by Kim Scott Sowinski
Another chapter to the 100-year-old history of the original Merkle Brothers store was added May 1. Gear Up Velo opened at the corner of Sunset and Brecksville roads, ready to continue in the tradition of Independence Bike Shoppe.
New owners Brian and Kate (Carrabine) Rybak bought the shop and are commuting from their home in Lakewood, where Brian founded and was part-owner of Spin Bike Shop on Madison Avenue for 17 years.
Kate was raised on north Renwood Avenue in Independence and recalls walking past the Independence Bike Shoppe every day during her time at the old Middle School (IHS Class of ’98).
“Brian and I had been looking to go out on our own in Westlake and Bay Village,” she said. “He was given an article … about the humorous signs and online buying challenges and competition at the Independence Bike Shoppe. His business mentor said to check out other bike shops.”
So, Brian hopped on his bike and road from Tremont to the Towpath Trail and into Independence. When he found the shop, the door was locked.
“There was one dim light on in the back,” Brian said. “I got John’s [Romano] attention and said I wanted to talk to him about the article. I think he was ready to retire and open the door for new blood in the bike business. An agreement was reached and we bought the name and inventory of the Independence Bike Shoppe.”
The couple received the keys in March. They renamed it Gear Up Velo. Velo is French for bicycle, and “gear up” refers to everything from filling up your water bottle to gearing up for the next leg of the ride.
They got busy remodeling the space to give it a “boutique, modern feel” and changed the name to distinguish the new business, which would include the familiar Schwinn signature line and add their new base brand, a Swiss bike company called Scott. Gear Up Velo is the only bike shop that carries Scott bikes within a 50-mile radius.
Other bikes in the inventory include GT, Civia and Roll, an Ohio brand with five stores in Columbus.
“We have everything from $200 kid’s bikes, hybrids, up to $16,000 pro level bikes,” Brian said. They also carry e-bikes.
“We can custom fit any bike and provide personal service to our customers,” Kate said. “Brian is a certified USA Cycling Race Mechanic.”
Customers can go online to build their own hybrid, choosing colors and styles and having it delivered to the shop, she added.
Gear Up Velo has a complete line of clothing, shoes, diagnostic tools and biking accessories. The store also provides a coffee machine and energy snacks, and thirsty cyclists can get a chilled organic electrolyte drink called NOOMA.
The couple believe is supporting local companies and products from people they know in the cycling world. The store carries “gratitude granola” from Bike and Baker that is made with turmeric, sweetened with honey and coconut sugar and is gluten free. One of the company’s founding partners is an avid BMX biker in Arizona.
The city of Independence hopes to see the downtown area transformed into a destination place, with venues that attracta pedestrians. The Rybaks, too, envision the shop as being a place for riders to stop, recharge and visit. They added a long window seat to encourage customers to “hang out.”
“People kept showing up before we were ready to open,” Kate said. “We want our shop to be more about community and welcoming, to be ‘that’ stop on your ride.”
They love being near Hemlock Trail, the Towpath, and mountain bike trails in Bedford and West Creek Reservations and hope to start a cycling club with weekly road rides for all levels.
Gear Up Velo is also dog-friendly. “We have Instafamous Bassett hounds, @alfiewoofington & Barnabus Wigglebottom,” Kate laughed. “Slobber Sunday includes a dog bowl by the water cooler, and of course, biscuits as treats.”
Brian is a former BMX champion, featured on ESPN and in BMX magazines. Kate is an educator, currently the principal at Eastside Arts Academy in Cleveland’s historic Slavic Village. She and husband Brian have three daughters; Isabella, 20; Madeline, 15; and Abigail, 9.
Though opening during a pandemic is challenging, there have been some perks. Brian’s friends have been available to help with renovations, since they have been off work, Kate said.
“We love that my former Independence school classmates are stopping by,” she added. “We do not recognize each other at first because of the social-distancing masks, but when I write their name down for an order, I realize we know each other!”
Also, interest in biking has spiked during the stay-at-home orders. Business is so busy, there has been a nationwide shortage of bikes, especially hybrids and cruisers under $500, Kate said. “Kick stands are out of stock! There has never been a shortage of kick stands before,” she said. Gear Up Velo is located at 6596 Brecksville Rd. For more information, call 216-232-4300 or visit GearUpVelo.com.
Feature image photo caption: The city of Independence continues developing plans to attract more pedestrian traffic downtown, and Gear Up Velo owners Brian and Kate Rybak want to help. The couple, which opened their business in the former Independence Bike Shoppe space, hopes the store becomes a regular stop for bicyclists along the nearby Hemlock Trail. Photo by K. Scott Sowinski