Local, family owned: Wheel & Sprocket celebrates 50 years

Local, family owned: Wheel & Sprocket celebrates 50 years

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Do you remember your first bicycle?

For many here in Milwaukee, there's a good chance that bike may have been bought at Wheel & Sprocket.

This year, they're celebrating their 50th anniversary as a family-owned local business.

"We went from one small shop in Hales Corners Wisconsin in 1973, and now we are 12 stores here in Milwaukee, Madison, in the Fox Valley, and down in Chicagoland," said Amelia Kegel, owner of Wheel & Sprocket, "and we're a nationally recognized bike brand."

If you grew up in the Milwaukee area, you've probably seen the ads before.

"When I was young I remember waking up seeing the Sunday comics and seeing this crazy guy on a bike with the crazy hair for sure. Seeing the commercials on TV. So yeah, definitely part of the generation that remembers that," recalled Wisconsin Bike Federation Assistant Director Jake Newborn

That man with the crazy hair was Chris Kegel.

"Our Father Chris Kegel was the first mechanic when Wheel & Sprocket opened the doors in 1973," said Amelia.

Amelia says with her dad being the face of Wheel & Sprocket meant her and her siblings were involved too.

"Wheel & Sprocket is a family business through and through. So my dad and his brothers were integral to the success of the business early on," said Amelia, "and then as we were growing up as kids, I have three siblings. So all four of us have worked in the bike shop."

In more ways than just selling bikes, they also were in many of the ads.

"That's me!," said Amelia, pointing at her younger self in an old ad.

Amelia says the business built a reputation on fun ads on TV and in the newspaper.

"We have to be in the most fun section," said Amelia gesturing to old newspaper ads, "so for years, we ran comics as our ads for everything that was going on at the shop."

The comics referenced to movies like 'Shrek' and 'Men in Black', and popular 'Saturday Night Live' skits.

In celebration of 50 years, they're recreating one of those ads now.

Amelia says her dad's philosophy was that there's a bike for everyone out there.

"Laying back on a trike is a whole new story," explained Kegel, "it's been amazing to see people who have said like, hey, I have balance issues, or I never think I could ride be able to ride on a bike like this."

While Chris was a business man, Amelia says her father dedicated his life to sharing the joy of bike riding with everyone, founding groups that advocated for biking as a hobby, and worked to expand bike infrastructure.

Work Chris did both locally, and nationally; he even met with two presidents.

In 2017, her father passed away after being diagnosed with a rare type of pancreatic cancer, hundreds attended his funeral at Saint Matthias Catholic Parrish.

"People flooded in from across the nation to his bedside at his house, to be able to like say, thank you for this," said Amelia

Amelia says they're continuing her father's philosophy, that there is a bike for everyone, from cargo bikes, to recumbent trikes, to everything else in-between.

"Some people think about bikes they think of like, you know, racers and spandex going a million miles an hour. But really there is a bike for every style of person for every age group. For every ambition," said Amelia.

At their newest Bay View location, a massive crane calls back to the building's history as a foundry.

"The railroad line actually used to go through this property," said Amelia.

The 50 year history of the business is everywhere, including the original signage from their first location, and Chris' bike collection hanging from the ceiling.

More importantly, the tradition of bike advocacy as well.

"The Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin has an office here in the building, and then Rails to Trails, which are the geniuses who figured out how to create bike lines underneath the power lines and next to the railroads," explained Amelia, "so we're very blessed to have great partnerships, and it really is this like grassroots and top down approach."

Newborn said he worked for Wheel & Sprocket when he was younger and bought his daughter's bike from them.

He says they've been integral in initiatives locally to add more protected bike lanes to make biking better for Milwaukeeans.

"That's going to be a key part in getting the new riders the not as you know, strong riders, the families out to ride me more," said Newborn.

He says their Bay View store is also at the forefront of making community space for bicyclists with its coffee bar and classroom.

"I just bought this lovely Liv bike. It's the Avail and I'm going to name her Availa because my name's Amalia," said Wheel & Sprocket Customer Amalia Schoone.

Schoone, who has written grants to the bike federation to help people with disabilities experience the joy of cycling, says Wheel & Sprocket is critical to the biking community.

"I see Wheel & Sprocket at the Ride Across Wisconsin, at the Trek 100, at the UPAF Ride," said Schoone, "Wheel is always out there supporting the community. I also appreciate what Wheel and Sprocket has done with the Chris Kegel foundation raising money for bike trails across the city and just making biking accessible to everyone."

"It's 50 years old, which is a true accomplishment. Again, for any small business, it's a task to be able to have that longevity," said Amelia.

Amelia says they're looking to the future, with the popularity of E-bikes and big tire Winter sports on the rise, it's looking bright.

"It's actually crazy, but there are more people riding bikes all season round than we've ever had in the history of any data that we've had," said Amelia.

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