Jennifer West didn’t grow up riding bikes. In fact, if you had told her five years ago she’d open Ottawa’s first female-run bike shop she wouldn’t have believed you. “I’d say you were nuts,” she says.
However, while living in Germany, working for the US military, West began exploring the countryside by bicycle and took a number of long bike trips throughout Europe.
“I’m not much of a city person, and bikes offer that sort of freedom,” she says.
West turned her passion into a second career when she retired and moved to Canada, opening Wheels in Motion out of her home in March 2011. Relying at first on the skills she’d developed in Europe, West eventually attended the United Bicycle Institute in Oregon, where she became certified as a bicycle technician.
Since then, West has amassed a bike collection of her own.
“I have about 15 bikes now,” she says, noting that she may eventually move her shop to a location outside her home.
She says she strives to see customers excited about getting back their bikes. “The first thing I do when I get a bike is wash it all down. How can you tell what’s really needing repair if it’s greasy and dirty, anyways?”
All repairs are done with great affection; in fact, West says, she spends more hours researching than she does on the physical work.
“I’m really into colour,” she says, proudly displaying a beautiful orange-framed bike with orange pedals and matching gear casings.
She says she’s used to seeing customers’ eyes “bug out” when they see their bikes again. “People don’t recognize their bikes when I return them; they look brand new,” she says.
Aside from her careful handling, repair and restoration, West offers a service unique to Ottawa: “I’m the only one I know of that does a pickup and drop-off service.”
That service is included in her affordable prices, and a typical tune-up takes less than a week. West says she prefers working on commuter bikes, although she has experience with mountain bikes and custom-built models. She uses only new parts from a supplier in Quebec when doing repairs.
West was cautious at first about joining the male-dominated field.
“I wanted to be recognized for the business, not necessarily because it’s woman-owned.”
She says she has as many male as female customers, but many women feel more comfortable having another woman pick up their bikes.
Now firmly established, West thinks destiny led her to her new passion and her home in the capital. “This shop is where my partner’s dad worked on her bikes when she was little,” she says.