To visit New Haven Bicycles at the corner of Main and Broadway is to visit a museum. Scattered among the new and refurbished bikes are vintage models from the early 1900s, spider bikes from the 1970s and a collection of Schwinns from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. Hanging on the wall encased in a shipping crate is a 1927 Elgin. The story, according to shop owners Wes and Vaughn Ulmer, is that its owner packed it in 1947 for a move from Minnesota to Detroit but it was never unpacked or ridden again.
The shop, which began operating in December 2016 and held its grand opening in April last year, is an outgrowth of the bike repair business that Wes operated out of his garage on Hartzell Street for seven years. He placed refurbished ready-to-ride bikes in back of the house on Lincoln Highway next to New Haven Bakery to be visible to passers-by. Vaughn is a collector of vintage bicycles and an avid BMX enthusiast.
The two decided it was time to put on their “big-boy pants and go legit” with a real honest-to-goodness-shop. As Wes explains, “our wives decided to reclaim their houses and strongly suggested we do our thing in another location. So, we purchased the former Doll store, combined our collections and turned our hobbies into a business.” Around 100 bikes are on display at any one time and 30 set outside when the weather cooperates during work hours, which are Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
“By opening this shop,” Wes said, “we can better serve the community. We don’t carry the high-end bikes — we do repair them, however — and are not necessarily for the serious rider. Our niche is the average, occasional rider who wants to enjoy a leisurely pedal on the River Greenway. Speaking of the Greenway, it has really given our business a boost. After a long ride on the trail, we get a lot of people stopping in to get a more comfortable seat and equipment adjustments.”
Repairing and reconditioning bikes is Wes and Vaughn’s passion and forte. Wes began fixing bikes for others when he was just 10 years old. Wes is descended from five generations of Ulmers in the New Haven area. His father, Ed, owned the Arco station on Lincoln Highway where Cap & Cork now stands. It was the first gas station in the area to have covered pumps. Wes and Vaughn are graduates of Woodlan High School.
Vaughn has been interested in collecting bikes since he was a kid and was instrumental in getting Wes involved in starting to repair them seven years ago. He haunts auctions for bikes and has parts to fix bikes built in the early 1900s to the present. “Much of our work is on bikes bought and assembled at the big-box stores. They usually need a lot of adjusting and tightening to make them work smoothly,” he said. “We give several levels of tune-ups. Bikes that are beyond repair are donated to an organization in Chicago where they are rebuilt and re-donated to African villages.”
“We had an interesting customer recently who was walking across the country and dropped in to find a bike to hasten his journey,” Vaughn said. “He had just $30, so I gave him a $50 bike and sent him on his way. Never heard whether he made it or not.”
The shop also sells Parkview Hospital riding helmets for just $10 in a variety of colors and styles. “Parkview only sells them once a week, so we help them and the money goes to hospital’s riding safety program,” Wes said.
“Whether people are looking for a good used or new bike or just want to come in and talk, they’re welcome,” Wes said. “We love to hear their stories and experiences of riding when they were kids.”