After returning home from his service during World War II, Dick Sonne was not satisfied with going into his family’s business, Sonne Brothers Jewelers. Therefore, Dick worked with his family until he positioned himself to invest in a business where he could follow his true passion and work to get others involved as well. He started to make his dreams a reality: Dick opened a bike shop.
In 1962, Dick Sonne’s Bike & Hike opened in Utica, NY. Dick sold bicycles with enthusiasm, emphasizing the value of a bicycle as a tool for health, fitness and transportation, not just as a toy. During that time period nearly all bicycles were ridden by children. Dick was often harassed on road rides by drivers and people who thought bicycles were ridiculous, but he ultimately persevered in showing people the lifelong benefits of bicycles. For twenty years, Dick Sonne built his business, selling quality bicycles and service to customers with one goal in mind: getting people involved with cycling and promoting the benefits of the sport.
In 1984, Steve Sonne, Dick’s son, acquired the business from his father and continued what Dick had started. He still continues to offer the best products, selection, service and honest customer relations to Central New Yorkers. By maintaining such high quality products and service coupled with a true passion for cycling, Steve strives to fuel everyone’s interest in cycling so that they want to be educated, involved and eventually hooked on all the positive aspects cycling has to offer. To this day those goals have not changed. Keeping customers happy and on their bikes is what Dick Sonne’s has always aimed for, and they never plan to change that goal.
At 91 years of age, Dick still rides his bike almost daily. In 2003 he was inducted into the International Cycling Hall of Fame for his dedication to and advocation of cycling.
The Story of Dick Sonne
Dick was born at St. Luke’s Hospital on January 21, 1925. He graduated from U.F.A. in 1943 and then enlisted in the Army that same year. His tenure in the Army placed him with the 10th Mountain Division, where he spent most of the time in the Italian Alps. His actions in combat awarded him both the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star Metal. In 1946 he was honorably discharged. Shortly thereafter he met his wife-to-be, Ruth Krohn, with whom he had four children and four grandchildren. He currently resides in Highland Beach, Florida, where, if you are up early enough, you just might catch sight of him riding his bike along the winding roads that hug the seashore.
Dick rode his bicycle everywhere as a kid, because he loved the sense of freedom his bicycle gave him. After returning home from WW II, he went to work at his father’s business, Sonne Brothers Jewelers. Each day he would walk to work because he enjoyed the exercise. One day, he noticed that Playworld had a coaster bicycle in its storefront window for only $29.95, and with that single purchase he swapped out walking for biking. He liked the way cycling made him feel. It changed his life and made him feel better about himself – and healthier! Over the next decade he traded his coaster bike in for a 3-speed and then a 10-speed (purchased from Andre’s, the first one in the city).
It was at that point in his life he decided to go into business selling bicycles. He wanted to get the word out that bicycles are for everyone, every age, male and female. He wanted everyone to know that regular exercise is the key to feeling good. He started Dick Sonne’s Bike & Hike in 1962 on Burrstone Road in Utica, NY. In 1968, he moved the store to Commercial Drive in New Hartford, NY at the site of a former Saab dealership. The store gave him the platform and opportunity to tell other adults as they purchased a bike for their child the positive effect cycling would have on them if they gave it a try. Dick was way ahead of his time- and anyone who has been around Dick will tell you that every conversation includes the question, “What are you doing for exercise?”
Today, he still is riding strong at 87. Although he was never much involved with racing himself (he preferred to compete against himself), he encouraged his son Steve to race and to become involved with cycling events in the community. Dick inspired his son to further invest in the Sonne family commitment to cycling in New York State. In the seventies, Steve was involved with the planning of bicycle paths throughout Oneida County. Steve also organized many road and mountain races in the early eighties. In the early nineties Steve helped start the first police bicycle patrol by donating bikes and equipment to the New Hartford, Kirkland, Whitesboro, Yorkville, Town of Webb, Oriskany, and Utica Police Departments.
Today Steve is highly involved with the Ride for Missing Children, donating bikes and his time. Dick’s grandson, Richard, in association with the Oneida County Youth Bureau, visited the Utica area’s summer youth recreational centers for two years promoting Bicycle Moto-Cross (BMX) racing as a drug free, safe sport. Richard also raced BMX. Many Central New Yorkers now benefit from the possibilities and opportunities of cycling because of Dick Sonne’s vision. To this day, not one, but many people over the years have made the comment that “Dick Sonne is bicycles.” Dick Sonne saw early on that exercise and good health go hand-in-hand. It was his mission to let everyone know, and this mission continues via his son and grandson.
About Steve Sonne
Stephen Sonne was born February 23th, 1954 in Utica, NY. At the age of 9, Steve’s father Dick bought him a 3-speed Raleigh from Andre’s Cycle Shop. This rare purchase at the time for someone Steve’s age was due to Dick’s personal love of cycling and his desire to share that passion with his son. Steve instantly followed in his father’s footsteps, quickly developing a passion for the sport, which he maintains to this day.
At the age of 13, Steve acquired his second bike, a Rudge 10-speed, which he used that summer to take his first long distance road ride into Canada to visit a friend. On his 16th birthday, Steve’s father gave him his first racing bike and Steve rode it everywhere. He started participating in races throughout the Utica area, consistently placing in the top five. While attending Utica College, Steve befriended another avid cyclist. Together they made a cross country ride from Seattle to the Northeast. Steve has also extensively toured New England many times, putting thousands of miles on two wheels. Since the age of 17, Steve worked at the bicycle store his father had started in 1962. In 1980, he married Laurel Myers and they had two children, Devin and Richard Sonne. In 1984, over 20 years later, he and Laurel purchased the bicycle shop from his parents. They still own and operate the business to this day.
In the early 80’s, Steve organized and promoted numerous road and mountain bike races in the Utica area. He also directed and developed a BMX track that held weekly races for the youth of the Central New York. During this time period Steve was pivotal in the formation of the Mohawk Valley Cycling Club, an organization that still thrives. Steve also worked with community leaders and planners, aiding in the formation of bike lanes throughout Oneida County.
In the early 90’s after a break-in at his store, Steve wanted to repay the New Hartford Police Department for all their help during the difficult period. He donated bikes to the department, starting the first police bike patrol in Central New York. Subsequently, his shop donated bicycles to all surrounding villages and city police departments, including Utica. He also held clinics for officers in order to educate them on bicycle maintenance. Since then, Steve has been requested to teach clinics on bicycle maintenance by both Mohawk Valley Community College and New Hartford BOCES. He also gives free clinics at his shop every year.
Through his store, Steve has supported and promoted many championship and award winning cycling athletes. His highly decorated history as a sponsor includes a mountain bike team in the late 90’s whose riders claimed multiple individual titles, a road team which competes today throughout the Northeast, a BMX team that has won a Regional title and three State titles, and a budding Cyclocross team.
Over the years Steve has given generously through his store to many charities, cycling and community events throughout New York State. He has always appreciated the community in which he lives and has given back to it time and again. Steve has always promoted cycling as the #1 sport for both children and adults. His dream is to bring cycling to the mainstream of American athletics. Today Steve is an avid road and mountain cyclist, riding daily because as he claims, “It just makes me feel good.”
Following his father’s tradition, he views cycling as a tool for creating a stronger and better person. Cycling is an activity that families and friends can enjoy together, which is not only healthy for people, but the environment as well.