To many of his former students in the Hoquiam School District, Tom Nostrant will always be a math teacher.
Look online, however, and Nostrant has a burgeoning international fame for an entirely different reason. Among a small, but dedicated, core of bicycle enthusiasts, he is the guy who has solved a question that confronts them on a daily basis. Namely, “What do you do with your bike when you are not riding it?”
Nostrant’s answer: Click-Stand. A simple, lightweight, segmented rod with a cradle at the top that cyclists can lean their bikes on when not in use. For anyone involved in serious bicycling, a Click-Stand means no more laying their bikes in the road or dirt and no more looking for the perfect tree or mailbox to lean it against. And finally, it is the definitive nail in the coffin for the kickstand, a product avoided by many bike tourists and bike purists. Like most good ideas, the simplicity of the invention makes you wonder why it has never been thought of before.
Since starting the business in his basement more than four years ago he has sold more than 4,000 of the devices and orders continue to pour in at an average of around 70 per month. Nostrant, who retired from teaching in 2005, stays busy creating each Click-Stand by hand, piece-by-piece.
“It’s getting to be almost like a job,” he said, laughing.
Armed with only a website, Nostrant has managed to avoid advertising by letting the product speak for itself. So far he’s gotten all of his orders either from folks chatting in online cycling forums or from cyclists in the field who have seen Click-Stands propping up others’ bikes.
Nostrant is the ultimate do-it-yourselfer. When he became interested in kayaking he built one. The same is true with Tiffany-style stained glass lamps. These days, when he needs a new bike he builds one from scratch. But he also likes to improve things. A tinkerer at heart, he is constantly trying to figure out how to build a better mousetrap.
Yet Click-Stand is the first idea that Nostrant has taken and turned into a bona fide business. So the world will never know what he would have made if he had pursued, say, kites, model trains or some other post-retirement hobby. The pedaling fans of Click-Stand should just count themselves lucky that he got into cycling.
Paul Wetzel is a central figure in most of Nostrant’s stories, whether in the shop or on the road. The two met as colleagues in 1977 when Wetzel taught at Cosmopolis Elementary School and Nostrant was at Central Elementary in Hoquiam.
It was Wetzel who first inspired Nostrant to build a kayak and it was Wetzel who made Nostrant want to buy a bike and start riding.
“I rode as a kid, of course. I bought a bike in the late ’70s that I would just ride around but not anything with purpose,” said Nostrant. “I thought it would be fun to ride with Paul, who has ridden bikes with some sort of intent for quite some time. So I bought a bike.”
As Nostrant’s passion for cycling grew, his tinkering nature kicked into gear. He became interested in the mechanics of bikes. Their geometry and composition, materials and components.
One night he was playing poker with Wetzel and some other friends and talking about a used bike he was thinking of buying when the subject of building bikes came up.
“I think that kind of flipped a switch for Tom,” Wetzel said. “He was drawn to the challenge.”
Wetzel and Nostrant found books on the subject and enrolled themselves in night school in Grays Harbor College’s metal-working course and in the Hoquiam High School machine shop. They took classes on running lathes and mills and learned how to machine parts and pieces. In the basement of Nostrant’s Aberdeen home, the two friends built a specialized shop and began the process of building bike frames.
“Paul made a frame for himself, one for his wife and one for his sister,” said Nostrant. “I made one for myself and a tandem for my wife and I.” Both men made a handful of other bikes for friends and family. Wetzel became so proficient at the craft that one of his mountain bikes was displayed at Interbike, billed as the largest bike-industry conference in the country.
Eventually Nostrant considered launching a business building bike frames but decided against it due to liability issues.
“So it’s a super-deluxe hobby,” he said. “If I want a bike I can make a bike.”
In September of 2006, on the first day of school for the Hoquiam School District, Nostrant and Wetzel loaded up their home-made bikes with bags, clothes, water bottles and assorted gear, left their respective homes and met in the parking lot of Duffy’s restaurant in Aberdeen. From there, they rode down the coast through Oregon to Northern California and into the Bay Area.
It was Tom’s first bike tour and Paul’s second.
“I thought, ‘That sounds like fun,’” Nostrant said. So I took a bike that I had and changed it into a touring bike and he and I rode down to San Francisco.”
It was what Nostrant calls a “credit-card tour,” meaning they stayed in motels as opposed to camping and ate in restaurants instead of cooking at camp every night. Still, each bike was loaded with 60 pounds of gear and the tour took three weeks to complete. The duo had so much fun they decided to do the same tour again the next fall.
Then, In the fall of 2008, they embarked on a three-stage journey across the U.S. They picked a route called “The Northern Tier,” which took them along the North Cascades Highway, through Glacier National Park and some of the most scenic roads in New England. This time, they brought tents and cook stoves.
Nostrant said one of the toughest parts of the tour was in Washington, crossing the North Cascades Highway.
