Biking in New Haven with Matt Feiner of Devil’s Gear Bike Shop

“Riding brings you peace of mind. A lot of people don’t realize this. It’s meditation,” said Matthew Feiner, owner of the Devil’s Gear Bike Shop.

Matt Feiner (left) and his staff
Matt Feiner (left) and his staff

At least three times a week, perhaps even more, Feiner takes to the roads, travelling all over New Haven on his bike from his Orange Street home. It’s his exercise, his community contribution, his bliss. It’s his way of making his city a better place.

“You are focused straight forward, on the road. When you are doing this, your mind isn’t on your shitty day at work, or the problems at home or at school … you are seeing everything and focusing on nothing. The next thing you know, for 20 or 30 minutes you are in a zen state. You’ve strengthened your body, relaxed your mind, and you’ve bettered your community.”

Feiner and his staff at Devil’s Gear are working with Long Wharf Theatre on its upcoming production of 4000 Miles. The central character, a young man named Leo, travels cross-country on his bike from Seattle to New York City to be with his grandmother Vera. Devil’s Gear is teaming up with the prop shop to cast the perfect bike in the role of Leo’s trusted machine.

Feiner has made bicycles his life’s work, a path that was apparent at a young age. In middle school Feiner rode around with his friends, just like any other kid tooling around his neighborhood. “I was a fidgety child. I had a lot of energy,” Feiner said.

By eighth grade, the riding became a solitary effort. In high school, he began racing competitively, becoming a successful amateur racer. Life took him away from his Connecticut roots, out to Austin, Texas for a few years, before he returned home to be close to his brother in Madison. Upon his return, he encountered an entrenched car culture. “We just weren’t bike friendly here,” he said. “I remember I got made fun of for riding my bike in the rain … I said ‘I ride my bike, that’s just what I do,’ They said, ‘Just get a car.’”

In an effort to create the kind of supportive bicycling community he thought was lacking, Feiner started Devil’s Gear with $600. “I wanted this to be a place where people can come and learn,” he said.

Thirteen years later, the store hasn’t just sold thousands of bikes to enthusiasts all over the region. Through Elm City Cycling, Feiner has become a leading advocate for reform, working with city officials to make New Haven a more bicycle friendly city. As time went on, Feiner was on the short list of people contacted for input on new road development. “Every time they talked to me about it, it became more of an honor,” he said.

Feiner has simple, common sense advice for first time riders tackling New Haven. Learn the city – great bike maps are available here. Follow all traffic rules and signals. Stay in your lanes. Don’t ride on the sidewalks. “It’s just like being in a car. You want to obey the law,” he said. “When everyone is fulfilling their social contract, everyone is safer,” he said.

Similar to the character of Leo, Feiner doesn’t see a bike a simply a mode of transportation. “Moving at 12 miles per hour, you see a lot you don’t see in a car,” he said.

— Steve Scarpa

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