Get Ready to Roll

Local bike gurus are getting folks ready to hit the road

Every year across the United States, more people switch to bicycles for exercise and commuting, according to the American Journal of Public Health. Who can blame them? Bicycling is a low-impact, economical form of exercise and a green transportation option. In addition, it is an accessible and affordable way to explore local open spaces, parks and trails.

Kalamazoo has its fair share of biking enthusiasts, with activities for every type of cyclist, from the leisure biker to the daily commuter to the triathlete. In anticipation of warm weather bringing those bikes out of sheds, garages and basements, Encore visited the local bike shops Pedal, KZoo Swift, Zoo City Cycle & Sport and Alfred E Bike to see what they have to offer cyclists readying for a new warm weather season and what services, bikes and accessories they have to offer. While each shop has its own special niche, the one thing each store has in common is that it wants to be a shop that is welcoming to every bicyclist, regardless of type, age or skill level.

“It is challenging to have a retail establishment that is both welcoming to a neophyte and yet has something to offer someone at the highest end of the sport,” says Pedal owner Tim Krone. “People come in and see a $2,000 bike and think, ‘Well, I don’t have $2,000.’ You know what? That’s OK. You don’t need $2,000 to have a good time.”

Here’s what you do need to have a good time: an operational bike (if you own your own, be sure to tune it up every year — shop owners recommend getting bikes into service departments in late winter to avoid waits), a helmet, a headlight and taillight (yes, even during the daytime, these experts say), basic bike knowledge such as how to fix a tire and how to obey the rules of the road, and a good place to get all these things.

“Go meet the employees at the bike shop you want to work with,” advises Alfred E. Bike owner Doug Stevenson. “If you aren’t having a great experience when you’re buying something at the store and they’re trying to get you to spend money, then it’s probably going to be worse when you come back and need some work done.”

From selling bikes and accessories to fixing a bent rim, a bike shop becomes a go-to place for bicyclists during the warm-weather days and beyond. Whether you’re in need of a helmet, a more-comfortable bike seat, a GPS system for longer trips or even a new bike, each shop offers different products, support and events throughout the season.

‘More to come’ -- Pedal

A modern, fresh aesthetic complements Pedal’s downtown shop space. (Pedal recently purchased Breakaway Bicycles in Portage, but the transition was still in progress at press time.) Pedal boasts a small but diverse selection of bikes, clothing, gear, electronics and parts as well as a service shop for tune-ups, repairs and more — all to keep up with the broad range of customers who come through the door. Tim Krone says he’s most proud of the store’s commitment to local cyclists and its connection to the local cycling community, which, he’s excited to say, is growing every year.

“There’s a whole infrastructure in place here and more to come,” he says, referring to the new Kalamazoo Valley River Trail expansion. “Cycling is happening here — the community is working toward a healthier, cycling-friendly attitude.”

What to check out at Pedal:

  • The Kona Cyclocross model — “Cyclocross is a sport, a great sport that usually takes place in a park, and you bike on grass, sand, dirt, pavement,” Krone says. “It’s got fat mountain-bike tires, but on a road-bike-like frame, so it has a lot of versatility.”
  • The smaller cargo bike for urban commuters
  • The selection of geeky cycling GPS and monitoring gadgets

Where: 611 W. Michigan Ave., Kalamazoo, and 185 Romence Road, Portage (formerly Breakway Bicycles)

Hours: 10 a.m.-7 p.m Monday and Wednesday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday

Website: PedalBicycle.com

Specialty services: Repairs, tune-ups and overhauls; bike sizings and fittings

Upcoming events: Kalamazoo Bike Week, May 10-17

‘We can fix that’ -- KZoo Swift

Tucked around the corner from Retro on South Westnedge Avenue, KZoo Swift buys, sells, trades and repairs vintage bicycles, mainly models from the 1960s through 1990s.

The shop, which opened in August 2013, has a startup feel, and customers often comment that Ryan Barber, who co-owns the shop with Justin Schoenfelder, is always at the shop, fixing up bikes and greeting customers. Aside from beautiful, shined-up vintage bikes adorning the walls and a back room full of old bikes and parts, the shop is bare bones and being built from the ground up.

“We’re the bike shop that when other bike shops turn people away and say, ‘Uh, throw it in the garbage,’ we say, ‘Yes, we can fix that,’” says Schoenfelder.

Bikes average around $200 to $400 at KZoo Swift, says Barber, and the vintage selection makes it a great option for college students, commuters or collectors.

What to check out at KZoo Swift:

  • The KZoo Swift Bike Wind Chime, made of recycled 
bike parts
  • The 1979 Schwinn Suburban, with only 9 miles on it and in mint condition
  • Barber’s pedicab (Kalamazoo’s only pedicab), which is used at local events

Where: 445 Forest St., Kalamazoo

Hours: Noon-6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, closed Sunday and Monday

Website: KZooSwift.com; Facebook.com/Kzooswiftshop

Specialty services: Repairs, tune-ups and parts; purchases of old bikes

Upcoming events: Group rides at which everyone is welcome, including those who ride cruisers. (Check Facebook for more info.)

