Lean On Me Kim and Nick Hardin Create a Hood River Mainstay

Mountain towns and their tenders sit in an air of resilience. Like weathered pine bark, the hands that tune bikes or tilt tap handles also hold memories of frostbite and countless situations that called for “just hanging on for one more mile.”

Kim and Nick Hardin, the proprietors of KickStand Coffee & Kitchen in Hood River, Oregon, exude every bit of that wind-kissed character. They spill perennial suds in their quaint riverside town, where other adventure junkies flock to vacation and support their favorite forest folk.

KickStand is a space where athletes of all stripes review trail maps with their morning coffee, consume delicious calories midday, or reminisce about adventures over clever cocktails and a thoughtfully rotating menu in the evening. But it’s more than a basecamp for chow and laughter. Sidled under the same roof as evo bike shop, and just a few blocks upslope from the Columbia River, KickStand is a community center in every sense.

Kim and Nick lead weekly mountain bike rides from the cafe, regularly host live music, and generally pack the pub with a party for everyone to come home to. To further support the community that supports them, the Hardins regularly conduct charity nights in which a dollar from every drink goes to a local nonprofit or fundraiser. One fundraiser brought in $10,000 in a single evening.

The pair met through mountain bike racing and remain active in the thriving Hood River trail scene. They were even married at an Enduro World Series race in Argentina. How much deeper into a sport can someone dig? They did, however, take very different paths to the start line.

Kim leads Nick down a favorite Post Canyon trail, “Float On” near Hood River. The pair met through mountain bike racing and remain active in the thriving Columbia Gorge trail scene.

Before her race tires officially gripped the trail, Kim was racing whitewater kayaks, with a hard-fought win on the nearby Little White Salmon Race to her name. She had a keen sense for choosing lines and hucking herself from heights without sighting the landing. Growing up in Texas, Kim’s family would annually vacation in Oregon, and she took up whitewater kayaking at age 11. Her crew eventually moved to Oregon in 2001, where Kim and her sister could practice on legit rapids and eventually compete in creek and downriver racing.

A shoulder surgery in 2018 took Kim off the water, and her other love of mountain biking expanded into the competitive void. After roughly eight years of whitewater competition, she swapped the spray skirt for a pair of baggie shorts and focused much of her activity time on mountain biking. She enjoyed the similarities between the two sports, although with a few key differences.

“I liked that if you mess up, you may break yourself, but at least you’re not going to drown,” Kim says. She was also stoked to start from scratch with a new challenge.

After wholeheartedly embracing her handlebars, Kim took the plunge and registered for the Oregon Enduro Series race in Post Canyon. She had an absolute blast. As she made this athletic shift, she also managed to cross a few lingering whitewater events off her bucket list before ultimately retiring the paddle.

Kim’s ability to self-promote and gain sponsorships were easily transferred from one discipline to another. She became an ambassador for Yeti Cycles, followed by sponsorships from Juliana Bicycles and Devinci Bikes. These days, her and Nick both ride for the Bellingham-based Evil Bikes team.

But it wasn’t all waterfall hucks and rock gardens testing Kim’s grip strength. During her tenure as a boater, she also went to school and learned the trades of physical therapy aid and exercise science. While risking life and limb, she helped other folks repair theirs, regaining strength and mobility so they too could enjoy Hood River’s splendor.

Since opening in 2015, Kickstand hasn’t stopped pushing the envelope for its craft cocktails, espresso, or menu items. Chimichurri steak is one of the many rotating seasonal dishes that keep things fresh.

Kim’s human physiology knowledge came in clutch when she met Nick out on a local trail. He had been off the bike for a few years and was looking to regain his race legs. The pair started to pedal together, and Kim brought Nick to the gym for the first time. She taught him how to train for injury prevention and strength on the bike. Kim says she built a training program to fit their racing schedules.

Their time together led them naturally toward a few dates. Then, a few more.

Originally from the East Coast, Nick, who raced BMX in Nashville, Tennessee, shared valuable bike handling and trail expertise with Kim. Both learned a great deal from one another, practicing different lines and gaining speed and confidence with each doubling as an exercise accountability buddy.

Ripping down the BMX ramp at three years old, Nick has known the spirit of bike racing longer than almost anyone. His father raced bikes and was a supporter from the start. Nick raced for some smaller teams throughout his career, including a titanium frame manufacturer called Phase 2. At one point, he was teammates with Brian Lopes on TNT Factory Racing.

At age 13, he traveled to the World Championship in Santiago, Chile, with the GT squad.

“My dad was putting me on a plane in one country, and the team manager was meeting me in the other,” Nick said. “It was a fun way to grow up.”

As a single father, those were some bold and trusting moves that would surely help shape Nick into the confident guy he is today.

