“The Phoenix Rising”

paramount bicycleTyler Oulton stands in his Ball Square bike shop, which shuttered for two months earlier this year when his health took a devastating turn for the worse. Photos by Jess Benjamin.

The last two decades have been a wild ride for Paramount Bicycle owner Tyler Oulton.

Like any cyclist in Boston, Tyler Oulton has had his fair share of near misses. He shattered an ankle in one crash, and he once landed in the hospital after an abrupt meeting with a cab’s windshield.

But there’s a specific run-in from his early years as a bike courier he still remembers vividly, when he found himself sandwiched between a car and a Mack Truck.

“The [truck] tire turned and caught my handlebar, and it flipped me up and over,” he says, rotating and spinning through a demonstration in his Ball Square bike shop. “I ended up facing this way, still on my bike, and I just started laughing hysterically. I couldn’t believe I wasn’t dead.”

That was more than two decades ago, before Oulton, who has always loved bicycles and got his start working on friends’ bikes out of his basement, opened a shop of his own. The decision to start a business back in the ’90s was spurred on by his wife, who one morning coyly suggested the two grab breakfast at the Prince Diner. The now-defunct restaurant was located in Powder House Circle, conveniently taking them past an empty storefront that would eventually become Paramount’s first home. “She totally baited me,” he says. “’Oh, look at that, there’s this huge empty spot here.’”

“We took out a bullshit personal loan—ten grand—going into winter,” he continues. “And I’ve survived 20 years.”

That’s not to say it’s always been a smooth ride. A week after Paramount Bicycle opened its doors, Oulton was riding home on a bike that had been given to him by a friend. As he cruised down a hill near his house, the front wheel fell off; that’s when he shattered—“absolutely shattered”—his ankle. Not working wasn’t an option. He was back at Paramount three days later, using a stool to wheel around his bum leg. He laughs that people first started bringing him bikes out of pity.

The shop hung on through that first winter, and ten years later, it moved to its current home at 104 Bristol Rd., where the laid-back Oulton has been quietly and competently selling bikes, building wheels and repairing rides since.

paramount bicycle

The last year, though, has again tested his luck—which is either great or terrible, depending on the way you look at a half-full glass. In the winter, Oulton was diagnosed with Lyme disease, and shortly afterward, one of his two sons was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Thankfully, it wasn’t cancerous—Oulton says it looks like his son is out of the woods.

But things took a more devastating not long after. His health declined, and quickly. A doctor told him he had three days to live. He spent two weeks in hospice care, where he was sure he was going to die. His weight plummeted to 110 pounds.

As it happens, he didn’t die in three days. Doctors said he might make it a week. Then, maybe a few weeks.

Months later, he’s still here—back on his feet and back in business—and Paramount has returned to its posted hours.

“I couldn’t wait to get back to work,” Oulton says. “I have fidgety feet.”

Today, standing in the shop, he doesn’t seem restless. He has the sturdy self-assuredness of someone who’s dodged Mack Trucks and defied an especially bleak prognosis, coming out (relatively) unscathed on the other side. It’s a brisk fall day, but warm afternoon light pours through Paramount’s street-facing windows—Oulton says that between the broad panes and the boilers in his building’s basement, he doesn’t even need to pay for heat in the winter. Jazz by trumpet player Bill Chase, a favorite of the repairman, fuzzes triumphantly from the speakers. (Chase didn’t have Oulton’s nine-lives kind of luck; he met his untimely end in a plane crash at age 39.)

Oulton is one to keep it simple. A handwritten sign reading “Cash Only: Old School Survives” hangs by the shop’s antique register. He doesn’t have—and has never had—any employees aside from the occasional apprentice. When his health declined, the shop shut down for two months, a tough break for any small business owner, but especially for someone who’s happiest while at work.

Oulton knows how lucky he’s been, how rare this kind of recovery is. “I bought a set of wings for myself and put ‘em on a denim jacket,” he says. “The phoenix rising.” But he also isn’t one to take himself too seriously. When his work is briefly interrupted by a call from a telemarketer offering a line of credit to the tune of $500,000, he hangs up the phone and laughs.

“Well, hell, the way my health is going, might as well take it,” he says with a wry grin. “Die rich.”

Paramount Bicycle is located at 104 Bristol Rd. Shop hours and additional info can be found at paramount-bicycle.com.

This story originally appeared in the November/December print edition of Scout, which is available for free at more than 220 drop spots throughout Somerville (and just beyond its borders) or by subscription.

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