Almost any avid cyclist will tell you that for every moment of aggravation, every curse at a car that pointlessly passes too close or honks angrily, for every hole you swerve around and every hole you jarringly hit, there are instances of unrivaled calm, of peace at the quiet you feel on an empty country road in the early morning, or along a gravel railroad bed-turned-trail.
Cycling brings the sense of accomplishment as you crest Alden Mountain or Bunker Hill, and the thrill of effortless acceleration as you begin down the other side. Cycling lets you relax amid the subtle click of pawls in a freewheel and the hum of insects in a field.
It is not an ideal sport, but it can be a sport of idyllic moments.
And it is a way to see the world differently from any other mode of transit. Cars give the world in breadth but not depth; so much whizzes by so fast, many details go unnoticed. Walking gives you the reverse; a great deal of detail you can’t notice any other way, but always within a relatively small distance for the time spent. Cycling strikes a balance between the two.
Tom Jones was the embodiment of the best of cycling, or more exactly he was the best of what cycling can bring out in a person. His store presence— whether during his days at Sickler’s or his more recent tenure running Around Town Bicycles — created a haven of no-pressure information in a world of relentless sales pitches.
Tom of the bicycle shop was a calm figure regardless of the world around him, a person you enjoyed being with whether you were buying something or not. His genuine appreciation of the person in front of him ran as deep as his knowledge of the sport. He was as perceptive about life and the people he met as he was about the business he worked in for decades.
Tom, the victim of a rare cancer that ultimately took his life Sunday, was exactly the same. Adenoid cystic carcinoma may have put a bit of a sway in his gait or slowed the flow of thoughts into words at times, but he remained an icon of equanimity as well as an expert on all things bicycle.
Tom Jones built his business with co-owner Rich Adams in downtown Wilkes-Barre on a fundamental principle too easily forgotten in the world of profit. He clearly believed retail is about the people, and the people who patronized his stores knew it. They came because of who he was as much as what he knew and what he sold.
He was that rare business man who unwaveringly remembered that business should not come first. He was as gleeful and inquisitive about new cycling technology as a kid on Christmas opening presents, but was never seduced by shiny and new if it didn’t fill a real need.
His goal was never to sell a bike, but to sell the best experience you could get by riding one: The exhilaration, the accomplishment, the peace of mind. This is what customers will remember.
But it is not simply the cycling community hurt by his death. The entire region is diminished with his loss.