"We're big on giving back to who supports you" The Wheel Mill, Pittsburgh

Steel City's best indoor wood and goods...

17 Feb 2021

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Interview by Rob Dolecki, photos by Murphy Lee Moschetta.

The Wheel Mill in the BMX hot spot of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania hosts arguably the best wooden box rhythm section in existence, and a quality bike shop to boot. Harry Geyer and Michael Potoczny took some time out of their hectic schedule and gave us some insight into how the shop and park are faring in these bizarre times.

The importance of BMX shops to local scenes (and BMX culture) can not be underestimated and that's why we support them. Throughout the year we'll continue to feature our DIG Partner Stores from around the world, so look for more local BMX shop articles soon!
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How long has The Wheel Mill been in business?

Mike: Celebrated seven years this spring!

Can you explain how the idea for a store and Bike Park came to be?

Harry: The Bike Park idea came after my cousin took me to Ray's like 12 years ago. It blew my mind. There were so many old steel mill sites that I thought I'd be able to find something without too much effort, but it took me five years to find this place. We considered having a full service bike shop from the start, but space limitations and a great local shop scene kept us from making the push. Once the state shut us down in March I knew it was time to take the leap with a major remodel while we were in timeout.

Who owns the Wheel Mill? Who works there?

Mike: Harry Geyer is the owner. He's an all-out riding enthusiast. Over the last seven years, we've had many people work at the park. We have a really solid crew right now. We have staff that ride all types of bikes from mountain, BMX to Cyclocross. Something I'm really excited about is that we have three employees that grew up riding in the park and now they're employees. That's pretty rad.

Harry: I'm also really stoked to see Mason not have time to work here anymore because he's getting paid to ride! It's been great having Mike be the rock, though. He keeps it fun while I deal with the banks and insurance companies, haha.

Why did you start a shop and bike park in your area?

Harry: Most of my family is around Pittsburgh, so I had moved back here after traveling around for a while. The scene was always pretty good here, even if it was mostly under the radar. I wasn't going to move to another town to open up a bike park since I had to continue to run my construction and lumber company while getting The Wheel Mill up and running. We always knew that a full-service bike shop could be an option for us, but there was such good coverage with the existing local shops that we were happy to push our customers to them and hope that they would do the same. Then one of the larger shops in our area shut down and COVID happened, so it made sense to move forward with the idea. All of the remaining shops were booked five weeks out just for normal service. I didn't think that people waiting five weeks for their bikes was helping the sport at all, and the shops all seemed pretty stressed about it.

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Who’s on the shop team?

Mike: We don't have a full shop team. We mainly try to help the biking community as a whole. We support some local race tracks, non-profit groups and our staff.

What promotional events have you done at The Wheel Mill since opening?

Mike: We've done just about everything you could do from contests, jams, movie screenings to lesson weekends. We have four staple events though. There is the Winter Welcome Jam which is an event my brother Mark Potoczny and I host at the park to bring the BMX scene together in winter time. The Halahans and myself host The Next Generation Jam every year to bring riders 18 and under together. That event is so much fun. Our main goal is to show the youth that riding isn't about contests or getting sponsors, it's about riding with your friends. Another favorite of ours is the Ride Like A Girl Weekends. We close the park to the guys and let the ladies rip and take skill clinics all weekend. That one is hosted with Carley Young and Karen Brooks. Our last signature event is Wood Fest, our indoor mountain bike festival with demo bikes, skill clinics and beer tastings.

Any plans for more?

Mike: As soon as COVID is clear, we can't wait to get back at it! I'm going to miss all the people passing through this year.

Harry: I miss the buzz of getting ready for a big event and then seeing people go all out at the Welcome Jam or Lumbercross. We will most definitely get back to it once it's safe.

How has COVID affected the shop, park and local scene?

Mike: Just like any park, our attendance is down. Luckily, as of now, we can still provide a place for people to ride. We will see what regulations bring during the year. We just boosted our shop and there are certain things we're doing better in than ever. Like selling complete bikes and certain parts. We're hoping the shop can offset some of our lack of attendance.

