WOOSTER — Ride On and Vertical Runner offer a retail experience far beyond selling bikes and running shoes to their health-conscious consumers.

"Selling running gear and apparel is probably the least thing we do to promote running," said Brian Polen, who co-owns Vertical Runner with his wife, Tammy. "We try to focus on building the running community and promoting a healthy lifestyle rather than pushing sales."

Bill Buckwalter, the owner of Ride On, added, "Our greatest joy is helping beginning riders get hooked on cycling. We’ve seen so many success stories from people who get into cycling, lose weight, get healthy and off medications, and make new friends in the process."

Ride On opened in downtown Wooster in 2010, Vertical Runner in 2012, and both have spurred community involvement in activities generally considered an individual pursuit. But each store’s group rides and runs have encouraged more and more people to start cycling and running.

"We try to offer lots of rides for riders of all levels because it’s more fun and motivating to ride together and it makes fitness fun," Buckwalter said, quoting Ride On’s original motto, "Making Fitness Fun."

Buckwalter found his passion for cycling as a teenager when he purchased his first Schwinn Continental. A cross-country bike trip in college only further fueled his love for the sport. After years as a sales rep for a high-end kitchen manufacturer, he opened the full-service bike shop in Wooster.

On a nice night, 50-60 riders will join the official group ride on Tuesday evenings from Ride On’s location on South Street. Riders can choose from four routes that differ in duration, distance, and speed, and each is led by a group leader.

Other rides include the weekend "breakfast rides" and year-round weekday morning rides, as well as indoor spinning on Monday and Thursdays during the winter months.

"Cycling is unique in that it’s a great cardio working without stressing the joints," Buckwalter said.

Ride On also organizes two endurance rides in the summer including Jeremy’s Ride, a benefit ride for Jeremy Grimm’s family, and a new ride called the Grind Fondue, which features over 100 miles of pavement and gravel as well as mountain biking at Findley State Park.

"We want our rides to be fun and attract the serious as well as the adventure rider," Buckwalter said. "We are definitely seeing an uptick and interest in gravel rides and endurance rides."

Polen considers the friendships formed through the sport of running as Vertical Runner’s biggest contribution to the local area. Making connections with his fellow runners was one of the reasons he partnered with the owners of the original Vertical Runner in Hudson to open the Wooster location.

"It’s fairly awkward to stop someone in the middle of their workout and state, ‘Hey, you want to run together sometime?’" Polen says on the store website.

The shop hosts three group runs throughout the week, including a Thursday night trail run at Wooster Memorial Park. They have never canceled a group run, even with two people in the worst of weather.

"It’s using the sport of running to build unbreakable bonds between members of our community," he said. "It’s more than a sport now for many of our runners. It’s a lifestyle, and for most of us, it’s a better lifestyle with better health, better friends, more happiness, and a brighter outlook on the future."

Vertical Runner will look to expand their ability to promote a healthier lifestyle when their new location on West Liberty Street opens this summer. With an additional 1,000 square feet, Polen hopes to create a social space to host health clinics, movie nights, guest speakers and more.

"The future is bright with this new space and hopefully we can enlarge the running footprint in our area," Polen said.

Each store is extremely active in the community, sponsoring healthy events throughout the city. Vertical Runner has participated in Kids Healthy Living Day, Buehler’s Heart and Sole, and Parkview Fit N Fund Event.

"If there is an event in town, we are involved in one phase or another," Polen said.

The running shop teams up with Ride On on WooDu, a run, bike, run event in May. Ride On also organizes the WooMan ride in September and partnered with Grace Church and the Fraternal Order of Police this past year to provide 63 bikes to underprivileged area kids.

"We’re also aware that with all the unhealthy addictions around, cycling can be a very healthy addiction," Buckwalter said. "We have partnered with Anazao House to help get at-risk kids into cycling in the hopes that endorphin-releasing exercise will prevent them from getting involved in drugs or alcohol down the road."

Reporter Emily Morgan can be reached at 330-287-1632 or emorgan@the-daily-record.com.