Still spinning: Free-Flite Bicycles celebrates 40 years in Marietta with Sunday evening event

Dan and Jeff Thornton in 1978 (photo courtesy of Wilson Media)

Bicycle enthusiasts across Cobb County are gearing up to mark a major milestone for one of the area’s oldest cycling institutions: Free-Flite Bicycles.

The company is celebrating 40 years of continuous operation with a party featuring Tour de France stage winner Jens Voigt, plus door prizes, free pizza and snacks, and even free beer from Terrapin Beer Co. for those of the appropriate age.

The event will last from 7 – 10 p.m. Sunday evening, April 8, at their Marietta location (2949 Canton Highway, Marietta, Georgia 30066).

“We have people who are now buying bikes for their grandkids who were children when my dad started this company,” said Free-Flite Bicycles’ President Dan Thornton, who co-founded the company with his late father Jeff. “We thought this would be a perfect time for a bit of nostalgia. We’ll have poster boards up with hundreds of pictures taken over the last 40 years, and we’re hoping to see the faces of many of the people who have been with us during that time.”

Voigt, who twice wore the Tour de France’s famed yellow jersey and set a world time-trial distance record for biking in 2014, will be the celebrity guest of honor. He’s a well-known personality in the cycling world and is now a Tour de France announcer for NBC.

Free-Flite Bicycles began life as a skateboard shop in 1977, operating out of the former Belmont Hills Shopping Center in Smyrna. Just one year later, as the skateboard craze began to wane, the company switched from boards to the culturally similar world of BMX bikes and moved north to Marietta.

Flyer for Free-Flite Skateboards Belmont Hills (photo courtesy of Wilson Media)

It has been a successful four decades since, with Free-Flite Bicycles now operating from three locations. In addition to the Marietta store, there are locations serving East Cobb (4177 Roswell Road) and Sandy Springs (6014 Sandy Springs Circle).

The company got into BMX sales at a good time. In 1982, the famous bicycle sequence from the movie “E.T.” catapulted the bicycles’ popularity. The emergence of the X Games a decade later didn’t hurt either, with Free-Flite Bicycles sponsoring its own teams over the years.

Dan Thornton with his son Daniel in front of Free-Flite Bicycles’ flagship Canton Highway store (photo courtesy of Wilson Media)

Thornton said it’s outstanding service that’s allowed his business to thrive for so long.

“A big part of our success is doing what’s right for the customer,” Thornton said. “Being a cyclist myself, it’s important to stay ahead, see what’s coming next and fulfill the needs of the customer. It’s all about service.”

Free-Flite Bicycles has also become a three-generation business. Daniel Thornton, a 2005 Lassiter High School graduate, serves as general manager under his father.

The event promises to be a fun gathering for cyclists everywhere, just in time for warm weather to wash across metro Atlanta.

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Haisten Willis
Haisten Willis is a freelance writer who lives in Smyrna with his wife, daughter and dog. He holds a master's degree in journalism from California State University, Fresno, serves on the board of SPJ Georgia and even rides a bike when time allows.

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