Thursday, July 30, 2009

South by Southwest: Bike touring in the Obama age

Mural in Mamou, LA

by John Greenfield

It's 5 am on January 24, four days after Chicago's own Barack Obama becomes our first African-American president. My girlfriend and I are freezing with our loaded touring bikes on a Green Line platform in Garfield Park. We're heading to Midway Airport to fly to sunny Jacksonville, FL, where we'll start a two-month bicycle trip to Los Angeles.

I'm optimistic that the inauguration marks the start of a new era of open-mindedness in this city and this nation, and I'm curious about cycling across the South during this time. I've bike toured all over the rest of the U.S., but have so far avoided this region that I've associated with intolerance - both racial and anti-bicycle bias.

Superstition mountains, AZ

We arrive at Midway and approach the Southwest Airlines check-in with our bicycles when we are stopped by an employee, a 50s-ish African-American lady. “You know you can't bring those bikes on the plane without boxes,” she says. “Right,” I reply, “We're planning on buying the boxes here.” I've always done it this way at O'Hare.

“I've worked at Midway for five years and I've never seen bike boxes here,” she says. In a rush and annoyed by what I take as her being un-helpful, I curtly ask to double-check with her supervisor, who confirms that Southwest doesn't have boxes. A quick survey of the other airlines is also fruitless but we're able to reschedule our flight for later that day. Leaving the bicycles with my girlfriend, I ride the El up to O'Hare, buy boxes and come back, an epic four-hour round-trip.

Forida's Gulf Coast (Photo by Elizabeth Winkowski)

When I return, we argue about whether or not I was rude to the woman. I think about it for a minute. This lady grew up during a time when whites were often openly disrespectful to African-Americans. I’m a younger, white, male bicyclist (already considered an annoying species by airline employees) implying I know her job better than she does. It just may be possible that I'm the jerk here.

We box our bikes and return to the counter. The lady sees us and her face lights up. “Oh, you were able to get the boxes after all.” After describing my trek across town, I swallow my pride and say, “Ma'am, I'm sorry if I was short with you. I should have been more tactful.” She takes my hands in hers, looks me in the eyes and smiles. “No problem - apology accepted.”

Moonrise east of Phoenix

Afterwards, my girlfriend grins at me and says, “That was an Obama moment.” She confesses that while I was on the El she had already apologized to the employee for my behavior and the lady had said, “That's OK honey, he's a man.”

This little incident of compassion turns out to be typical of the openness we experience on our 3,500-mile journey. As we roll along the Gulf Coast, through Cajun country, across the vastness of Texas and through the Great American Desert to the Pacific, I find my stereotypes about the South to be false.

Bicycle hobo in west Texas

Instead, with our funny-looking bikes as icebreakers, we meet dozens of friendly people from every background and enjoy amazing acts of hospitality. I like to think that some of good vibes and kindness we receive from people very different than us can be credited to the “Obama Effect.”

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Kat Ramsland unveils "1000 Ghost Bikes"

by John Greenfield

Chicago artist Kat Ramsland opened her exhibit “1000 Ghost Bikes: A New Chicago Monument,” along with bike-related works by Jay Strommen, Nancy Anderson and Elizabeth Groeschen, on Saturday, June 6, at Lill Street Arts Center, 4401 N. Ravenswood.

Inspired by the Ghost Bike movement in which white-painted bicycles are installed at bicycle crash sites, as well as the Ride of Silence memorial bike procession, Ramsland asked Chicagoans to dedicate a miniature ceramic white bicycle to a loved one who was hurt or killed in a crash. She received dozens of stories, many of them heartbreaking, and assembled the bicycles and text into an installation that honors the cyclists and draws attention to the need for safer streets.

Ramsland met with VWYF at a Ravenswood coffee shop and discussed how her interest in public policy as well as a family crisis fueled the project, despite the fact that until recently she didn’t know how to ride a bike.

Tell me about your background with cycling and your background with art.

