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Sunday, February 07, 2010

Olney, Ill.: Known for white squirrels --- and bicycles?

If you've ever heard of Olney, Ill., you probably know it for its white squirrels -- albino squirrels that seemed to have found a permanent home in the Southern Illinois community.

But did you know the town's known for bicycle distribution? I didn't until I read a story in Bicycle Retailer and Industry News about the community, located about 150 miles east of St. Louis.

Here are at least six distributors that have operations in Olney:
  • Pacific Cycle: The manufacturer of Schwinn, Mongoose, Roadmaster and Dyno bicycles.
  • SKS USA: A manufacturer of tools, tire pumps, mudguard, chainguards and bags.
  • Highway Two: A distributor of Brooks saddles, Continental tires and Crank Brothers pedals and wheelsets.
  • Magura: A manufacturer of bicycle brakes and suspensions.
  • KHS Bicycle Parts: A distributor of motorcycle and bicycle parts, including manufacturers Sapim and Pletscher.
  • Joe Hunt and Associates: A distributor of USA Brand spokes and generators.
Olney's ties to the bicycle industry began in 1962, when AMF began manufacturing its Roadmaster bikes there. If you grew up in the 1960s or 1970s, there's a possibility you rode a Roadmaster at one.time. Also, the Roadmaster was immortalized in the classic 1979 movie "Breaking Away," in which racers in the Little 500 rode Roadmasters in Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind.

According to the article, the Roadmaster plant in Olney employed as many as 2,000 people as recently as 20 years ago. Alas, Roadmaster found it was cheaper to build bikes in Taiwan than in Olney, and manufacturing ceased there about 10 years ago. Pacific Cycle now uses the Roadmaster plant as its distribution center. Two German companies, Union Frondenberg and Weinmann, also opened bicycle parts plants there in the 1970s, but those have closed as well.

While Olney might not have the "cycling panache" of Portland, Ore., or Boulder, Colo., according to the article, Olney's industry lore is cemented because of Roadmaster. I was unable to find any bicycle trails in Olney, although I'm sure the roads of the town and surrounding Richland County provide lots of good cycling opportunities.

Just don't run over a white squirrel while you're in Olney. It will land you a $200 fine!

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Roger 7 comments links to this post 3:06 AM

Roger, back in the late 80s I started my first bike shop in my garage and couldn't get bike companies to let me sell their bikes out of a garage.

I went to the big bike expo for shop owners up in Chicago and met the owner of Union Frondenberg and also the sole USA distributor of Gitane bicycles (Gitane has won more TDFs than any other manufacturer). They are a French company. He had his two operations under one huge roof down in Olney not too far from the Roadmaster plant and the Weinmann facility. The Weinmann facility built wheels exclusively.

Anyway, Thurston (can't recall his last name) was German born and had a thick accent. He was a great guy and he agreed to let me sell Gitane bicycles out of my garage and because I had no money, he let me sell on consignment! Nobody does that in the bicycle industry! I also bought a lot of accessories from his Union Frondenberg operation. I guess I can't say I'll never forget him as I've already forgotten his last name!

Jim Marcacci
Rock Springs Park in Alton IL was also known to have a small population of white and hybrid squirrels. I haven't been through lately to see if they are still around.
i'd like to know more about the white squirrels in Rock Springs ParK
http://roostershamblin.wordpress.com/ would you please check out my blog. I have been raising more than 50 breeds of chickens 40 years.
I acquired an orange Roadmaster in 1975 and rode it all over southern Illinois while I was in high school. I abandoned it at the University of Illinois when the frame broke after 6 hard years. One of the most productive $60 I have ever spent.
Hey Roger the Dodger - Be careful - Olney is my hometown. (I guess some of the white squirrels moved to Collinsville)
hey jim, his last name is schaette or similar to it. still in the bike business and a good friend to have. visit his site at thorusa.com
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