Scene-wise, the main thing is everyone isn't together as much. Less jams, less big sessions. Trail crews are hanging with their crews and street crews are hanging with their crews. The park usually pulls all those crews together in winter time and it makes for an awesome riding reason, but with uptick in numbers early in the winter and more regulations we haven't gotten to have the usual 30-40 people ripping in The Woods Room. I'm looking forward to the days normal occupancy can happen again.

Harry: It's been pretty brutal. We don't have a ton of staff so if someone is exposed it can throw a real wrench in the machine. And it keeps everyone apart, like Mike said. Everyone has a different health and family situation to deal with, and it's challenging to find that middle ground where we can ride safely without squeezing all of the fun out of it.

2020 01 18 Twm Welcome 94 Of 152 Lukas Halahan

Lukas Halahan - Winter Welcome Jam at The Wheel Mill. Photo by Murphy Lee Moschetta

"We've done just about everything you could do from contests, jams, movie screenings to lesson weekends. We have four staple events though. There is the Winter Welcome Jam which is an event my brother Mark Potoczny and I host at the park to bring the BMX scene together in winter time."

What changes have you noticed in the Pittsburgh area scene since the shop / park opened?

Mike: Like mentioned above, the park really brings everyone together in winter. The Pittsburgh region is pretty big and everyone sticks to their local outdoor parks or trails during the nicer weather, but in winter you can usually come to the park and see anyone from all over the city.

And like most parks, our younger riders are ripping and from my observations are very well-rounded riders. I dig watching all the kids grow up here. Look out for some really smooth riders coming out of Pittsburgh in the future.

Harry: I'm more in the MTB scene these days, but it's been awesome seeing families posting race results and kids going to Woodward and just being inspired to create their own scene and even travel more to other parks. I'm seeing a lot more mountain bikers get into BMX too, which is cool. More and more I hear people from other cities saying they didn't realize that Pittsburgh had such a big scene, and I hope we've been able to help with that.

How does the shop benefit the park, and vice versa?

Harry: It's nice to have parts for our park customers if something breaks down or wears out while they're here. It's still a small shop but we have about 2-3 times the amount of parts that we used to which is awesome. Most of the local shops aren't interested in carrying BMX stuff, so there isn't anywhere for people to lay their hands on things or pick them up right away. I think as more non-bmx riders come to the shop for parts they'll get introduced to the park side of things and hopefully come ride at some point.

How important is performing bike repairs and maintenance for your shop?

Harry: We always had a little repair area for servicing our rental bikes, but we never had a full-time mechanic. Now that we do, we can help our park customers out faster and better than we could before. We're getting a decent amount of walk-in customers for MTB and commuter bikes too. It helps us stay in touch with all sides of biking.

What brands do you carry?

Mike: We carry a ton of brands and in BMX we deal with almost every one. The companies we carry the most are brands that are supporting our scene in one way or another. We're going to support those who are giving back to our scene and the overall BMX Community. We mainly carry Shadow, Subrosa, S&M, Kink, Odyssey, Profile and Cult. All those brands are always willing to help us with a jam or support a local ripper. We're big on giving back to who supports you.

What’s something you never expected to happen after opening The Wheel Mill?

Harry: I never expected that the park would appeal to such a wide range of riders, from two year-olds on balance bikes to pro's on a road trip. I really just built it because riding at Ray's got me so freaking stoked and I didn't want to have to travel two and a half hours each way every time, haha. It's forced me to look more outside of myself, but that's a good thing. It's great to talk to everyone and hear their story. No two people alike, for sure, but bikes bring us all together.

Where do you want the shop and Bike Park to be in five years?

Harry: I'd like us to have found our niche in the shop ecosystem so that our customers can depend on us. Hopefully we'll be able to get out of debt from the year of COVID and save enough money for a major remodel to some parts of the park. That would be rad.

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The Wheel Mill is an Official DIG Shop Partner.

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