Al Derech Burma: A slice of Colorado here in Israel

Specialty running and biking shops are a fast-growing part of the retail sports landscape in the United States.

Al Derech Burma 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Al Derech Burma 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Specialty running and biking shops are a fast-growing part of the retail sports landscape in the United States. These shops are typically owned and operated by experienced athletes whose knowledge and passion for their sport provide a true added value for the shopper.
Recently, this trend has begun to take root on Israeli soil as well. The finest such example is the recently opened Al Derech Burma, located on the legendary Burma Road just off Highway 1 near Shaar Hagay.
Al Derech Burma is, by all measures, an ambitious undertaking. Located in a boutique plant nursery, the facility is a custom designed, all-wood structure reminiscent of a ski chalet. The facility makes good use of its strategic location along the Israel National Trail with floor-to-ceiling windows showcasing the majestic beauty of the Judean Hills. However, it is readily apparent from the minute you enter that this is no ordinary bike store.
The extraordinary array of state of the art equipment is displayed tastefully and approachable. Each visitor is greeted warmly by owner Chaim Wizman and his staff.
Wizman is a US-trained lawyer who immigrated to Israel in 1996 and developed a passion for long distance running.
He founded and coaches the Bet Shemesh Running Club, which had nearly 50 runners complete the 42.2- kilometer Tiberias Marathon on January 6.
Wizman was frustrated by the fact that it was nearly impossible to find a local store to competently service the needs of the fast growing running community in the greater Jerusalem area.
So he decided to open his own specialty running store.
“At first, it was supposed to be a relatively small project,” says Wizman. “I was looking to create a place where all runners, from newbie joggers to experienced marathon runners could come and be properly fitted for running shoes and also receive expert advice on training and racing.”
Before long, however, the project took on a life of its own.
“The idea of simply having a quality retail operation did not appeal to me. If I was going to do this, I wanted to do it properly. I wanted to build a place that people would come not only to buy sports equipment but rather, one they would come to be inspired.”
Wizman decided to build his facility along the Burma Road, the famous bypass road that broke the siege of Jerusalem in 1948.
The Burma Road sits at the entrance to a huge network of well-traveled cycling, hiking and jeeping paths, but there was surprisingly little infrastructure in place to service the athletes and hikers who frequented the trail.
Wizman wanted to create a facility that would become a bustling hub of athleticand health-related outdoor activity.
Being right at the foot of the trails would make this possible.
Once he settled on the location, adding a biking department was a logical step since riders come from all over the country to ride the incredible variety of trails in the area.
The selection is enormous.
Bikes in the showroom range from NIS 690 for an entry level bike to over NIS 30,000 for a custom-fitted, carbon fiber bike, with every price range in between.
The variety of accessories is dizzying but there is always an employee close by who is happy to patiently explain the benefits of a particular product.
Wizman added a fleet of rental mountain bikes to enable visitors to experience the beauty of trail riding without bringing their own bikes, and the place is bustling with riders charting their course and sharing war stories.
“At every stage, we were looking to create a unique experience. Since athletes love nothing more than a good cup of cappuccino after a workout, we added a café that serves great coffee and health food.
Then we added luxurious showers so people could freshen up after their workout.”
Indeed, athletes can shower or relax over a cup of coffee while their bike is being serviced in the on-site repair shop.
The running department is Wizman’s pride and joy.
After discussing the customer’s current activity level and injury history, the customer is asked to remove his shoes and stand on a unique computer pad that analyzes the arch of his foot and the pressure areas along the foot.
Then Wizman videotapes the customer as he jogs on a treadmill.
The video is played back in slow motion on a large LCD screen as the customer sits in a comfortable recliner and watches. Based on the arch type and footstrike of the customer, Wizman will recommend a selection of professional running shoes that are appropriate for the customer.
The customer is then videotaped jogging again in each of these shoes until the perfect match is found.
“People are usually sophisticated enough to look for quality brands when they look for a running shoe but what they often do not know is whether a particular model is appropriate for them.”
The store is active in staging community events such as local mountain bike rides, moonlight rides, and running and biking races.
Al Derech Burma is also the sponsor of the highly successful community weight loss initiative, “The Biggest Loser” contest.
“The contest fits in perfectly with our mission,” says Wizman.
“Our objective is to create a health and fitness revolution and wean people away from the TV and computer screen. We are blessed with an incredible wealth of natural beauty and fantastic weather.
“People are far more exhilarated by a 20-kilometer ride through vineyards and forests than by another hour on YouTube or Facebook. And it’s not just a function of health and weight control. It dramatically improves the quality of one’s life. Sports is the ultimate social endeavor.
“Get out and ride and run with friends instead of communicating with them on a chat list in front of a screen.”