When he was 14, Don Walker’s mom dropped him off at a bicycle shop near their home in California, and he walked in on a club meeting. Jim and Roxanne Stone, seven years his senior, were at that meeting as members of the club. Forging ahead 40 years, the trio recently reunited and opened a full-service professional bicycle shop in Eatonton.
“We’re trying to rebuild something we had as kids; the local bike shop was the center of our world,” Jim said. “Roxie and I were engaged and training and racing, and Don started racing with us.”
The three reminisced about their many trips to participate in races together with another friend. “We had four generations in the car and we played everybody’s type of music,” Jim said. They laughed wholeheartedly and tossed about names of bands and songs “It was an exchange of culture,” Don added.
Their new shop is called “Nuovo Corso,” which is Italian for “new course.” Its logo is a legendary phoenix bird from Greek mythology, a symbol of rising from the ashes and obtaining new life, something Don and Jim avow cycling did for them and can do for others.
Beyond bicycles, Nuovo Corso offers custom, handmade frame building and performance lab fitting; maintenance, repairs, and replacement parts; bicycles, cycling supplies, clothing, and other accessories; organized group rides, charity rides, races, a local USA Cycling club/team membership and benefits, and connections to professional and Olympic racers.
Roxanne and Walt Rocker are partners on the retail portion of the shop, Don operates the custom frame building and lab fitting side, and Jim is what he jokingly calls “cheap labor” and their biggest fan.
The shop opened February 6th and four days later, the first bike repair came in. “And it’s been constant ever since,” Don said, with Roxanne adding that until they opened, they didn’t realize the huge need for a repair shop in the area. Customers are not only coming from Eatonton, but also Monticello, Macon, and Greensboro, and “all over the state,” Jim said.
Stepping inside the shop’s front door, one is immediately greeted by Don’s tail-wagging black Labrador, “Strummer” as well as Roxanne or Don. Visitors are beckoned into the cycling world by the many displays of Don Walker bicycles, the Nuovo Corso cycling apparel, cycling gear, tires and other commonly needed parts, and classical tools. Inspiration or education can be garnered from the unique exhibits of memorabilia and bicycles from races and professional cyclists, and a Wall of Fame autographed by cycling champions.
“The finest bicycles in the world are on our wall,” Jim noted. “It’s like a fine Italian garage – the Lamborghini, Bugatti, Maserati, and Ferrari of bicycles. A shop in Atlanta, called Podium, sends their customers here to see our shop.”
For those more interested in the economy rides, Roxanne was quick to add that they’re meeting that need. “We’ve learned there’s a wide variety of need for our shop because a lot of local folks just want an affordable bicycle,” she said. “So, we are getting those, too.”
But they won’t be skimping on quality. “We wouldn’t carry or sell anything we wouldn’t ride ourselves,” Jim said. Don threw out a hearty, “Amen!” and added, “first and foremost, it must be safe and repairable, and will last.”
“And will last” seems to be an ironic understatement because a cracked bracket on his own bicycle is what introduced Don to the craft of building handmade bicycles. In 1986, he became an aircraft mechanic in California. He also was a cyclist, and the frame broke on the bike he was riding at that time.
Don said he read an article in a cycling magazine about a frame builder, so he took his bicycle to the local bike shop to see if it could be repaired. Don began asking the frame builder questions and talking with him. “And he said, ‘you’re really interested in all this, aren’t you?’ and he gave me a jig (device for production) to get me started in building frames,” Don said. “The magazine article fascinated me enough to want to know more, and the repair guy gave me the jig and pushed me into it.” After honing his craft and stocking his own shop, Don paid the favor forward and passed that same jig to someone else. “It has gone on to four different builders now, and is still being used,” he said proudly.
Don built his first frame in 1991, “and it was unrideable,” he said. In the years since then, riders on Don Walker Cycles have claimed numerous titles and World Championships.
Moving earlier this year from Kentucky to Eatonton allowed Don to open what he calls his “dream shop” in the back of Nuovo Corso. “With the exception of climate control, this is the perfect situation,” he said. He lived in Savannah in the 90s, so he was accustomed to Georgia’s heat and humidity. “But if we had sand gnats here in Eatonton, I wouldn’t have moved,” he quipped.
The numerous machines in his shop appear overwhelming to the rookie observer, but they create a harmonious symphony to Don. “So many machines are needed so I can have each one set for a particular operation,” he explained. “Instead of having to change the setting for each function, I just set it and forget it. The concept is flow.”
Don builds any type of bicycle to match the owner/rider’s strengths and eliminate their weaknesses. “People who ride 50 miles need to make sure they fit properly on their bicycle,” he said.
This attention to detail is fine-tuned in the fitting lab, located between the retail shop and frame building shop. The bike fit station features a monitor and cameras to capture a rider’s movements on a bicycle.
“Lloyd Thomas is the premier fitter for top cyclists, and Don got us in one of his systems right here, and Lloyd is available via Zoom from Germany for fittings,” Jim explained. “You can have the best bike in the world, but if it doesn’t fit you, you’re miserable and can get hurt. People look at racing bikes and wonder how they can be comfortable. But if it’s set up correctly, you feel like it’s a part of you.”
Both aspiring and experienced riders are welcomed at Nuovo Corso, whether the need is information, repairs/parts, new purchases, mentoring, camaraderie, or to join a weekly cycling event or club, or to pursue the dream of becoming a champion cycler. Visit them Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 6 p.m. at 601 Oak Street, Eatonton. Or call 706-749-8869, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Story and photos by Lynn Hobbs, appeared in the September/October issue of Lakelife.
Video by Tytan Pictures