It’s probably easier to start with my background in art. I’ve been making art and paying attention to the art world for pretty much all my life. I graduated from DePaul with a major in photography and a minor in sociology. I’m really interested in public art and public policy. Then I went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for grad school and I’m in the program for the masters of art education. This is my thesis project about how public art can change public policy.

Any art is a direct response to cultural events. Right now I think we’re in a really exciting time where there are people who are emerging from the art world, or even outside the art world, who are incredibly educated and incredibly conscious of what’s happening socially, as far as environmental concerns, economic concerns, and obviously the war is a big issue these days. One of the biggest movements I’ve noticed recently is bicycling culture. In just about every city you’ll find cyclists who are devoted to being year-round commuters.

And with bicycling comes inherent problems such as the vulnerability and visibility of a cyclist on the road. Last summer I went out to Portland and I spoke to Carl Larson, who started Ghost in Portland about eight years ago. I asked him how he felt they had changed the political landscape and city infrastructure. I had already gone into this interview knowing that Ghost Bikes had become an international movement. You’ll find these memorials all over the world. So I was really interested to learn that Carl had given up his duties as the Portland Ghost Bike guy and had given them to someone else.

He was convinced that for the most part Ghost Bikes was unsuccessful. It was really surprising. I said, “How can you say these are unsuccessful? You just told me that your city officials apologize when they have to move one or take one down, even though they’re not publicly sanctioned.” He said, “The average commuter still doesn’t realize what it is, that a Ghost Bike is a monument marking the site where a cyclist has died in a car collision.” So there’s an issue of them being too subtle.

There’s also an issue of people assuming that biking itself is dangerous, not the cars that hit them, when bicycling is doing so many great things for the political landscape. It’s keeping people healthy; it’s helping them live with a minimum carbon footprint, and it’s not feeding this car fetish America has, which is a huge economic factor.

So I decide that for my thesis I was going to do an art project and not just going to have a regular gallery show. I wanted to demonstrate how public art can change public policy. There are a lot of inherent issues in this but primarily I wanted to tackle the issues that Carl had mentioned, of Ghost Bikes being too subtle. So I decided to make a monument of a lot of Ghost Bikes with a bigger, more visible presence.

Secondly I wanted to address the issue that people are being deterred from being bike commuters. I figured if I could make it more universal it might encourage people to educate themselves on bicycling safety and also encourage public officials to change our city’s cycling infrastructure and policies.

So I put out a citywide call for dedications to people who have been injured or killed in a cycling collision and I’ve gotten a lot of responses, a lot of really sad stories. But by dedicating a single bike within the larger monument I’m hoping that anybody can walk up to it and say, that’s my neighbor or that’s somebody I’ve never met but they’re still here, and therefore make more of an impact.

Part of the reason I think Ghost Bikes are so successful, and also unsuccessful is that they are specifically for people who have died. They’re successful in the fact that of course a tragic incident has a lot of impact. But also unsuccessful in that it’s just one person and unless you know that person or you know exactly what a ghost bike is it might not mean anything to somebody who’s walking by or a driver who only sees it for a second and assumes it’s a parked bike.

I opened up the field to people who have been injured because many people who are injured in bicycling collisions are left with monumental medical bills. Sometimes they’re left with serious brain injuries. Sometimes they’re left with a gigantic fear of ever biking again.

A lot of bicycling injuries do not get reported unless a vehicle has actually been damaged in the collision, in which case insurance needs to know about it. I also read an article that says policemen at the site of a bike collision usually won’t report it unless the cyclist has to go to the emergency room. My research shows most of these injuries are the fault of the car driver.

There’s a huge population of people that have been injured on bikes – everyone knows someone. And the ramifications just go on and on and on. But until now they haven’t been given any voice.

Have you personally experienced a crash or has someone you love experienced a crash?

