To Tom Demagall, bicycles represent freedom.
“When you’re a kid and you leave your parents’ house on a bike for the first time, that’s life-changing,” he says. “Riding is as exciting now as it was when I was 8.”
Demagall and his business partner Bryan Heller are opening Unison Bike Lab to help other people capture that freewheeling feeling.
The shop, which opens next month at The Highline on the South Side, will specialize in custom builds for novices and seasoned cyclists alike. Inside the 2,500-square-foot space, folks can shop for clothing and gear, peruse a selection of ready-to-ride contraptions or sit down with the pros and plan out their perfect machine, from the frame down to the accessories.
Riders also can stop in to get a flat tire fixed.
The 33-mile Three Rivers Heritage Trail, which is parallel the Monongahela River, runs by The Highline, an office and retail complex on East Carson Street. Since Covid hit, more people than ever before are pedaling their way through Pittsburgh and beyond.
For 25 years, Demagall has operated the Downtown-based Golden Triangle Bike, renting bicycles by the hour, leading city tours and serving as a travel agent for people who want to take a multi-day trip on the Great Allegheny Passage, which connects Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C.
Heller, who is general manager of Golden Triangle Bike, is currently building a recumbent e-bike for Demagall’s 77-year-old father that will allow him to zip around town with ease.
Like Demagall, Heller has been riding for most of his life. He spent many years wrenching on bikes and braving New York City traffic on his two-wheeler.
“I feel like when I first started riding here there wasn’t nearly as much infrastructure,” Heller says. “But, on the whole, Pittsburgh has always had a strong bike culture.”
He credits organizations such as BikePGH with transforming the Steel City into a destination for out-of-state riders, who take advantage of urban and off-road trails year-round. Pittsburgh even boasts a pedal-powered food cart called Soul Biscuit.
When planning Unison Bike Lab, Heller and Demagall initially envisioned a business that was part retailer, part workshop, part coffee shop, part brewery. But The Highline already has Astroid Café and will soon welcome a Sly Fox Brewing Co. taproom.
The pair want to collaborate with the Philadelphia-based beer maker this spring. Sly Fox is deeply rooted in outdoor activities such as running, cycling, golfing and hiking.
In addition to building a recumbent bike, Heller is helping Demagall create the mountain bike of his dreams.
“There’s something that happens when all the parts are working in unison,” Demagall says. “The bike becomes an extension of yourself.”