Assuming you visit Bikes on Wheels in Toronto’s Kensington Market when owner Sean Killen is in the house, the first thing you might notice are his sleeve tattoos. If not, maybe it’s the hand-painted racing bike hanging over the cash register, just near the front of the store.
Failing that, the wide selection of bikes might turn your head, too.
Killen, formerly a part-time employee of the shop during the 2000s and an independent sales representative, bought the well-known Toronto retail location and took it over in 2009. “The shop itself totally changed,” Killen told Canadian Cycling Magazine, something he attributes to a sea change in Toronto cycling more than anything else.
“With cycling in general, we’re selling more bikes every year, so more people are riding. Service is busier, too.” Apart from the recent addition of a second shop on Dundas Street West, simply standing in front of the shop and looking in either direction along Augusta Avenue strongly evinces that change, with the summer months—and even the winter—bringing a steady parade of bell-ringing bikes through one of Toronto’s busiest, most colourful districts.
For Bikes on Wheels itself, though, it’s hard to nail the shop down to just one part of the local cycling scene.
Some elements of that scene, however, are more noticeable than others. “Were definitely a city shop,” Killen said, “so we do a lot of city bikes but also a lot of track bikes and single-speed bikes.” The latter, Killen says, are seen a bit more frequently. “There’s less maintenance and it’s just easier to get around,” he said. “There’s not a lot of hills in Toronto.”
More than just an outlet of fixies and cruisers, though, Bikes on Wheels also commands a participant presence in the Toronto cycling community, hosting early-morning rides for the stalwart early-risers of the scene. “We do it four days a week; it’s just like a Bikes on Wheels group ride,” Killen said. “A bunch of friends and guys from the shop, on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, we’ll just do a group ride before work. We meet at 6:30 a.m., and it goes for about an hour and a half to two hours for about 40 km. It’s just a fast, quick ride before work. It’s a good group of guys.” In the beginning, Killen said, the ride wasn’t structured, more of a casual bike-mounted get-together. With its increasing popularity, though, a schedule of sorts came together.
“It was pretty varied,” Killen said, “but now we’re getting so like Monday has a certain route, Wednesdays have a certain route, Fridays are our fast ride; now we have a route for every day.” It’s not just the hard-core, early-morning bike warriors who hit up the rides, Killen adds—although a certain affinity for fast, strong riding seems to be a common thread.
“It used to be pretty chill,” Killen recalled, “but now it’s become a pretty fast, organized ride. We built it for two guys; now it’s anywhere up to 16 or 18 guys.”
Killen said Bikes on Wheels is already sponsors a couple of racers. But with the new Milton velodrome, there are new, bigger ambitions to sponsor full teams, and to see a significant competitive presence perhaps wearing the Bikes on Wheels logo during races. “We’d like to put a team together for that,” he said, referring to the new availability of such a state-of-the-art space for competitive riding. “We definitely want to get more into that.”
While some of the sponsorship the shop has already embarked upon has included mountain riders—”just to wear our stuff,” Killen said—the tattooed cyclist and business owner notes that Bikes on Wheels, above all, is more geared toward city riding, track and road cycling, with less of a focus on the mountain scene. “I’d like to get track and road,” Killen said, addressing what sorts of teams he’d like to see wearing the shop’s colours.
The catalogue of products that Bikes on Wheels carries is also a comprehensive one, reflecting the cross-section of Toronto cycling. “For city bikes, we do tonnes of Linus and Norco bikes,” Killen said, referring to just a sampling of the whole. “Then for track bikes — for complete ones—we do Fujis and All-City, a lot of custom bikes like Leader and Colossi. A big range of city and lifestyle bikes.”
“We’re just a local, neighbourhood shop really, you know? So we know our clientele, and cater to that as well.”