I myself am not a cyclist. Until last year I didn’t know how to ride a bike. When I proposed this to the thesis committee at SAIC they said, “We will not let you write this until you learn how to ride a bike.” So I went out and I got a used bike and I went for three blocks and then ran into a chain link fence and got stabbed by the handlebar. It wasn’t anything serious. It was just in a parking lot but I couldn’t stop myself. And I’m waiting to get a bike right now that actually fits. I’m incredibly excited.

Every other year of my childhood my parents would purchase me a bike, thinking that if it was just cute enough I would learn how to ride it. But when my brother Austin was 12 and I was eight he got hit on his bike by an elderly driver. He spent a week in the hospital, had skull fractures, arm fractures and a lot of stitches. I wasn’t allowed to visit him at the hospital but I knew this horrible thing had gone on.

My parents fought with the insurance company because they just wanted to get him a new bike. The company paid the hospital bills but they would not pay for a new bike which was the only way my brother had to travel at the time. And it was really important that he wasn’t deterred from getting back on the bike since my family, they’re huge cyclists. The do GRABAAWR, this 500-mile bike ride across Wisconsin, every year. They are constantly biking.

That’s why they thought it was so important for you to learn to ride?

Definitely. I was the girl who was the van following the bikers on the trips. I think I had six bikes growing up and I never rode any of them. It was a big thing to see my brother get badly injured in a small town in Minnesota. There was a lot of fear for me and I never learned. I was fine on the training wheels – you can ask my dad. When I had training wheels I was good to go. But as soon as those suckers came off and my brother had his accident it was quits for me.

But my family is still really into the bike scene. My brother married a custom bike builder in Portland and they’ve decided to make it their whole business. My sister-in-law Natalie owns Sweet Pea Bikes ( I’m going out in September for a custom fitting and she’s going to build it from scratch. I’m so excited.

Tell me about some of the memorable dedications you’ve received.

I have gotten a lot of dedications that are incredibly sad, from people who say things like, “My coworker got hit last week. She’s still in the hospital and she’s going to need ten months of physical therapy.” The one that sticks out in particular was a young girl named Robin whose parents dedicated a bike to her. Robin was in a youth program in Chicago for bicycling safety and education when she got hit. Her parents are adamant that it was not an accident. They’re very, very angry. And they’re really pushing for publication of new bike safety laws. And what struck me the most is they’re certain this wasn’t an accident. Their daughter was going through all the right steps of learning how to be a safe urban cyclist when she died. Her parents got in touch with me through Active Transportation Alliance.

How else did you publicize the project?

Flyers, the Internet and I contacted all the bike shops and if there was any sort of interest I stopped by. A big help I had was from Willow Naeco from the Ride of Silence [Naeco also edits the Chicago Critical Mass Derailleur.] She’s been incredible. She passed out flyers at all the meetings and at Critical Mass and she’s just been so wonderful. Which is also the reason why any sales from the gallery show that’s going up in conjunction with the monument are going to be donated to the Ride of Silence.

In this bike culture there’s a lot of art being created. Bikes are a universal symbol of childhood and innocence and speed. If every kid’s best friend isn’t their dog then it’s their bike. It’s a universal thing; you’ll find bikes in every country. So I thought I’d be completely remiss if I didn’t include other bike art within the school show. So I invited local artists to submit.

How many bicycles are going to be in your monument?

I ended up deciding to only make the monument with as many dedications as I got – about 80. So there are going to be 80 little white bikes. I made them out of glazed porcelain. Going with the Ghost Bike tradition I wanted to make them very simple.

The monument at Lill Street Arts Center

Is there anything in particular you’d like to see happen because of your artwork?

Definitely. Chicago is rated pretty high on the list of bicycle-friendly cities. However we also have one of the highest crash ratings in the nation. I’m hoping to educate the public, get them involved and just let them know that this is issue that’s happening. Everything that Ghost Bikes don’t do, when someone sees them for a second and it doesn’t recognize what it is, I’m hoping the monument will. I want to make people stop for a second and wonder what it’s all about and ask questions and get educated about it and maybe take a stand themselves.

