What if the activities you love don’t seem to fit into a coherent career path? Mike Bisig loves jumping his bike over hills and speeding around curves. But he loves music even more. He has adapted his career path, weaving music and cycling into his life. I asked Mike how he crafted his career. The highlights of his story follow.
In the beginning…
Since his childhood in Wilmington, Ohio, music has been Mike Bisig’s passion; both playing music and helping others learn how to play. His instrument of choice is the saxophone, although he’s an expert in most woodwinds, and also plays guitar. He reached such a high level of proficiency on the saxophone in high school that he was able to earn money by giving lessons.
His other passion emerged later. As a kid, Mike rode his BMX bike everywhere with his friends, but didn’t become serious about cycling until after college. He had no idea it would lead to Mike’s Bike Park. He laughed when he said his “high school counselor would not have picked this as a career path”.
At Wright State University, Mike embraced his passion for teaching music by majoring in music education and used his love of performing to forge long-term friendships.
Mike graduated from WSU with a degree in music education. What was next?
Mike wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, so he taught private lessons to approximately 40 students and worked at Absolute Music in Fairborn. There he quickly realized that he enjoyed sales.
Mike believes that “life is a series of connections you make with people”. At Absolute Music, he got to know the regular customers, including the band director for Greenon Local School District. That acquaintance led to a part-time job with the Greenon high school band and then a full-time position teaching music.
While working with the Greenon band, he continued to teach private lessons, as well as completed a Master’s degree in music education.
After several years, Mike reached a decision point: whether to settle down at Greenon or explore his options. He decided to leave the teaching field entirely and move to join a college friend in Honolulu for a year.
Greenon, Ohio to Hawaii is a huge leap! What did Mike do there?
Mike is a big believer in planning, so he started saving his money a year before he walked away from the Greenon job.
Mike rapidly discovered he didn’t want a car, because parking in Honolulu is “insane”. His friends biked everywhere, so Mike did, too. At first traveling by bike was terrible, because “Hawaii is uphill all the time”. He was young, however, so it didn’t take long before he adapted.
Since some of the most beautiful areas in Hawaii aren’t accessible by car, so Mike quickly got hooked on mountain biking. He discovered:
- Cycling enthusiasts are super nice regardless of skill level
- Biking’s physical demands are fun
- Spectacular scenery is just a ride away
Honolulu is an expensive place, however, so Mike quickly ran through his money. The local bike shop, Island Triathlon & Bike, needed a salesman, so Mike got a job.
Island Triathlon & Bike used professional cyclists as salesmen; Mike was their first casual rider. The pros, focused on performance, related best to other pros, whereas Mike reached out to everyone. In the process, he discovered he was good at selling bikes and equipment to the casual rider. Mike stayed, became the manager of the shop, and learned more about sales in the process.
Mike was having a great time in Hawaii. Did he stay longer than a year?
Mike stayed true to his plan and left Hawaii at the end of that year. Back in Ohio, he traveled for a year between Dayton, Columbus and Cincinnati, working with secondary school bands. He hated all that driving.
But once again, Mike’s connections paid off. A friend in Hawaii called to ask him to come back to Hawaii to run it a new high-end bike shop, Momentum Multisport.
Mike returned to Hawaii. Since Mike was involved in all the promotional activities, he got a hands-on education in PR basics. But he didn’t have to learn how to how to make promotions lively. From his years of playing music, he knew that innately.
Mike continued to love mountain biking,
but he also got interested in road biking. Momentum Sports provided training and support for triathlon cyclists. As the shop’s representative, Mike trained groups of triathletes, and led group rides. His “love of the bike grew and grew”.
Hawaii was wonderful, but family issues tugged at Mike. He was traveling back to Ohio every six or seven weeks, and, after a year, he decided to move back to Ohio.
When he returned to Ohio, did Mike chose teaching again or stay with bike sales?
Mike returned to his old job at Absolute Music, but this time he traveled to various school districts to serve their music needs. In that capacity, he reconnected with an old friend in the Beavercreek City School system. Since Mike had his Masters degree and was up-to-date with his licensure, he could easily to return to education. Beavercreek had a huge band program with a ready-made studio for teaching lessons, and Mike started teaching lessons.