‘Something for every interest’ -- Zoo City Cycle & Sport

“Bicycling is a very active sport right now, from the amount of people doing it to the effort communities are putting out to support the activity of the sport,” says Zoo City owner Rick Lee. “There’s something for every interest.”

“Something for every interest” is also an apt way to describe Zoo City Cycle & Sport. The shop carries everything from high-end Cannondale models to Schwinn cruisers, from adult-sized unicycles to skateboards. Its storefront is a big, welcoming space, and Lee has made sure to have room for kids to test-drive bikes as well.

“We’re like a car dealership for kids,” he says, pointing to a long line of children’s bikes. Zoo City offers a program for the kids’ bikes it sells that allows parents to bring the bikes back in good condition every two years and trade up for the next size while earning money toward a new purchase.

What to check out at Zoo City:

  • The wall of helmets, which includes the weirder variety with animal prints and faces
  • Monkey Lights — LED lights that are placed on spokes and light up and make colorful designs while riding
  • The brand-new addition to the shop’s lineup: Cannondale bikes

Where: 4328 S. Westnedge Ave., Kalamazoo

Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday

Website: ZooCityCycle.com

Specialty services: Repairs and tune-ups

Upcoming events: Look for information on an upcoming paddle-and-bike event co-hosted by Lee’s Adventure Sports, as well as on group rides.

‘A nice place’ -- Alfred E Bike

The oldest bike shop of the four, Alfred E Bike opened in Kalamazoo in 1972. Located downtown, the shop is housed in a space with high ceilings and wood floors and ample room for its bikes, parts, clothing, car racks and even kayaks. Owner Doug Stevenson says that even though the shop has been in business for decades, it still focuses on locals.

“I’ve always felt Kalamazoo’s market is an enlightened market compared to other mid-sized Michigan cities,” he says. “It’s a little more upscale, and a healthier lifestyle. It’s less important here what type of bike you ride and more important to just embrace outdoor activities.”

Stevenson started the shop with his wife, Bernadine Baisch, and their son Cullen Stevenson runs the operations of the store. Doug Stevenson says it’s more important for this family-owned business to be a nice place for customers than a big operation.

What to check out at Alfred E Bike

  • The Giant brand Liv series, an affordable bike specifically designed for women cyclists
  • The Alfred E Bike-branded biking clothing
  • The antique bikes hung on the walls

Where: 320 E. Michigan Ave., Kalamazoo

10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Wednesday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. 
Saturday, closed Sunday

Website: AEBike.com

Specialty services: Repairs, 
tune-ups, bike fittings

Upcoming events: Open group rides at 
6 p.m. Tuesdays. These rides start again when the weather warms up. Although two speeds are offered, the rides are too fast for cruisers; check website for details.


Ask The Experts

Are there considerations for buying a bike in Michigan that are different than elsewhere?

Jason Schoenfelder, KZoo Swift
Thinking about winter — the salt in the winter, for sure, and winter storage, which is really important. We can sell you a beautiful bike that’s been redone and if you leave it outside in the winter and it gets salt sprayed from the road or if it’s snowed on all winter, all the new grease won’t matter — the cold and salt will get into every crack. Unfortunately, that will ruin a bike in one season. Bring bikes inside in the winter, or put them in a locked garage or shed.

Ryan Barber, KZoo Swift
Another thing that makes Michigan different is the versatility — we have a lot of mountain-biking trails, light-packed limestone trails and city riding. There’s a lot of different types of riding you can do, and you can do it all on one bike mostly. You just have to change out the tires.

What’s been trending in the last year?

Tim Krone, Pedal
Fat bikes (all-terrain, fat tired biked invented for winter trail riding and racing in sub-arctic Alaska). It’s happening. I didn’t think it would happen, but it is, and it is so much more fun than I thought it would be. I’ve been out with my friends this winter, in the woods, on the road and riding around, and it’s been great.

Now there’s a whole infrastructure coming around it with groomed trails so you can get out, and it’s also not a sport where you’re just beating yourself to death. For the winter, it’s a great workout — you get out and ride. You’re not in the basement on a trainer watching some stupid movie; you’re outside in nature. I worried these were just for that guy, that this was his seventh bicycle, but these are becoming very accessible and we’re seeing more people interested in it.

What kind of cyclists are Southwest Michiganders?

Rick Lee, Zoo City Cycle & Sport
You find a little bit of everybody. We’re not lying when we say our customer base runs the age range from 1-and-a-half-year-old children to people in their 90s. There’s the downtownies, people who ride the older, retro bikes to and from different entertainment spots. You don’t have to go very far downtown to realize how important bikes are to those businesses because they have bike racks. There are people who are training cyclists, people who commute to and from work, families who ride together and there are the cruisers too, people who just want to ride around the neighborhood on a beautiful bike, like kind of a fashion statement.

When’s the best time to get a tune-up for your bike?

Doug Stevenson, Alfred E Bike
It’s peak service time in April and May, when the weather starts getting nice. During that time, our backlog gets so great in the service department that people get frustrated because it’s perfect riding conditions and their bikes are in our shop for weeks. We’ve started offering incentives to get bikes in earlier so we’re not getting slammed and customers aren’t missing riding time. The best time to get your bike in is November through February, during the off-peak season.