Bicycling provides timeless, year-round fun.
There are few hobbies that continue to withstand not just the slow march of time but all four seasons in a year as well. Everyone from the young to the old, from individuals to families can participate, and everyone from the novice to the seasoned competitor is sure to enjoy the sense of adventure and exploration inherent in this pastime. Few bicycling enthusiasts might know that the Kansas City metro area’s cycling community is vibrant, active and adding new members all the time. In fact, whether you want to buy a bicycle as a first-time rider, have an old bicycle restored to its former glory, or just get out there and begin pedaling on a trail, Kansas City is a cyclist’s paradise any time of year.
Michelle Schmiedeler, co-owner, Velo Garage and Tap House (North Kansas City, MO)
Like most cyclists, Michelle Schmiedeler of North Kansas City has harbored a passion for cycling since she was a young girl who hit the road to explore the world around her. “It has been a lifelong passion,” she says. “I fell in love with the feeling of wind in my hair, because bike helmets weren’t very popular. Cycling gave me the freedom to see parts of the city and the country that I’d never seen before.” As an adult, Schmiedeler worked in corporate public relations for more than a decade — until one day when she stopped into a local tap house for a beer on the way home from work.
It was there that she met Kiley Sutter, the man familiar to North Kansas Citians for being the guy with the powder blue 1969 VW bus, which he had fashioned into a mobile bicycle repair shop, complete with beer taps. After all, what better way to finish off a long ride than with a cold brew?
Schmiedeler and Sutter chatted about Sutter’s tap house and the adjacent Velo Garage and Bicycle Shop. Soon, Sutter learned that Schmiedeler’s interest in the shop wasn’t just a passing one. She had worked as a bike shop manager for years and had plans to open her own shop upon retirement from the corporate world.
Throughout her conversation with Sutter, Schmiedeler realized that day likely would arrive much sooner than she expected. “I told Kiley, ‘If you are ever interested in having the Velo Garage and Bicycle Shop as a whole brand (with the tap house), I’d love to do that for you,” Schmiedeler recalls. “He called me the next day and said, ‘Are you serious?’ I said, ‘I could be!’”
Schmiedeler bought the tap house side, and the two worked for the next several months to bring the bicycle shop and tap house under the same brand. Velo Garage and Tap House opened in September 2017. One thing, of course, didn’t change – the VW bus remains parked in front of the building, ready to canvas the area for repairs to be made and thirsts to be quenched.
The bike shop includes a repair area settled behind the shop’s main show room, where bicycles with shined chrome stand at attention around the room’s perimeter. It’s a beautiful sight, Schmiedeler says, adding that the shop itself is quite unique.
“We don’t sell road bikes. That’s not our focus,” she explains. “We focus on what we love to ride here at the shop. We don’t sell what we’re not passionate about. And we’re the only shop in town that does consignment bikes.”
When you’re finished shopping or riding, the tap house offers a place to enjoy a beer, play a game of darts, and chat with like-minded hobbyists. It’s that community of hobbyists – friends really – that Schmiedeler enjoys the most about the business she shares with Sutter.
“What Kiley and I have done is built a community around cycling that is very welcoming, because we don’t have that competitive sense in our shop. We have a really diverse crowd that rides together,” Schmiedeler says. We have so much fun, and everyone gets along. We don’t leave anybody behind. We’ve created a community in that.”
The shop’s busy season runs from April to August, and customers who need work done on their bikes mostly come for tune-ups, Schmiedeler adds. However, whether it’s fall or summer, spring or winter, Schmiedeler notes that one can take enjoyment from biking in any season.
“Around here, we believe in riding 365 days a year,” she says, “and we’re trying to convince people that riding in the winter is actually quite enjoyable.”
And the most enjoyable part? “Cycling is the freedom and the things you can see that you never can from a car or a plane,” Schmiedeler says.
“Once you get out on the roads and the trails, it’s a bit like being a kid again. It’s really the beauty of the world around us.”
Jeff Wilson, owner, Resto 101 (Pleasant Hill, MO)
Cyclists know there are few better places to bike than on the Katy Trail.
The trail winds and weaves its way throughout Pleasant Hill, a town with a long history steeped in the transportation industry (city literature identifies the town as “where the tracks meet the trail”). The peals of a train whistle regularly slice through the silence that permeates the town itself. Both the train tracks and the bike trail connect Pleasant Hill with the small towns surrounding it, acting as pumping arteries that carry the lifeblood’s of both business and leisure throughout the miles.
In 2015, then-Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon cut a ribbon on a 47-mile portion of trail connecting Pleasant Hill to the Katy Trail State Park. Few people were more excited about the event than Jeff Wilson, who owns Resto 101, a local bike restoration shop.
“The trail connects communities. It really is picturesque,” Wilson says of the Katy Trail. “There are bridges and crossings. It basically aligns itself with the old Rock Island Trail, and there are also railroad artifacts along the path, such as old railroad ties.”
In addition to his shop, Wilson co-owns a vintage store, Retro on the Rails, and helps organize and host Buddy’s Pedal Fest, an annual vintage bike show and swap meet, which takes place every September, complete with live music.
Wilson’s fascination with bicycles stretches back to his childhood.
“My first bike – I remember my mom had painted it my favorite color, and my dad fixed it up, and it was a neat memory,” he recalls. “They didn’t buy me a new bike. They repurposed an old one, and that stuck with me.”
The most noticeable difference between contemporary bikes and vintage bikes are all in the design, Wilson says.
The little touches make all the difference – and they’re hard to find these days. After the end of World War II, he notes, bikes became more lavish and ornamental – bigger, better, heavier, and covered in chrome. Wilson calls the look ‘Space Age,’ and it was a mainstay of bikes of the 1950’s and ‘60s. The 1970s brought the rise of the BMX-style bike, made famous by the Me Decade’s own celebrity daredevil Evel Knievel.
Like Schmiedeler, Wilson says he’s happy and fortunate to be able to work on select projects that interest him (“I’m a sucker for a good story,” he admits). One of the most recent was a restoration of a bike owned by the father of U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo).
“Originally, it was beige, but we painted it red, white and blue,” Wilson says of the 1940 Huffman Long Tank. Still, there are other projects to complete during Resto 101’s busy season.
“During the summer, everyone wants everything at the same time,” Wilson says, standing in Resto 101’s high-ceilinged garage, where the façade of a vintage gas station stands (he brought it back from Kentucky piece by piece and reconstructed it within the interior of Resto 101). “People want to show off their bike to their friends.
Right now, we’re on a two-year waiting period for restorations.” It might seem like a daunting ‘to-do’ list, but the man who will breathe new life into the bikes says it’s all just a matter of keeping his eyes on the path to completion, putting his feet on the pedals, and moving forward.
Corbin Crable hasn’t taken a bike ride for nearly 30 years, but he’ll be happy to cheer cyclists on while enjoying a cold beer in the tap room. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Words: Corbin Crable | Photos: Margaret Mellott