Moving Milwaukee’s Cycling Culture Forward
Off the Cuff with Amelia Kegel of Wheel & Sprocket
Amelia Kegel grew up in a bike shop. Her father, Chris Kegel, began working at Wheel & Sprocket, now the largest bike retailer in Wisconsin, in 1973, becoming president and owner in 1989. After Chris tragically died of cancer earlier this year, Amelia is following in her father’s footsteps, not only as the co-owner of the cycling franchise, but as an active advocate for the cycling community. We spoke with Amelia about the state of cycling in the city and what we can do to be a more bike-friendly society.
What do you think about the state of cycling culture in Milwaukee right now?
I must say that over the last few years people are becoming much more educated and realizing how much fun it is to ride a bike. I think Milwaukee has something really good going on right now. There’s a nice energy going for both pedestrians and cyclists learning how to share the road.
Is there anything in particular you attribute to that?
I think it’s because of the cooperation of a lot of organizations. I’ve always been one of those big picture people and grown up that way, where the more people you’re working with the better. In business everyone thinks competition is what breeds success, which is semi-true, but when we work together great things happen. I think Milwaukee has an amazing cycling culture that gets advocates, businesses and just regular people into the idea of why bicycling is good.
I know from a city perspective and a county parks perspective, they’ve put millions of dollars into cycling infrastructure in the last year. I think it’s been a lot of hard work from the top down too. People like the Wisconsin Bike Federation, Wheel & Sprocket and other organizations have gone to the state and federal level to ask for cycling to be considered as a viable transportation option. In the past, if there was a big federal and state transportation bill and say 2% of people want to ride their bike somewhere, the funding was only something like .003%. Over the years it has gone up to something like 1%. That’s made a big difference.
There’s a thing called Complete Streets that a lot of people don’t know about. Now when city engineers put down a new road they have to consider cyclists and pedestrians in the engineering of the road. Before it was never a checklist item so they never considered it. Now they do. It’s definitely a step in the right direction. Most people don’t ride their bikes because they don’t feel safe. If we can create some solid cycling infrastructure for people to ride, it will encourage more people to choose cycling in the future.
How do you feel about being an advocate for cycling in the area?
It’s my favorite thing to do. It happens one person at a time. A lot of times you have to show a person how to ride a bike. You go to the store with them and help them find a bike. But a bike is only so good if it’s stuck in a garage. If that’s the case you didn’t even win anything there. So we do a lot of events and group rides to get people out and actually exploring the area. I love the parks system and the Oak Leaf Trail, but it’s kind of hard to navigate. I feel like the best way to get someone jazzed about cycling is to take them for a bike ride. My dad took us on bike rides every weekend and I never realized how much of a difference that made.
Your father left an amazing legacy. How do you feel about carrying that legacy on?
Me and my brother are working together, and we’re extremely proud. We’ve got something really cool going on and we’re really looking forward to continuing the legacy and continuing doing good. It’s our firm belief that when there’s a Wheel & Sprocket in a community it helps make that cycling community better. Communities that are better for cycling are just better communities in general to live. They always say property values go up if you live near a bike path and people tend to stay more and buy more locally if you have a way to keep them walking or biking around. I totally believe that. There are so many things going on in the world and the bike is just one of those pure good things.
Where do you see cycling in Milwaukee going in the future?
What great looks like to me would be to have more cycling infrastructure. That could be more paths on the streets or more parkways. Another great thing here, that’s low hanging fruit, is bike signage. I really think if we could step up our signage game people wouldn’t have to look at their phone’s map to see where they’re going. That’s something I would like to see. I’d like to see more East-West connectors. I think we have a lot of nice North-South ones, but getting out to Wauwatosa is kind of a challenge.
Another shout out to the Bike Fed is that they did a summit at the Grand Avenue Mall focusing on diversity and equity. Milwaukee’s North Side has no safe cycling paths. A lady came in from Portland and she was talking about how Portland started gentrifying their city by only putting bike lanes in rich neighborhoods, and they urged Milwaukee to think of a whole network instead of just privileged people. The greatest thing about the bike is that everyone can ride a bike: young, old, rich, poor, no matter your political background everyone can enjoy riding a bike. I would like the city to make sure that we’re inclusive and that when we’re building stuff that we have a complete grid.
Here are some upcoming Milwaukee cycling events to look out for:
Bingo or Bust Alleycat – June 3
UPAF Ride for the Arts – June 4
Mayor’s Ride – June 5
Take Out Tuesday Bike Ride – June 6
Bike to the Brewers – June 7
Ciclovia MKE and Southside Bicycle Day – June 11