I’m also hoping to affect public officials. There’s a line between the public and the public official. The public officials hold all the power in changing public policy. But if I can sway enough of the public, then public officials will have to pay attention to the growing Chicago cycling community and these safety issues. And getting media coverage is the way to do that.

Are you going to be taking any more dedications at the art show?

Yes. This project doesn’t just start on Saturday because the problem doesn’t just stop on Saturday. This monument definitely has the ability to grow with time. I don’t see this stopping. And these stories from people need to be told by somebody, anybody. And hopefully action will be taken.

More info about "1000 Ghost Bikes" is available at Ramsland's blog,

2009 Chicago Ride of Silence

By John Greenfield

It’s Wednesday, May 20, and dozens of bicyclists are gathering in Chicago’s Daley Plaza for the 2009 Ride of Silence, part of a global tribute to cyclists who have been killed by motor vehicles.

The memorial ride began in Dallas in 2003 after endurance rider Larry Schwartz died when a bus struck him on an otherwise empty highway. This year people in nearly 300 cities are participating, to honor the crash victims and make a statement that streets should be safe for all users.

While the message of the ride is similar to Critical Mass, instead of a rowdy parade the 10-mile Ride of Silence is a solemn procession and its mood is quiet and reflective. “This is not meant to be a fun ride,” says organizer Elizabeth Adamczyk, addressing the Chicago crowd through a PA system on a bike trailer. “We’re out there just like a funeral procession to memorialize all those that have gone before us and we're also celebrating the fact that we’re still here riding. Tonight we’re going to let the silence roar.”

As he waits for the ride to begin, daily bike commuter Mayur Thaker says he’s participating because safety is an issue for all bicyclists. “The main thing is to raise awareness in the eyes of motorists as well as cyclists,” he says. “I hope that drivers will start looking out for cyclists on the road.”

There are many memorials to fallen local riders visible at the plaza. Those who have lost friends and loved ones wear black armbands; people who have been injured themselves wear red band. Green bracelets are handed out honoring Apple Store employee Tyler Fabeck, 22, who was killed in April 2008 at Western and Logan in Chicago. Several people have signs pinned to their backs remembering attorney Gerry Bolkema, 53, rear-ended by a car in northwest Indiana in May of last year.

Zip-tied to the handlebars of Laurie Chipp’s touring bicycle there’s a photo of her grandmother Marcella Kilter, standing by Lake Michigan with her own cruiser bike. Kilter learned to ride a bike right before her 42nd birthday and would ride 20 miles every day in the country near Peru, IL, Chipps says. In 1991, when Kilter was 73, a distracted driver adjusting her car radio struck the cyclist. Her leg was broken and healed incorrectly, ending her road riding habit. “She lived eight more years,” says Chipp, “and she’d ride a stationary bike on the porch for exercise, but it just wasn’t the same.”

Soon the crowd of about 200 rolls out of the plaza with an escort of several bike cops stopping car traffic for them. A sign on the back of Howard Kaplan’s bike says, “Shhhh! Ride of Silence,” and nearly everyone seems to be complying. The complete hush of the group is striking and some bystanders seem confused about the purpose this Mass-like ride; participants pull over to explain and hand them flyers.

The procession heads into River North to visit the white-painted “ghost bike” memorial for artist Clint Miceli, 22, at 900 N. LaSalle. In June of last year Miceli was killed when a car door opened on him, throwing him into traffic. Friends and family are trying to raise money for Active Transportation Alliance’s Clint Miceli Memorial Fund, which will be used for bike safety education projects; a benefit takes place on Saturday, June 13, at Emerald Isle, 6686 N. Northwest Highway in Edison Park.

After friends light memorial candles at the memorial, the group rolls into the sunset up Clybourn Ave. A boy on the sidewalk yells, “What parade is this? Is this the bike parade?” At Tyler Fabeck’s ghost bike under the Kennedy Expressway, the crowd spills into the street as more candles are illuminated.

