Bicycle Culture

The Velo Bike Shop Looks to Build Downtown Phoenix Cycling Community

Not long ago, Justin Bush took a trip to Flagstaff to ride his bike. An Indiana native, Bush is an avid cyclist, and he loved Flagstaff's breathtaking landscape and ample trails. When he visited a local restaurant, Bush struck up conversation with another customer – Jason Boles, an insurance salesman who shared a similar passion for bicycles. It didn’t take long for them to realize they lived only a few blocks from each other back in Tempe.

And they had something else in common: They disliked their jobs and sought something more fulfilling.

The two men stayed in touch. When Bush was laid off from a company that later went under, he received a surprising phone call: Boles was starting a bicycle shop in downtown Phoenix, and he wanted Bush to manage it.

“It was something he’d wanted for years and years,” Bush recalls. “He was very interested in the downtown area. There’s been so much growth and excitement recently.”

In January, The Velo Bike Shop opened in its prime location at 828 North Second Street, a stone’s throw from FilmBar, Angels Trumpet Ale House, and Matt’s Big Breakfast. The large, one-story building was formerly a yoga studio, then a Christian-themed cafe called Eighth Day Coffee & Culture. When Boles secured the building, he kept the café intact, which included the kitchen, machines, and electrical system.

Boles has experience renovating buildings, and it shows: The Velo has handsome wood floors and stone accents, like a modernist hunting lodge. Works of local artists adorn the walls, such as Nicole Ann Bellino's warm paintings and the Phoenix-centric photographs by Brandon Gray. On First Fridays, the shop often draws visitors with a keg and live music.

“It isn’t just a bike shop,” Bush says. “It’s more like a casual place to kill some time.”

Metro Phoenix is replete with bike shops, catering to every kind of rider, and there are bike-friendlier destinations than downtown. Tempe and Scottsdale boast strong bike lanes and easy trail access, and the Grand Canal Trail offers more than 20 miles of level riding with limited car traffic. Yet downtown Phoenix becomes more bikeable every month, thanks to new lanes, hundreds of racks, and the handy Grid Bike network. New construction is set to bring new residents, and Bush expects a lot of bike commuters, putting The Velo in the middle of the action.

“I would say nationwide, there have been tons of people who have wanted to go out there and ride,” Bush says. “As much as I despise the guy, I think Lance Armstrong was a large part of that. It makes it a little challenging, because we didn’t know what to expect. It’s such a wide range [of customers], a little bit of everything.”

The Velo has a small corps of bike mechanics, who encounter every kind of problem, from broken chains to bent wheels. But the staff also works with brand-new riders – people who live nearby, want to get some exercise, and aren't sure where to start.

To cultivate this cycling community, The Velo organizes a weekly group ride on Sundays at 6 a.m. As many as 40 people get together at the shop and pedal their way to South Mountain Park. They climb to the summit, coast back down, and then return to The Velo. Bush say that riders usually linger, drinking coffee and talking bikes.

“With the new people, it’s kind of fun,” says Bush. “You get to see them start out. You get to relive what you went through.”

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