“Like riding a bike” is an optimistic simile. Sure, in a vacuum, you might be able to hop on a bicycle after some time off and remain upright, but muscle memory can only get you so far when your last time pedaling was years and miles away from the dangers of potholes and texting drivers.
Husband and wife proprietors, Chase and Tami Spenst, recognized the disconnect between that turn of phrase and the legitimate concerns of would-be cyclists considering hopping in the seat after a long hiatus or for the first time ever. Their Arts District retail, repair, and coffee shop, The Wheelhouse, seeks to assuage those fears and welcome new and returning cyclists alike into LA’s growing bike scene.
“Right now in LA, it’s a weekend thing. It’s a mountain bike thing. But there isn’t enough of a daily lifestyle cycling scene yet,” says Chase from The Wheelhouse’s front porch. “So, when thinking of what business we wanted to start, it wasn’t about a bike shop, it wasn’t about a coffee shop. It wasn’t about building any one thing. It was ‘how do we create a place or experience that gets people riding bikes for everyday stuff?”
The Spensts aren’t the only ones focusing on increasing cyclist numbers. The LA Metro has been rolling out its bike-share program over the past few months to help combat the “first mile, last mile” issue hindering the growth of LA’s public transportation services.
It’s hard not to feel welcomed at The Wheelhouse. The high ceilings, living room-style layout and transit themed décor all beg you to come in and take a load off whether you’ve just finished a grueling trail and need a tune up, or are a pedestrian needing to duck out of the sweltering summer heat.
Tucked unobtrusively in a back nook is their parts shop. Appearing more like the Herschel section of an Urban Outfitters than the chromed-out hardware store one might expect, The Wheelhouse makes good on its promise of non-intimidation for bike neophytes. These accessories also speak to the idea of bikes as an extension of personal style on top of their means-of-transportation foundation.
That hip streak extends from the shelves to the cups. Brewing their drinks exclusively with Olympia Coffee Roasters beans, The Wheelhouse holds its own in a neighborhood where coffee snobbery is almost a hobby. The premium coffee speaks to the brand the Spensts are attempting to cultivate with The Wheelhouse. It’s almost a cycling social club, keenly designed to pull you in deeper with every interaction.
There’s a social conscience behind those business machinations. The Spensts aren’t looking to just shoo you out the door once you’ve purchased a fixie. The Wheelhouse organizes group rides each Thursday evening. Even non-customers are invited. “Those really let you take in the neighborhood and, hopefully, help grow the community,” says Chase. “Don’t worry, though. We don’t pedal too fast.”
Written by Justin Caffier
Photographed by Kort Havens
Videography by Kort Havens