The bike race chronicles: Biking, business and community

 This sign welcomes bikers to Winnie's on Main Street in Manayunk. (Emily Brooks/for NewsWorks)

This sign welcomes bikers to Winnie's on Main Street in Manayunk. (Emily Brooks/for NewsWorks)

Winnie Clowry of Winnie’s Le Bus of Manayunk doesn’t just love watching cyclists take their climb up the Manayunk Wall, she actually knows their pain.

“I did the loop before, a couple years ago when they started the amateur race,” Clowry said. “That was pretty funny.” 

When Winnie and her husband Bob took the helm at Le Bus in 2003, the Manayunk eatery had already played an integral role in the community for several years. Rather than completely reinvent the establishment, the Clowrys decided to embrace the strengths and traditions that were already in motion — most notably bike culture and the annual bike race.

‘Embracing’ the culture

Avid cyclists themselves, the Clowrys love being able to associate their business with a neighborhood known for fitness and sporting tradition. And that isn’t just because of the marketable health aspect.

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“We embrace the culture and events like the bike race because of the sense of community they foster,” Clowry said.

“Bike race day is the coolest thing. Our doors are wide open and there’s all these people outside cheering on the cyclists and there are people in here eating brunch and then all of a sudden the street marshals blow their whistles indicating that the pack is coming and everyone in the restaurant just gets up and leaves their breakfast and runs outside to cheer on the bikes flying by. It’s a riot.”

Cycling to the coffeehouse

And Winnie’s isn’t the only establishment on Main Street to cater to bikers. On any given Sunday morning, just a few doors away, Volo Coffeehouse is marked by a tangle of bikes, helmets and lycra.

When Owner Akos Racz took over in 2010, he had no idea his coffee shop would become the cycling hub it is today.

“It’s a community we welcome and one that seems to be growing year after year,” Racz has observed. And that’s not just for his business, but for the neighborhood at large.

The resurgence can be seen all along Main Street from the bike shops and training centers like Human Zoom and Cadence, to yoga and spin studios like The Wall Cycling, to improvements on the towpath and the predicted upcoming opening of the Venice Island Performing Arts Center & Recreation Park.

The Wall’s influence

Robin Carpenter grew up on Dexter Street, half a block from the top of the Wall. The young professional cyclist can’t deny the influence of his early childhood community.

“Main Street serves as the connector for the Schuylkill River drives, Forbidden Drive, and the Valley Forge Trail, all heavily used bike paths,” Carpenter said.

“The first bike race I ever entered was a Friday evening hill climb up the Wall. Without that kind of early exposure I probably wouldn’t have discovered the sport for what it really was.’

Brady Gibney, General Manager and partial owner of Cadence Cycling agrees.

Like Winnie’s, Volo, and other businesses along Main Street, Gibney and partners Mark D’avino and David King have seen the spark of the emerging community and have made concerted efforts to be fuel for the fire.

“Manayunk has seen a shift in the last few years, becoming a hotspot for young, recent graduates looking for fun activities during the day and a busy night life,” Gibney said.

With businesses and developers in Manayunk working to keep that energy alive, Manayunk, according to Gibney, has arguably become the most fit neighborhood in Philadelphia.

This is part two in a five-part series leading up to this year’s Parx Casino Philly Cycling Classic in Manayunk. The Bike Race Chronicles will take a look at the people, places and history behind the annual bike race. 

Click here for part one.


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