It’s clear that Liz and John Sotherland are about play when you walk into their store. It’s colorful and full of fun signs, the most poignant: We’re serious. Get outside and play! After talking with them for a few minutes, you can tell that you have full permission to laugh and be silly.
BicycleWise is definitely here for people to enjoy cycling, play, and all that the outdoors offer.
“Our goal is to help develop a love of cycling year after year and give people a bike they’re excited to get on and ride. Bikes are really good for physical and mental health, and thus, the world. We need to help people understand this.”Owner and Nature Lover, Liz Sotherland
Liz, who opened up about living with Ehlers Danlos syndrome, mentioned that dealing with this disease and its effects on the body has made her and John understand how chronic illness translates into how one rides a bike which further helps them create or choose the perfect bike for different bodies.
“I enjoy figuring out how to build a bike for an aggressive weekend race that will deliver punch and performance as much as I enjoy building a bike for people who aren’t spring chickens, who are vintage riders with aches and pains but who can still get comfortable on the right bike.”Owner and Custom Frame Manufacturer, John Sotherland
Since they couldn’t have kids themselves, they are deeply passionate about helping kids understand the importance of bicycling and how to do it well, and to teach them about nature and playing outside.
“One time, a little girl came in, and she got on a bike and said, ‘Oh my god, I’ve got to have this bike!’ So adorable. It was really funny. And then it feels good when kids come in and say they’re off their training wheels.”Liz
Liz lights up when she talks to/about kids…and their customers in general. It’s not unheard of for Liz and John to have customers and their kiddos camp on their property or to bike around with customers after they’ve purchased a new bike.
“I coached t-ball for a long time, and now I have my t-ball players coming in with their kids to buy bikes!”Liz
Previous to opening their store in 2001, Liz and John wanted to learn about the bicycling industry from the inside out. John traveled the world for Schwinn, and the two of them were going to live in Hungary to manage Schwinn’s factory there, but instead, helped start a factory in Waterford, WI. John, who studied small business, and Liz, who studied exercise physiology and recreation at UW Whitewater, eventually decided they were ready to open their own bike shop. So with their manufacturing, exercise, and small business knowledge/skills, they opened BicycleWise and Sports Fitness where today’s current Maytag Laundry resides on Main St.
When they started, they wanted to include a coffee shop, but didn’t have the space.
“Bike people love coffee. It’s a fun add on, and we’re friends with the people who own Collectivo. In college, they played around with espresso and talked to us about wanting to start a business. They really support biking. Good people.”Liz
When the store’s current location opened up, they snagged it. They could finally have their coffee shop and John had the space to manufacture frames. So they started Sotherland Custom Bicycles at BicycleWise.
“Custom bikes are like a tailored suit. Every customer who buys a Sotherland feels good on it and is happy. One customer from New York called and said, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe how this thing rides.’ When customers come in, John starts with a conversation about how they want their bikes to feel when they ride. He has bikes in museums around the world.”Liz
John and Liz are truly the definition of biking enthusiasts. They loved riding the trails around Whitewater while in college. John raced for nine years. While in the Air Force, he rode from Montana to Wisconsin for fun.
“His bike was one hundred pounds from everything he was carrying!”Liz
Not only do they enjoy one another, working and biking together, but they enjoy educating and riding with the community, too. BicycleWise has an event every winter to show people how John builds frames. They go on weekly rides that are low key and fun so they’re accessible. John taught classes at the university and educates kids just starting on their bikes in three schools. They sponsor three to five charity rides a year.
“This is a very fulfilling way of going to work every day. Running your own business is very difficult and equally rewarding. We’ve been named one of America’s Best Bike Shops five years in a row.”Liz
BicycleWise offers free bike decorating during 4th of July. In the shop, you can get a free helmet fitting, air in your tires, safety checks, estimates on repairs, and attend the occasional free flat changing class. They even offer test rides of their new e-bikes.
Liz and John’s favorite brand is Giant because “more people can afford it.” So not only do they want people of all ages on bikes without breaking their banks, but Liz and John are warm people with so much appreciation for where they live.
“My favorite thing about Whitewater is playing outside. When we moved here, we decided our motto is, ‘We’re serious. Get outside and play.’ I love the lakes…the Kettle Moraine. Everything you want is right here. I think if people knew about all of that, they’d understand why Whitewater is special.”Liz
Pop into the store if you’re looking for repairs, a forever bike that fits you like a glove, or want to swap bike stories and have a good laugh. John and Liz would be happy with any and all of it as long as you leave happy.
BicycleWise and Sports Fitness
1155 W Main Street
Whitewater, WI 53190
Sotherland Custom Bicycles