As a 40th birthday present to herself, Theresa Van Ackeren quit her job.
“I worked for DST for 17 years, and I was in middle management hell,” Van Ackeren says. “I really didn’t like my job, but I had no idea whatsoever what i wanted to do with my life.”
Van Ackeren took a year off in 2007 and during that time, she rode her bike. A lot.
“I would ride for hours and hours everyday,” she says. “Quite frankly, I would go into bike shops and just had horrible horrible experiences-people ignore you or try to sell you what they have on the floor- and I kept saying to myself i wonder if i could do that better.”
After doing her research, writing a business plan, finding a space, and hiring a mechanic, Van Ackeren was ready to open Family Bicycles in Waldo in March 2008. She spent her entire 401K to open the shop. Van Ackeren is in the minority as a female shop owner; natiowide, 89 percent of bike shop owners are male.
Van Ackeren grew up riding her bike in Omaha, and rode for a few years in college when she didn’t own a car, but then she stopped. It wasn’t until the early 2000s when she picked cycling back up. “I realized I was turning 40 and I should probably do something with my life instead of sitting on my ass,” Theresa says.
In 2005, Van Ackeren rode the entire length of the Katy Trail with her dad and his girlfriend. “I was tired, but it didn’t kill me,” she says. The next year, they did it again, and later, Theresa began signing up for weeklong tours with a female-only bike touring company Women Tours visiting locations such as the Finger Lakes in upstate New York, Idaho’s Sun Valley, and Moab in Utah.
Theresa likes the casual nature of the tours. “It’s women only, its so much less of a drama,” Van Ackeren says. “Even though it’s all women, there is no drama whatsoever. Nobody is racing.”
Unlike most other bike shops, Family Bicycle’s clientele is overwhelmingly female. “It’s heavily weighted towards mothers,” Theresa says. “We are the place they feel comfortable. From day one, that was my goal. Anyone can come in here and ask any asinine, crazy ass question and they are not going to get a response like they have ten heads. If you ask me what the pedals are for, we will explain it.”
Van Ackeren says the percentage of female to male customers is at least 60-40. “We certainly get a lot of women in the store who the first words out of their mouths are ‘I’m not a cyclist, I’m not a biker, and I don’t race.’ And our response is, ‘Oh thank god, neither are we.’”
When it comes to the biggest challenge of riding in Kansas City, she says a lot needs to be done to overcome attitudes. “Most people have an attitude that it can’t be done, that it’s not safe. And that’s just really not true,” Van Ackeren says. “It’s about paying attention and not biking like you would drive your car.”
Despite the stresses of owning a bike shop and being around bikes every day of the week, Van Ackeren still enjoys the joy of getting away from it all to ride her bike–an All City Spacehorse. “I just like to go and have fun–to just get lost on the bike for an hour or two,” Van Ackeren say. “I love to go for an hour south and come back, and to just be alone with my thoughts.”