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'Revolutionary' Sault business is a haven for travelling cyclists (4 photos)

Velorution is the subject of this week’s Mid-Week Mugging

Velorution, an award-winning local business, is something of a landmark near the corner of Second Line East and Old Garden River Road, with its giant bicycle mounted near the intersection, its clay pump track, which is free to the cycling public, and its large, inviting building and super friendly staff.

“We do bicycle sales and service and sell all the accessories that go along with that, bicyclist the winter we do cross country skis and snowshoes and fat bikes (with their super thick tires), which have become popular for cyclists in winter,” said Jan Roubal, who co-owns and operates Velorution with his wife Ngairi.

There’s also a cozy rest area and campground at the building’s rear exterior for cross Canada cyclists passing through the Sault, with warm showers available for such travellers inside Velorution.

Word of that gets out “by word of mouth, and a website called Warm Showers for long distance cyclists. On that site, if you’re travelling by bicycle, if you need something in Sault Ste. Marie it’ll pop up with how many hosts there are in the community. We’ve been a part of that since the store opened,” Jan said.

The store sees 150 to 200 travelling bicyclists passing through annually, Jan said.

“We get a lot of people coming through, saying ‘man, I’ve been hearing about you guys since I left Victoria!’”    

“I think the biggest thing that makes us different is the community we’re trying to build. We’re trying to give back to the cycling community, and our community of Sault Ste. Marie as a whole,” Jan said.

“There’s a lot of tourism that can be drawn from cycling. We had the Crank the Shield bicycle race last weekend, and chatting with a lot of the people from southern Ontario they said there was no reason for them to come to Sault Ste. Marie before, apart from the race, but now they’ve been here they plan on coming back because we have such a cool area,” said Joel Wenham, Velorution manager.  

“I think what we do here at Velorution is important to me because you see the impact you have on people’s lives. They may never have ridden a bike before, then all of a sudden they have a passion for it, and over the years you become friends with them,” Jan said.

“We do what we do because we love doing it. We have customers who come in everyday to have coffee and hang out. It’s like ‘a bike shop ‘Cheers,’” he chuckled.

“It’s changed my life. Cycling keeps me fit, happy and healthy, and to be able to pass that excitement along to other people who weren’t cycling before, that’s a very satisfying feeling,” Joel said.

Where did the term ‘Velorution’ originate?

‘Velo’ is French for ‘bicycle,’ ‘Velorution’ referring to a ‘bicycle revolution’ when former Cuban leader Fidel Castro bought a million bicycles in 1989 to help the Cuban people get around as the former Soviet Union's economy collapsed (the Soviet Union having been Cuba's major source of oil for motor vehicles).

And by the way, the coffee’s always on at Velorution’s front counter.

Isn’t caffeine bad for the heart before heading out on a bicycle?

No, Jan smiled, stating it gives that extra jolt necessary to get pedalling.

Jan grew up in the Sault after immigrating to Canada from the Czech Republic as a young child with his parents.

“I lived in the Sault until I was about 20 and then I moved away.”

Like so many of us who have left the Sault at a young age for whatever reason(s), Jan changed his mind, appreciating the fact the Sault is indeed home, and returned.

“I realized it’s a super rad spot,” Jan smiled.

Jan has cycled all his life, and started mountain bike racing at 11, eventually travelling to different communities for mountain bike competitions.

Velorution was founded by Andre Riopel, well-known Sault cyclist, physiotherapist and environmentalist, in 2006.

“I started managing the store for Andre in 2008,” Jan said.

Jan eventually purchased Velorution in 2014.

Joel was born in Georgetown, Ont., near Toronto.

“I came up here for school at Sault College seven years ago for the Natural Environment and Outdoor Studies program, which was perfect for me because I had a passion for cycling, I knew I wanted to be in the tourism industry. Coming to the Sault, I got a great foot in the door in the cycling industry,” Joel said.

“I got a job here at Velorution part-time while I was at school, and just fell in love with the people and the area.”

“What I love is you can go into stores and know people by a first name basis, smile at people and shake hands... down in the GTA there’s not the same camaraderie,” Joel said.

“The cycling community, the people, the outdoors, the quality of life in the Sault is quite impressive, so I’m not going anywhere, anytime soon. The Sault is home to me now,” Joel grinned.