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
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
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
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
Hours: 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
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.