BATTLEFIELD BICYCLE: Leo Turnipseed turns his tinkering into a profitable business

Published 10:37 am Friday, March 29, 2019

Leo Turnipseed got his first bicycle when he was 6 years old, as a Christmas gift from his grandmother. It didn’t take long for him to tear it apart. 

“The kids in my neighborhood were always modifying their bikes with different seats or big handlebars. The day of Christmas I talked those boys into helping me tear it apart,” he recalled with a laugh. “My grandmother came home and was yelling at me, ‘Why did you take apart that bike I got for you!?’ But that’s who I am. I’ve always loved tinkering.”

Forty-seven years later, Turnipseed is still tinkering — with bikes, business, and anything else he can get his hands on.

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Now 53, Turnipseed is the owner, operator and mechanic at Battlefield Bicycles at 908 Cherry Street. It’s one of three businesses he owns and operates under the same roof, along with Outside the Box Business Center and a lawn care business called Leo’s Services.

The lawn care service opened first, but soon after returning to Mississippi and moving to Vicksburg in 2015, the Greenville native noticed the potential for a niche market renting bikes to tourists. In March 2016, Battlefield Bicycles was born.

“We like riding and the best way to see Vicksburg is by walking or riding a bike. We invested in a bike rental business. We would take bikes from here to the (Vicksburg National Military) Park or the hotels. We’ve even taken them over to the Natchez Trace for group rides,” Turnipseed said. “While we were doing that, we found quite a few people who are from out of town on business or on planned rides that need tuning up on their own bikes.”

Turnipseed soon discovered that tourists weren’t the only ones looking for someone to work on their bikes. Vicksburg has a very active cycling community and, until Turnipseed came along, did not have a local repair shop.

As he always seems to, Turnipseed saw the hole and moved to fill it.

“We just keep our head on a swivel and are open to pivoting. The bike rental business was all we saw. Then several riders from the River City Cyclists group approached us about working on their bikes. Vicksburg is a word of mouth town, and word spread,” Turnipseed said. “The bike community has been really good to us. People had been going to Jackson to have their bikes repaired and tuned, so they’ve appreciated having someone here. Now that people realize there’s a bike shop they’ll bring in bikes that have been in the garage for 20 years.”

Joe Giambrone, a local cyclist who has also competed in a number of triathlons over the years, said he enjoys the convenience of having Battlefield Bicycles around to handle minor repairs.

“I try to use him when I can if it’s something minor. I don’t have to drive to Jackson, drop off the bike, and then take another day to go back over there and pick it up. Plus Leo brings it back to my house since he lives up the street,” Giambrone said. “From a cycling standpoint, I’ve enjoyed it. It’s convenient and accessible.”

Before coming back to Mississippi, Turnipseed and his wife Earnestine Johnson lived in Frederick, Maryland. His wife is a nuclear engineer with Entergy, and Leo is was a quality assurance engineer with biotech firm Thermo Fisher Scientific. They were avid cyclists then, but not as much now.

“I used to ride, but with three businesses it’s hard to find time,” he said with a laugh.

What he is finding time for is promoting bike use in and around Vicksburg, on a number of levels.

Turnipseed reconditioned several bikes for the Vicksburg Police Department to use for downtown patrols and operates a bike share service at Mississippi Valley State University in Itta Bena.

In Vicksburg, he’s become a member of the Chamber of Commerce and has been working with city leaders to create a similar program in the downtown area. He’s also discussed the need for bike lanes and trails with other local and state government agencies such as the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

“I’m most passionate about being an advocate for cyclists,” Turnipseed said. “It’s one of the things we’re trying to do now, is promote bike paths and complete streets. We’re working with the city to develop a strategy. We’re excited about the possibility of the (Old Mississippi River) bridge being open to use as a trail. I think that eco-tourism for Mississippi is a natural fit. There’s a lot to see.”

Turnipseed also conducts workshops on bike safety and the need for bike spaces at his business. It’s part of his vision to make his adopted hometown a more attractive place to live, by tinkering with it like he’s done his whole life.

“For Vicksburg, it’ll do a lot if we make it a bicycle safe community,” he said.

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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