A few miles later the group fills the street at Armitage and Kedzie, where pharmacy student Blanca Ocasio, 19, was killed in September 2007 by a right-turning garbage truck. A few months later, teacher Amanda “Mandy” Annis, 24, was struck at the same location in April 2008 when a car blew a red light. As riders light candles at Ocasio’s ghost bike, diners at the nearby Streetside Café ask, “Why are you guys so quiet? Make it loud.” Someone hands them a flyer.

Two blocks east at Humboldt the ride stops in the parkway by Annis’ recently-installed ghost bike, which seems to have been placed at a different location than the crash site so as not to detract attention from Ocasio’s memorial. Friends embrace tearfully as birds sing in the twilight.

The ride ends at Western and Augusta at the ghost bike for engineer Isai Medina, 50, who was killed nearby in 2006 when a vehicle hopped the curb as Medina stood on the sidewalk with his “chopper” bike. “I think we really made a bold statement tonight,” says Adamczyk to the crowd. “Thank you guys for cooperating,” says one of the bike cops. “I wish every Critical Mass was like this.”

Chicago's North Side Critical Mass

by John Greenfield

The North Side Critical Mass is the newest of Chicago's five neighborhood Critical Masses - smaller, more intimate rides that harken back to the early days of the Daley Plaza Mass, when it was possible to fit the entire group into one saloon. Other "local motion" masses include Wicker Park, Pilsen, Oak Park, and Evanston. The North Side event gathers at 6:30 pm on the second Friday of the month at Senn Park, 5887 N. Ridge in the Edgewater neighborhood.

Julie Hochstadter started a Far North Side Riders discussion group on the Chainlink social networking site earlier this year. "I just thought it would be fun to start a group for all the riders up north," she says. Out of these discussions the idea for the new Mass developed, and fellow North Siders Tony Riccardo, Hector Soriano and Rachel Friend promoted the ride, which started in March, says Hochstadter.

On Friday May 8 at 6:30, a handful of bicyclists are gathered under Senn Park's statue of Young Lincoln by Charles Keck. A scruffy youth called "Rufus" is spraypainting "Happy Friday" on a billboard trailer towed by Uptown Bikes founder Tim Herlihy. "The first ride in March was so cold," Rufus recalls, "afterwards at the bar my buddy stepped outside and sat down inside a stranger's car to roll a joint. The guy came out and yelled at him, so my buddy kicked in a tailight and ran into the night."

As more cyclists trickle in, Soriano hands out laminated spoke cards with the ride's logo, a take-off of the North Face label, designed by Garth Katner. "I like this ride 'cause it's small, so each rider has more say in what we do," says Riccardo, who's brought a big sound system trailer with buzzy bass. He's aiming to open a new community cycle center in Albany Park by the end of the summer, ideally in the neighborhood's community center, 3403 W. Lawrence.

Friend passes out cue sheets for the NSCM Garden Ride, visiting neighborhood green spaces all over the Mid-North area. With Soriano's speakers blaring out Mellencamp's "Cherry Bomb," the group of about 30 rolls out of the park and heads towards the vibrant Andersonville business district. The Puppet Bike rolling theater happens to be set up along the strip, with furry animal puppets dancing to bluegrass on its miniature stage for an appreciative crowd. Out side of the new bar SoFo (South of Foster) patrons dance to U2's "Vertigo," blasting from Riccardo's trailer.

The group heads east on Wilson into a grittier section of Uptown. Kathy Schubert is towing her new dog on her Bike Friday, a mop-topped, "schoodle," or schnauzer-poodle mix, named Suzie. After continuing south on Kenmore, the cyclists stop in the street by Ginko Organic Garden, 4055 N. Kenmore, where a man and woman are sitting on a bench. The mob hoots and hollers until the couple kisses, prompting applause from the pedalers.

