The first time Ron Oxyer thought about changing his life came after he was hit by lightning while doing concrete work on a tower of a New Jersey power plant.
There has to be something better for me, he thought. And then Oxyer found inspiration one day when he noticed a man renting out bicycles on the Atlantic City Boardwalk. “It seemed like an easy job,” he said.
Oxyer came to Sacramento to work as a concrete superintendent at regional power and sewage plants. But soon after arriving in 1968, he set himself up with an escape hatch: He opened a side business, renting out bikes and selling fishing gear, bait, beer and wine to people enjoying the shores and trails along the American River.
His American River Sports Center would eventually morph into a Sacramento-area chain called American River Bike Shop – and his full-time occupation. At its height, his business employed 35 people at five stores. It was America’s 11th largest retailer for the Giant bicycles brand, and Oxyer found delight in his customers.
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“When people come into a bike shop, they’re not coming in mad,” he said. “They’re looking for a fun personal experience or to buy something for their kids. They always have a smile on their faces.”
Now, after 46 years in the bicycle business, Oxyer is closing his last American River Bike Shop, which he opened at 9203 Folsom Blvd. in Sacramento in 1973. Oxyer expects to sell off his inventory and close around the end of this month, just shy of his 74th birthday.
He is moving on after another realization – maybe not a lightning bolt, but poignant and painful. He lost his wife of 44 years, Wanda, to cancer 3½ years ago. Eighteen months ago, his Rancho Cordova house burned down. He rebuilt it, while still hassling over settlement details with the insurance company and trying to replace tax papers destroyed in the fire.
Recently, his sister took ill. And somebody plowed into his brand-new Buick – and totaled it.
Oxyer says he is now stressed, tired and ready to retire.
“I’m so wore out that I don’t know if I’m coming or going sometimes,” he said recently.
But Oxyer doesn’t want anyone feeling sorry for him – because he is setting himself up for his next life’s escape. He recently met a lady friend. He has a new car – a Chrysler. And he is planning on packing it with his fishing gear and golf clubs as he and his new companion tour America, visiting family and friends and enjoying the outdoors.
That’s what Oxyer sought when he first came to Sacramento. He would ride from his American River Sports Center, hauling his fishing gear in a cart attached to his bike and finding sweet spots along the river to reel in steelhead and stripers.
His first store, opened in a small space next to an Ace Hardware store, was “just a little hole in the wall,” said Lee Yager, a retired Sacramento police bicycle officer and a close friend and fishing buddy of Oxyer’s. Yager said he bought his first recreational bike – a $169 Nishiki – from Oxyer in 1970 and “I thought it was a Cadillac.” He went on to buy nine more models over the years.
“I call him ‘the American dream,’ ” Yager said of his friend. “He saw, when he was still selling fishing lures, where the future was: It was in bikes. I think he did something right. I’m dreadfully going to miss his store.”
Oxyer’s younger brother Jerry, who died a few years ago at 63, helped run the store until Ron finally left the concrete business for good after five years in Sacramento.
Ron Oxyer began growing the business by expanding from rentals to selling wide-tire “comfort bikes,” sturdy cruisers built by classic cycling brands Columbia and Raleigh. His business boomed with the development of the American River Parkway bike trail system and the cycling culture in Sacramento.
“I saw the bicycle community grow up,” Oxyer said.
Now he is closing down and moving on with good memories. “I’ve loved everything about it,” he said.
Call The Bee’s Peter Hecht, (916) 326-5539.