“That was just a chore, I’m telling you,” said Nostrant. “It was six or seven hours in the saddle of just climbing. It seemed endless. When we got to the top I told Paul ‘That was the most athletic thing I’ve every done in my life.’”
Toward the end of that first leg, the two were pedaling through a small town in North Dakota when Tom suggested sending their gear home from a post office and getting a hotel for the night. Paul agreed. Unfortunately, all of the accommodations were booked with oil field workers and they were forced to stay in one of the most seedy motels Tom had ever seen.
“That was my fault. The bathroom sink was lopsided because the cabinet was rotted,” said Nostrant. “It was so bad that I went outside and brushed my teeth with beer.”
Another time, Nostrant and Wetzel were pedaling through a prairie when a storm began to brew.
“It started raining really hard. Then we saw a flash of lighting and we thought, ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’”We were both mentally calculating the time between the flash and the bang even though we really didn’t remember what it means.”
Just when they were about to abandon their bikes and lie in a ditch, they came upon a farm house and knocked on the door.
“We ended up standing in the farmer’s garage for an hour until the lighting stopped,” said Nostrant.
In the fall of 2010, they completed their journey when they pedaled into Bar Harbor, Maine. In all, they had pedaled more than 4,200 miles. Every time they stopped, their bikes were propped up with Click-Stands.
It was during the preparation for his first tour to San Fransisco that Nostrant realized he didn’t have a good plan for keeping the fully-loaded bike upright when he wasn’t riding it. Looking at online bike forums, he knew he wasn’t alone.
“There are a huge group of people who use kickstands because they don’t see anything wrong with them,” he explained. “Then you have a large group of people who would rather lay their bike on the ground than put a kickstand on it. But tourists are a group that really need to keep their bikes up because when you lay them down on the ground you’re laying your paniers (bike bags) down on the ground, which isn’t good. To top it off there are a lot of bike companies that will void your warranty if you put a kickstand on the frame.”
In the back of his mind was a photo he had seen of a bike tourist who had found a stick that was the perfect length for propping up his bike. It was a great idea, he thought, but where would you put a stick when you were riding? Plus, sticks are kind of heavy.
One day he was setting up his tent when a light bulb went off in his head. What if he made a stand out of the same collapsible material that tent manufacturers made their products out of?
“So I went online and found a company that sells tent pole sections and bought some,” said Nostrant. “My first stand didn’t have a cradle on the top. I had a spot on the bike where I could jam the point. And I thought, ‘That’s nice!’”
Later, he came up with the idea of cutting a nylon washer in half in order to make a cradle that would fit around the top tube of a bike’s frame.
“I liked it and I thought, you know, for once maybe I should investigate one of my goofy ideas and see if I could make it,” he said.
Nostrant went for it. Through trial and error he figured out how to produce the stands efficiently and still keep them affordable.
Now, when someone orders a Click-Stand they have to provide their frame height as well as the diameter of their top tube. Nostrant then feeds the information into a computer program that gives him a cut list with the exact measurements for making a Click-Stand appropriate for the bike. The customer also gets to pick how many segments they want in the stand (the more segments, the smaller the bundle of segments) and what color it should be.
Each stand comes with two small bungees used for holding the bike’s brakes locked so it doesn’t roll away.
One customer is Nathan Haley, an English tourist who maintains the website velofreedom.wordpress.com. Haley has been riding his bike since May of 2010 when he left Prudhoe Bay in the North of Alaska with the ultimate goal of arriving in Ushuaia, in the Argentine province of Tierra del Fuego.
“I’ve been using the Click-Stand for over two years now,” Haley wrote in an email from Honduras. “It is especially useful when in the wilderness and there is nothing else to help support the bike. I’ve ridden with a few other folks on this tour and every one of them has been enormously impressed with my Click-Stand, so much so that most of them have gone on to order one for themselves.”
In the age of smart phones, it’s not unusual for Nostrant to get an order from people in the midst of tours. With the compassion of someone who’s walked the walk, Nostrant is happy to make the Click-Stand and mail it off general delivery to a post office ahead of the customer.
If there is a problem with Click-Stand as a business, it’s that Nostrant has made it a bit too customer-friendly. Since every stand is made to fit the specific geometry of a certain bike, he can’t simply mass produce them and hang them up for retail. Despite inquiries from bike shops, bike catalogs and REI, (the popular store for outdoor equipment) for now at least he has to maintain the website, handle the customer service and manufacture the product.
“I invented something I have to make,” he said, laughing. “If I ever invent something again I’d invent something that somebody would make for me that I could just sell.”
For now, he says the amount of orders he’s getting is manageable and the business is still fun. But if it did get to the point where he had a problem keeping up with demand, it’s not too far fetched to think he would probably figure out a solution.
MacLeod Pappidas, a Daily World photographer and writer, can be reached at 537-3934, or by email: email@example.com.