Returning to Wilson and heading west the crowd passes the American Indian Center and a mansion owned by the heirs to the Abbot Laboratories fortune. In Lincoln Square, diners at the Fiddlehead Cafe groove to "Wild Thing" by the Troggs booming from the rolling sound system. The ride stops for a moment on a bridge over the Chicago River to admire the view, then rolls into Ravenswood Manor, where the disgraced ex-governor lives. "To Blago's House!," someone shouts.

As more beer is consumed, riders are getting rowdier. "I love this shit, this makes my day," belows one as the Mass heads north on Kedzie through a a section of Albany Park with many Middle Eastern businesses. Stopping across from La Pupusas Salvadoran restaurant on Lawrence, the cyclists are confronted by a couple of police officers in an unmarked car. Herlihy, older and wiser then most of the participants, explains the situation and the cops drive off.

The ride stops at a number of community gardens along the way, at Turtle Park, Northside College Prep and Waters Elementary School, where a new Astroturf lawn was recently installed. Friend lies down on the springy surface and exclaims, "Ah, the smell of Dioxins from outgassing plastic turf."

The bicyclists roll southeast on Lincoln into a full orange moon to the sounds of "20th Century Boy" by T-Rex, towards Fizz bar, near the six-way intersection with Belmont and Ashland. Over beers and burgers on the patio they celebrate another successful North Side ride. "There was even more spectator response than last time," says John Ladner, whose flashing spoke lights were a hit with bystanders. "We get a lot more love on these neighborhood rides."

Friend points out the motley crew of cyclists assembled around the long table. "As you see, our ride is a mix of hipsters, nerds, non-drinkers and alcoholics," she says. Riccardo's wife Marlene adds that this diversity is the strength of the North Side Mass. "In all these rides you get to meet all kinds of people, "she says. "We're like a family, but with new members joining us every month."

Interview w/ Owen Lloyd from Blue City Cycles

by John Greenfield

Chicago’s newest bike store Blue City Cycles opened last month at 3201 S. Halsted in a former barbershop on the main drag of the South Side’s Bridgeport neighborhood. Co-owners Clare Knipper and Owen Lloyd are veterans of various local shops and community cycle centers – Lloyd and I have worked together at Boulevard Bikes in Logan Square.

The new store is small but stocks a variety of new Schwinns, ranging from road to utility to single-speed to the charming “Jenny” model, a canary-yellow cruiser with white fenders and brown leatherette saddle and grips. Blue City also has a good selection of commuter accessories and the basement is full of old bikes waiting to be rehabbed and sold. I caught up with Lloyd, who will be handling most of the mechanic work, on a Thursday afternoon.

Tell me about your experience with bicycles. What stuff have you done that’s prepared you for opening a shop?

I’ve worked in various bike stores and retail settings for the last ten years. I also took a two-week course in frame building and repair at the United Bicycle Institute of America in Ashland, OR, about two years ago.

You used to be head mechanic at Blackstone Bicycle Works [a bike education center and shop in Hyde Park on the South Side] – what did you learn there?

Blackstone was good because it was the “leanest” bike shop I ever worked at. Not having an awful lot of money to spend, we stocked basic retail goods. It was like, “What do we need to have to get the job done and provide people with basic bicycle service? – flat fixes, tires, lights, locks, helmets. But we didn’t have the money or the market to go get lots of stuff. The other bike shops I’ve worked at had a higher volume and were able to have a lot more retail goods. But Blackstone was nice because it’s a bare-bones bike shop.

Why are there so few shops on the South Side and what made you decide to open a shop here?

Some of the neighborhoods may be too low-income to sustain a full-service shop. They can make it worthwhile for the local hardware store to keep some repair goods on hand. Also, the South Side is less densely populated then the North Side so it may actually be easier for adults to get around by car all the time.

The reason Clare and I decided to open the shop here is I’ve lived down the street from here for three years and I noticed the neighborhood had a lot of cyclists and there wasn’t a local shop to take care of them. The closest one [Art’s Cycles in Pilsen] is three miles away. Kozy’s, the big local chain, opened up in the 1940s near here at 35th and Ashland. The only reason they closed that location is because their North Side shops were making a lot more money.

