GENEVA – Long before he started working as a bicycle mechanic at the age of 16, Bruce Heidlauf knew he wanted to own a bicycle shop when he grew up.
"As a kid, it was your freedom," he said of his love of bicycling. "You could go anywhere on your bike."
His dream came true 30 years ago when he opened Mill Race Cyclery in Geneva. He was a junior in college in 1983 when he took the plunge into his business venture, which continues to thrive today at the corner of E. State and N. Bennett streets. To mark the 30th anniversary, Heidlauf said a celebration is being planned this summer, which will likely be an event paired with a bike sale.
Heidlauf, who grew up in St. Charles, started his own bike repair shop – Bruce's Bike Repair – out of his parents' garage at the age of 17 and been self-employed ever since.
"It was really fun," he said. "When I started Bruce's Bike Repair, it was something I really had a passion for. It grew every year."
That business paid his way through college and gave him enough leverage to jump into bicycle sales. He started out as a partner with the Mill Race Inn Restaurant running a bike rental shop.
The following summer, Heidlauf bought out his portion of Mill Race Cyclery and has been on his own ever since. He started out in a 2,400-square-foot space, and 19 years ago he built a 7,500-square-foot building next door to the original location.
In the last 30 years, Heidlauf watched as the popularity of biking and bike trails exploded throughout the area. He said the Tri-Cities have two unique features that espoused the popularity of cycling.
"You've got the open roads west of town, yet you still have the charm of the Fox Valley," he said.
He said 25 or 30 years ago, most bikes in the market were road bikes. Today, there are many more specialized markets, he said, including mountain bikes, triathlon bikes and children's bikes.
But despite the progress he has made, Heidlauf stays true to his roots, still renting out bikes to area visitors and handling repairs for those on the trail. Heidlauf plans group rides that range from 25 to 100 miles long. Those who go on group rides typically grill out afterwards, he said.
"It's very social-oriented," Heidlauf said. "It's fun. It's what biking's all about."