teams already were forming in Lawrence — perhaps a joint team featuring Lawrence High, Free State and Bishop Seabury riders. A separate team is in the works in Eudora, he said.
Sunflower obviously is hoping the sport will help create new riders that eventually will become future customers of the business. But Hughes said the company’s interest in the project goes deeper.
“Cycling is such a powerful thing not just from a sports standpoint, but from an environmental and transportation standpoint,” Hughes said. “The idea of exposing people to cycling at a younger age can be pretty powerful.”
People interested in making a donation can do so on the website of the Kansas chapter, which can be found at kansasmtb.org. People need to make a donation before Aug. 25 in order for it to qualify for the matching program.
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Plans are still moving ahead to create that coffee shop/bistro in a portion of Sunflower’s building. Hughes told me he hopes to have the venture open by mid-August.
“We are working on it day and night,” he said.
As we reported in May, the shop will be near the backdoor of Sunflower’s store space. The shop would be near the area where Sunflower has its Eighth Street entrance. Plans still call for a coffee bar that serves some food. He said look for some biscuits and gravy and a variety of sandwiches on the menu.
But as we also have reported, some alcohol is planned. Hughes said he expects to have three beer taps as part of the operation, plus a cold-pressed juice tap.
“We are not creating a bar by any means,” Hughes said. “This place is meant to be a launching pad for adventures, which sometimes means you come back and have a beer after it is done.”
As you may recall, Lawrence city commissioners temporarily tweaked some of the alcohol regulations in downtown to give non-bar businesses more leeway to sell some liquor as part of their operations. That will be worth watching to see how businesses take advantage of those new regulations.
As for the Sunflower coffee shop/bistro, I’ll plan to provide an update on it once it opens.
photo by: Chad Lawhorn