Michigan is known for building cars, but automobiles aren’t the only thing on wheels. There’s a non-motorized form of transportation Michiganders enjoy as well: cycling.  It gets people outside and makes them healthier, they can do it as a family or with friends, and it reduces the environmental impact of cars. Family-owned bicycle shops abound in Michigan. They’re something owners can be proud of. But it’s not always easy competing with the big-box stores and, even worse, the internet. So why do they do it? And how do they do it?

Neighborhood bike shops are the heart of the biking community. Nowhere else is there the excitement, the knowledge, and the pure joy of riding. They offer service and advice that can’t be replaced by Google searches. On the road and need a flat fixed? Call your local shop. Do you have a body not designed for the average bike? Give the local bike shop a ring; they can design one that fits shorter legs or extra-long arms. Mechanics at the shops are the ones that can tune up your gears to have you zooming up hills faster than you thought possible. Bikes can be expensive. Before you make the financial commitment that comes with purchasing a bike, test out as many models as possible. Go to your local bike shop and pedal until you fall in love.

Bicycle shops are also great for building a biking community. Many offer group rides designed to foster that sense of kinship. They help first-timers get their confidence and give opportunities for old pros to test their skills. Maybe you want to try mountain biking but don’t want to go it alone. Don’t worry – there’s someone at your local bike shop who can help you out. Many shops sponsor opportunities for kids to ride to school or women’s empowerment rides.

A boon to local bike shops has been the advent of bike races here in Michigan. From the Michigander Bicycle Tour, a multiple-day event in July, to The Iceman Cometh in November, family bike shops are ready to get you prepared. The experts there know what you should wear, and if they don’t have it, they’ll help you find it. They know what equipment you should have and can outfit your bike for special circumstances like long rides in frigid conditions. Even kids as young as three years old can get in on the racing action. Michigan Scholastic Cycling Association (MiSCA) offers a series of races for kids of all ages throughout the state.

Many times there is a legacy that keeps the bike shop going. D & D Bicycles has grown from one small shop in 1977 to Michigan’s largest family-owned bike shop, with seven locations and six family members running the show. “The showroom was so small in the original store that my dad used the lawn as an extension of his showroom and rolled the bikes outside every morning,” laughs Trisha Malinowski, who’s now involved in the store’s day-to-day operations. Her father started out building bicycles for another store and decided to do it for himself. Now, 41 years later, it seems like the right decision. 

Of course, it’s harder to own a successful shop in Michigan; it’s not a four-season sport here as it is in many other states unless, of course, you ride a fatbike designed for snow!  During the off-season, many bike shops come up with other equipment to sell, often other types of sports equipment. D & D sells hockey equipment, while others might sell snow-shoes or exercise equipment.

The internet has been the biggest challenge for most family bike shops. At a minimum, many people look around online before stepping foot in a local shop. Some place their order and end up with ill-fitting bikes that can’t be returned. On a positive note, most major brands, even when you buy them online, send the bikes to the local stores to be built.

So how does D & D stay ahead of the pack? Felicia Moore, another second-generation family member involved in the business, notes, “I’d have to say it’s because we are well managed, we have multiple locations in high-demand areas, and we go above and beyond what is expected in our industry.”

So now that the snow has thawed and you’re ready to hit the trails, make your first stop the family bike shop down the road. You can feel good about supporting a local business and knowing that you’re getting the best advice and service. Ride on!