Nick added cross-country mountain racing to his competitive quiver and stuck with that through most of high school. At age 17, he moved to Ashland, Oregon with a buddy to see what the West was all about. After two years ripping around Oregon, he ventured up to Kodiak Island in Alaska for a season of soul-searching and commercial fishing.

Nick found he wasn’t quite done with Tennessee. He returned to help a friend run two restaurants. They would eventually open five more. He learned the trade directly and enjoyed the surrounding festivities—just enough. Nick says the bars didn’t really close, hence the break in his racing career.

“I was living a different lifestyle, if I may,” he says, cherishing memories of hanging out with NBA players at the restaurant and rubbing elbows with top barbecue chefs on a regular basis.

When his friend who owned the restaurants passed away, Nick decided it was time to set course for Oregon once more. He asked his buddy, the mascot for the Portland Trailblazers, to recommend a landing pad in Oregon and the answer was Hood River. He moved out and was treated with a new concept: pedaling bikes uphill.

“Needless to say, I didn’t get to see many of the trails at the start,” Nick said with his signature roiling laugh. “I couldn’t go up very high until I got my legs about me. Kind of like getting your sea legs.”

Nick immersed himself in the local biking scene, discovering a lively community of trail companions, including Kim. Their journey started on the trails, led to a wedding, and ultimately a business partnership.

Nick’s previous restaurant experience gave him the experience needed to build out a vision for Kickstand. The business’ latest innovation is a 32-page guidebook showcasing the Columbia Gorge’s numerous outdoor activities, all written and illustrated by Kim.

After some notably hard training miles, Nick and Kim were winning their respective categories at regional races and decided to take the show on the road. They traveled to Enduro World Series races (now renamed Enduro World Cup or EDR) around the globe, hunting for speed, results, and experiences.

The first EWS they attended was in Crested Butte, Colorado, in 2015. Kim says that with early enduro events in the States, promoters were trying to “show the Euros what the U.S. is made of” by using extra challenging course design. For example, the Crested Butte course was so long that athletes couldn’t practice all the stages in the allotted time, leaving some of the trails entirely unknown to participants.

From there, they traveled to Finale Ligure, an area with legendary roots in the enduro discipline. Nick had just taken second in the Trans-Cascadia enduro back home and was poised to enjoy some Italian dust. Kim and Nick learned loads at the Mediterranean round, realizing they needed different tires for some events, more zip ties on board, and that tire plugs are necessary for any emergency kit. They stuck around for another week and rode in the Ligurian Alps, where Nick proposed to Kim. Of course, she said yes.

Before crossing the tropics for more racing, the couple agreed to get hitched in South America, but they had no idea where or when the festivities would occur. On the drive from Chile to Bariloche, Argentina, they stopped at a hotel in Villa La Angostura and found the perfect lakeside staircase for their nuptials. They picked some flowers growing along the street, bound them with electrical tape, and proceeded with a beautiful ceremony. Sure, they signed some papers back in the States, but for all intents and purposes, they were married between two races in Argentina.

Alongside all the bike racing, Nick had started a new business. He recalls the KickStand kickoff fondly.

“I saw an opportunity to turn it into something more than what it was,” he said. “I started KickStand in 2015 and built the restaurant through the community.”

With group consensus, Nick added lunch, dinner, beer, and liquor, built a massive deck, and booked live music regularly. The restaurant has continued to grow, slowly becoming a lively beacon for Hood River.

Kim enthusiastically expresses the community-driven essence of their business. They aim to be more than just a restaurant, incorporating fundraisers, hosting local artisans, and organizing successful Wednesday mountain bike rides, attracting customers and aligning their passions and values, shaping KickStand’s identity.

Their close family friend, Chico Bukovansky, an action sports industry veteran, has a great deal of respect for what Kim and Nick have created on the corner of 13th and State Street.

“While many small towns’ top-level MTB community riders can come off as unapproachable, Kim and Nick have integrated themselves into all aspects of the Hood River MTB scene,” Chico says.

From mentoring and group rides, to transforming KickStand into a mountain biking hotspot and podium wins, they’re passionate and active in all things mountain biking. When Kim made the career change from physical therapy to restaurant management, she had no experience in the field and quite literally learned on her feet. Nick identifies as an “ideas guy” and says Kim is more structure oriented. She became an integral member of the KickStand team in short order, joining the staff full-time in the fall of 2016. KickStand’s newest innovation is a 32-page guidebook showcasing Columbia Gorge outdoor activities, written and illustrated by Kim. You can enjoy this informative read with a tasty meal, perhaps after visiting a nearby brewery or completing a multi-day hike.

Together, Kim and Nick pour as much passion and commitment into the Hood River community as they have in their personal passions. Next time you’re in town, stop by for a high-five and a group ride.