To Andy, biking is life.
It’s in his blood, and that love and dedication translates into the vibe of Backyard Bikes. They want you on bikes out on the trails of the Kettle Moraine Forest, riding the miles and miles of rural routes this area offers, and they want you happy and healthy.
“Where else can you go to get your bike serviced and grab healthy food before riding the area?”
The front half is the LaGrange General Store where you can grab any number of delicious and healthy things to eat or use on your body or in your home. The back half is the bike store and repair shop.
There is a smattering of local art, a continual nod to the original purpose of the store when it first opened in 1982–an art gallery and smoothie bar (one of the first in Wisconsin) created by members of a local hippie commune.
“This is an 1800s building. The woodwork was done by members of a hippie commune who attended UW Whitewater. They brought the Original Smoothie and used this as their art gallery. The mural in our men’s bathroom was done by students Mingo and Osho. It’s a rad building.”
In 1992, they added the bike shop and also offered cross-country skies. There were six bikes for rent.
“A man was doing a film shoot on the nearby trails and needed parts for his Huffy. He offered to start doing bike repairs. We’ve grown to eighty rentals, full sales with accessories for access to the kettles. We offer full-service repair and sell single speed bikes all the way up to $9,000 mountain bikes from brands Trek, Yeti, and Niner.”
“We sell Strider balance bikes to get kiddos on trails by about six or seven years old. The kid can push the Strider bike, feel the balance and how it runs. Then, it takes minutes to learn how to ride once they get on regular bikes and therefore can get on the trails sooner.”
We also have E-assist–a drive motor that assists riders if they commute or if they’re a bit slower. We have an eighty-eight year old man who rides his bike with an e-assist, and he’ll travel thirty to forty miles! Then have something to eat after. Seeing the customer happy and getting them on the dirt or road is what it’s all about.”
That intimate experience matters a lot to Andy and so does being honest with customers.
“I grew up upstairs. Our customers are like my second family. At twelve years old, my first bike sale was a Gary Fisher mountain bike. The guy said, ‘I can’t not trust a twelve year old. He wouldn’t scam me.’ It was one of the biggest sales I made. I learned that you don’t have to lie. What does the customer want to do? Where are they going to ride? What’s their budget? It’s about creating life-long customers. The heart of our business besides our customers are our employees. LaGrange. The area. Seeing people on bikes.”
He pauses as he chokes up.
“I was the eight year old out on those trails. I met my fiancee here. Customers became my friends. This is a community made up of many communities.”
Because this area offers some of the best trails in the state, Backyard Bikes is all about the silent sports (hiking, biking, and skiing) and they advocate for them. Since the dairy industry had to pave here, there are also amazing rural routes. The outer loops offer 30mi of cross country trail, and there’s a 2mi beginner loop in the John Muir Trail System.
“My favorite is the John Muir. Back in the nineties when mountain biking became popular due to Gary Fisher, the Sierra Club wanted to shut it down, but my dad and a bunch of lobbyists fought it. The trails are influenced by old ski trails. Major advancements have happened via this system because of trial and error with trail maintenance. The trails now use the kettles and the moraines. If you bike the outer loop of John Muir, take the 7mi trail from John Muir to Emma Carlin, and then ride the outer loop of Carlin, you’ll have conquered an IMBA (International Mountain Bicycling Association) Epic trail. You see moraines and bogs. Glacial rock deposit. Then it’s hilly. There’s an amazing change of topography. So unique compared to other trails out there.”
If you catch Andy on a slower day, be certain he’ll share stories about growing up in the store and point out the history of the shop to you. It’s quaint, and yet it packs a punch. It stays with you when you leave.
“We may look small, but we have a large operation. We sell Trek, but we haven’t lost ourselves. We still want to keep that unique, one on one experience. People come in and feel special.”
He’s right. You do. No matter how many people are populating the cafe and the “backyard” that day. You’ll pop in to buy a famous (secret recipe) peanut butter ball and leave dying to rent a mountain bike (or with a mountain bike in hand!) so you can get a taste of the trails beloved by many.
Backyard Bikes and Ski
LaGrange General Store, Cafe & Deli
W6098 Highway 12
Whitewater, WI 53190
Trail conditions: 262-594-6202 (DNR)