But there was still a market and a purpose for a bike shop in the community. And it seems like the number of people riding bikes in the neighborhood has increased over the last three years. So we figured there’s still enough business in the neighborhood to sustain a small store.

What made you decide to open your own shop?

I guess it’s the classic American dream thing – open your own small business and be your own boss. At several of the jobs I’ve worked at, including the bike shops, in the end I got fed up working for other people. So I figured working for myself might be a good idea.

In the small bicycle shop industry you hit a ceiling in terms of how much money you can earn as a mechanic, even at shops that pay well. So one way to maintain your independence is to open your own shop and see if you can make a better living. Right now I’m not making a better living; maybe I will in five years. Maybe I won’t. But as long as I can earn as much as I did at other shops I’ll be happy.

What other shops have you worked at in Chicago besides Blackstone?

I started out at Working Bikes [Cooperative, in Tri-Taylor,] then I spent two seasons at Rapid Transit in Wicker Park and then Boulevard Bikes for a season.

You and I worked together at Boulevard a little bit and it seems like the layout of your shop is pretty similar. Did Kevin [Womac, the owner] give you any help in opening your own shop?

He gave me advice here and there, like he suggested that I be a Schwinn dealer which was a very good idea because the company has good name recognition in the neighborhood. I asked him about how much inventory he started with and various things like that. A lot of the mentoring I’ve gotten from folks like Kevin, and Chris Stodder and Justyna Frank at Rapid Transit is just seeing how they run their shops, seeing what I like and what I don’t like. That’s helped me out as much if not more than outright asking people.

Does your shop have any particular philosophy or goals?

Right now we’re trying to be a commuter and neighborhood shop and we’ll have to see what people in the neighborhood want. I’ve tried to keep the price range of the bikes we stock at the cheaper end of the scale. We’re trying to get the price point between three and seven hundred dollars, to try to provide reasonably-priced bikes to get people out there and riding.

Now that the shop’s open are you still going to be able to do frame building?

The store will probably take some time away from frame building but I’ve always worked full-time as well as doing frame building on the side. I’ll offer frame repair and fabrication services through the shop. Chicago doesn’t seem to want to support a full-time frame builder. In Portland you can’t throw a rock without hitting a frame builder. The coasts seem to be able to sustain more frame building at the moment but I think it will catch on here eventually.

Where do you see the shop going the future? What’s it gonna look like in two years?

It’ll probably be a lot grubbier in two years. The floor plan might change if we need more or less workspace. Hopefully we’ll have at least one more repair area and a washtub. Originally we’d hoped to open a café along with the shop, but that didn’t pan out. So in a couple of years it would be awesome if someone opened a café next door.

What’s the funniest thing that ever happened to you while working at a bike shop?

One time I was working at Rapid Transit and I was making fun of one of the mechanics who wasn’t there. It was his day off but it seemed like he would always show up on his day off. I was sort of mocking him and making fun his beard and the moment I stopped talking about him he walked in through the door, almost like there was a psychic connection, and I just totally lost it.

It seems like beards are big at Rapid Transit.

Yeah, something in the water there makes people get facial hair and tattoos.

There’s also the story of the ants in the bottom bracket. At Working Bikes at the time, a customer would pick out a bike and we we’d fix it up on the spot and they would leave with it. As I was working this particular bike I noticed there was an ant on the brake lever. I brushed it off and kept working on the bike. Then there was another ant and another ant and another ant. And I stopped and I thought, where the heck are these coming from?

So I started tapping at the frame with a wrench and ants just started pouring out of one of the vent holes in the bike and out of the seat tube. There was a live ant nest in the bottom bracket of this Schwinn ‘cause the bike had probably sat outside behind someone’s garage. It had been donated that day. So I said to the customer, “You might have to come back for this – we’re going to have to fumigate.” That was totally bizarre. It’s the only time I’ve found living creatures inside of a bicycle. I’ve found a few dead ones before.