BicycleWise is one-stop-shop for Wisconsin bicyclists

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Andrea Anderson
Monday, May 12, 2014

WHITEWATER—Coffee, biking, shopping, and a resting place all in one spot?

You bet.

Liz Killips-Sotherland and John Sotherland, co-owners of Whitewater's BicycleWise and Sports Fitness have created a space for all levels of bicyclists to come and shop for a bike, take a break from the roads or trails, or have a cup of coffee in the greenhouse space.

“You can come in from a ride, consume coffee, get some supplements … get electrolytes and carb replenishment," Sotherland said. "And they can fuel up and head back out on their ride."

The husband and wife, who met at UW-Whitewater, aren't the only bike enthusiasts and business owners who are mixing services.

Coast In Bikes, located in Milwaukee's Walker's Point neighborhood, recently added a coffee bar to its bicycle shop.

The company, located at 703 South 2nd St., Milwaukee, offers coffee and tea in the back of the shop to customers while their bike may be getting repaired or if a biker needs a break. It's tip-based.

Bicycle/coffee shops aren't strangers to Minneapolis, a city often ranked as one of the most bike-friendly cities in the country.

Angry Catfish Bicycle Shop and Coffee Bar, located in south Minneapolis, is one of several places in the city that team up java and exercise.

The purpose of such businesses is to provide a relaxing atmosphere with good coffee, and be a place where riders can get maintenance done and purchase clothing or other bike accessories.

“Instead of having it be just a place to buy tires and inner tubes and bicycles, it's a place to enjoy being at.” Sotherland said. "It's more a lifestyle than just a retail environment.”

It's also a way to combine the biking and coffee cultures.

A man in Missoula, Mont. who combined retail and pedal power together at Braxton, a bike shop, inspired Sotherland decades ago when he was in the Air Force.

In April 2001, he and his wife opened BicycleWise, 1155 W. Main St. The local bike shop is celebrating its anniversary with a sale through Saturday.

Selling coffee was always built into the business plan. It wasn't until 2013, when they moved across the street, that they had room to sell coffee, organic and vegan snacks, and other fuel for riders. The store will eventually offer tea.

"A healthy lifestyle is what we're trying to promote, and there's a lot of good qualities with coffee,” Sotherland said.

BicycleWise offers bikes for kids to bikes for professionals, and offers on and off road bikes. The majority of the retail business comes from the Giant bicycles that fill his shop. Giant bicycles are mass-produced across the world. The price starts at about $300 for adult bikes. The shop also has used bikes.

If you're looking for a custom bike, Sotherland can help you.

He has built more than 5,000 custom bikes in more than 20 years.

He is the master frame builder of Sotherland Custom Bicycles and was mentored by “guys who were leaders in the country” when he started making frames at Wisconsin's Schwinn Paramount in 1987 and later became a lead builder for Waterford Precision Cycle in Waterford. The company took over Schwinn Bicycle, he said.

The work is difficult and takes a lot of experience.

“It's a cross between jewelry and auto chassis work,” Sotherland said. “It has to be aesthetically pleasing, but also structurally sound.”

His plan is to eventually move his workstation from his home where he cuts, bends, and welds material to the Whitewater shop.

“There are three things in life you get to pick if you're lucky: what you do; where you do it; and who you do it with. I got all three,” Sotherland said. 

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