After a year, he gained a teaching position in the band program, which led to his current position as the Assistant Director of Bands.
Mike said working with a high school band is a special type of teaching. Managing a band is like “running Fortune 500 Company on a teacher’s pay and with not a lot of resources”. The job requires skills in budgeting, short- and long-range planning, communication, and personnel management, as well as teaching. And it demands a lot of time.
Mike said playing music is always his first love. He said he’d be okay of he broke his leg, but would be devastated if he broke a finger. It’s so important that he also has found time to play in four local bands:
Now that Mike’s involved with music again, what happened to cycling?
Despite the lack of mountains, there’s plenty of off-road biking in Ohio, but the weather makes trail riding tough. After it rains, mountain bikers have to stay off the trails for at least two days so they don’t tear it up. Unlike Hawaii, it rains frequently in Ohio. Mike noted that his fellow cyclists often talked about the thousands of riders in Dayton area who need an indoor park.
Finally about two years ago, Mike had heard enough. “I’m just going to be the guy. I’m not a pro rider, but I have sales experience, understand how to manage money, understand how to manage the business, and can bridge the gaps between all the riders who come in to use the facility”.
Mike envisioned Mike’s Bike Park, an indoor bike park with jumps, ramps and curves to challenge the most skilled mountain bikers and BMX riders while entertaining more casual riders.
Dayton’s never had an indoor bike park before. How does a music teacher make a bike park happen here?
Developing Mike’s Bike Park has been a challenge. Mike has devoted hours to researching, developing a business plan, and designing the experience.
Much of Mike’s research has included talking to others more experienced in the business. He traveled frequently to existing indoor bike parks, such as:
- Ray’s Indoor Mountain Bike Park, Cleveland, OH
- Mega Underground Bike Park at Mega Cavern, Louisville, KY
- The Wheel Mill, Pittsburgh, PA
In addition, the Entrepreneurs Center in Dayton reviewed his business plan.
Once Mike had his business plan, his next steps were:
- Find an appropriate building that wouldn’t bust his budget
- Purchased an empty 70,000 sq. ft. factory building at 1300 E. First Street in Dayton
- Secure funding
- Convinced a bank to approve a loan by asking interested cyclists for money and initiating a Gofundme campaign
- Obtain all the necessary permits from the City of Dayton
- Passed a variety of soil and environmental tests and secured the necessary zoning variance from the City of Dayton despite being “a square peg, trying to fit in a round hole”
- Renovate the building to make it useable
- Volunteers, recruited through the Mike’s Bike Park Facebook page, have helped enormously
Mike’s next challenge: locate the right person to build the bike ramps, so they would be durable and exciting. Bryan Swinford, Links and Kinks Bike in Fairborn, helped Mike find Craig Billingsley, an international ramp builder based in Columbus. Check out photos and videos of Craig’s work.
Craig has technical ramp building skill, and the vision to design ramp’s function and place in the flow.
Mike said, “Every rider who has tested the park has been blown away by how rideable it is and how fun it is, regardless of the rider’s level. The complete novice doesn’t notice why the angles of the ramps work well, but pro riders can tell when and why the angles work”.
Mike wants the park to be for everyone, regardless of skill level. All riders will be required to wear a helmet, ride with the flow of traffic and obey the rules. Cameras posted throughout will provide constant monitoring, viewable on the big screen TVs in the lounge. All the staff members will have to be certified in CPR, know First Aid, and fully understand the park rules and concept.
Currently mountain bikers ask when they can buy a pass, and kids on BMX bikes wonder, “When can I have a place to ride where I won’t get in trouble?” The answer is: very soon.
- Start planning as early as you can; “the best time to start planning is yesterday and the second best time is today”
- Flexibility is important; “things are going to go your way and things are going to not go your way”
- Don’t burn any bridges; “you meet people at one stage and then they come back into your life to help you”
- Plan for the unknown; Mike included an “I don’t know what” fund in his budget
- Planning is vital; Mike tells his kids “don’t be a 70% person” who puts 70% in and doesn’t know how to finish and fizzles out