Appeal of bikes broadens, but riding remains risky in Syracuse

The business model Steven Morris and Sara O'Mahoney employed with their Westcott Street bike shop, Mello Velo, is an old standard: find a gap, and fill it.

"We saw a need," Morris said simply. Existing bicycle shops in the Syracuse area tend to cater to a specialized clientele. "They're great if you're a triathelete. But for the average Joe, it can be kind of overwhelming."

So last November -- yes, November -- the pair opened the doors to their shop. On the second floor, in a neighborhood where more than one bike shop had failed previously.

In Syracuse -- a city considered among many cyclists and advocates of the sport to be extremely un-friendly for biking.

But by the end of the first unusually warm week of April, the shop had completely sold out its stock of used bikes, and it was clear that Morris and O'Mahoney had found a niche.

Setting the scene

Part of what Morris and O'Mahoney hoped to accomplish, aside from running a successful business, was to help develop a vibrant local cycling community, and already glints of growth are evident.

Between 20 and 40 cyclists, from casual riders to racers, gather each Thursday outside Mello Velo for a group ride around Syracuse.

"We have new people every week," said Adam Lindaman, a cyclist who works at Mello Velo.

Lindaman, who uses his bike to commute to work, is also one of the regular hardcourt bike polo players, a sport new to Syracuse but well-known in bigger cities with more established cycling communities.

He and fellow cyclist Neil Hueber agree that there's been a marked shift in the popularity of bicycling in Syracuse -- more people are interested, and they're taking it more seriously.

And the increased popularity isn't limited to college students or the Westcott neighborhood.

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