Turn, Turn, Turn
For more than a century, Wheaton’s Cycle has kept the wheels spinning on Flathead Valley bikes.
“W e’ve always been a family-oriented, full service bike shop,” says Hans Axelsen, owner of Wheaton’s Cycle.
“With a store this old, often Grandpa got his bike here, and his kids got their bikes here, and they’re buying their kids’ bikes here, and sometimes even well beyond that. So you’ll many times deal with multi-generational families that have been coming to Wheaton’s for a long time. I definitely enjoy that.”
Now in its 103rd year of business, Wheaton’s is a true Kalispell institution. The downtown bike shop has adapted over the years—some longtime Flathead Valley residents might remember that they also sold dolls and toys for a period of time—but the heart of the business remains the same.
“The guts of our business really is that we fix bikes all the time,” says Axelsen. “If you look at old pictures of Wheaton’s Cycle, you can see that there are guys in there working on everything. I have lots of good mechanics and we focus on fixing bikes, and that never changes. And you know, I think people look for that, because bikes have never been more complicated. Of course we sell bikes and want to get people out on bikes, but I think that we still kind of follow the original tradition of what has kept Wheaton’s alive.”
Wheaton’s customer base ranges from old to young, beginner bike enthusiasts to experienced cyclists. Today’s riders have so many types of bikes to choose from, ranging far beyond road bike versus mountain bike. Wheaton’s carries everything from single-speed cruisers to BMX racing bikes. Axelsen notes that he’s seen an uptick in gravel bike sales, which are designed for both dirt and paved road riding, as well as e-bikes.
“I have people asking for e-bikes who haven’t ridden in a long time,” Axelsen says. “They’re older and they’ve had any number of physical injuries or aging, whether it be a knee or ankle or any one thing. But now with e-bikes, they can overcome those things and enjoy cycling again.”
“We see a full range of customers in the store, and we try to help all of them, no matter what their enthusiast level is,” Axelsen continues. ”Because there are lots of different types of bikes and there are lots of different types of people.”
Axelsen himself can be seen cruising on a 1948 black-and-white Schwinn, dubbed “The Skunk,” with an original 1950s Missoula bike license and lots of taxidermy flair. “I’ve just been customizing it with my theme on there with the fur and the eagle on the fender, which is illuminated, to just kind of create a ‘Montana Pee-wee Herman’ type of a thing,” Axelsen explains. “It’s got coyote streamers and a coyote mask under the seat, and if I turn on my bike light the eyes glow red.”
In addition to all things bike, Wheaton’s has sold skateboards since 1977, making them the first skate shop in the Flathead. “It wasn’t an easy task to get into skating back then since half of the roads were still dirt,” Axelsen notes.
Wheaton’s also operates the Kalispell Hostel, located above the shop. “Our dream was that it’s a bike hostel – when people are riding bicycles or touring, they can drop their bike downstairs and get some work done if they need to, because we see lots of tourists who are wearing out bike parts over a long ride,” Axelsen explains. “Ultimately we decided to just call it a hostel because there’s hikers and bikers and just all types of people that can enjoy it.”
The heart and mission of Wheaton’s will remain the same as they move forward into their second century. “We’re always looking to repair more bikes, sell more bikes, and get people bike riding, and we love to be involved with all things cycling, whether it’s races or trail expansion or bicycle advocacy,” says Axelsen. He adds that Wheaton’s continued success is definitely a team effort. “I just want to make sure that I thank my crew, because I have a crew of dedicated guys who are very experienced mechanics, and Wheaton’s couldn’t do it without the help of good employees. I have a great team.”
Axelsen concludes, “We love the Flathead Valley, and we want to make cycling bigger and better and more fun for all.”
Photos by: Mandy Mohler of Feild Guide Designs
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