This spring’s record-breaking weather has brought Chicago’s horde of three-season cyclists out of hibernation and onto the city’s roads and trails. It’s also giving a big boost to the folks at Roscoe Village Bikes, 2016 W. Roscoe St. The neighborhood shop is beginning its sixth season in what used to be a dry cleaner and tailor shop. On a recent busy afternoon, Lesley Tweedie, co-owner with husband Alex, paused to talk about her customers, the challenges of riding in the city and what the heck a “fixie” is.
RVJ: This has been about the best spring for a bike shop owner, yes?
Lesley: This season definitely kicked off earlier than usual. We’re always busy the first 60-degree day in March. That’s not usually until the third or fourth week in March. This year, I think it was … what, the first or second week?
Who are the people that come into the shop?
We consider ourselves a neighborhood shop, so there’s lots of different kinds of riders in the neighborhood. You have your commuters, your recreational riders and your competitive cyclists. I would say that the commuters are probably the biggest group, followed closely by recreational riders and people looking for bikes for their kids. But we have a large amount of our clientele who ride year-round to and from work.
It’s for those people that you came up with your exclusive “Four Star” bike. How did that happen?
We sell a bike by KHS called the Urban Express. It was a really popular bike — it still is. But what we found was that people maybe needed more puncture-resistant tires, they needed full fenders to keep the rain off, so we decided we would take an Urban Express frame and … we upgraded the tires (and) the fenders. We gave it a SRAM X5 shifter and derailleur … SRAM is a Chicago-based company. And while we were at it, we did the “Chicago flag” paint job, because if you’re going to do a Chicago bike, you might as well. It came out really nice. It’s just sort of meant more for the Chicago cyclist. The “Four Star” is doing really well. I think we’re going to sell out of them this year.
One of the big trends in bicycles right now is a “fixie.” What is it and why would I want one?
OK, so all fixed-gear bikes are single-speeds, not all single-speeds are fixed-gear bikes. Your single-speed can either have a freewheel or a fixed cog. If it has a freewheel, that means you can coast. If it has a fixed cog, you can’t coast — the crank arms are always going to be moving, they’re basically going to be pushing you forward. If you were to actually try to pedal backwards, the rear wheel would spin in reverse. What people like about single-speeds, not specifically fixed-gears, is that you eliminate the shifters (and) the derailleurs, and so it can be lower maintenance and it’s relatively flat around here, and when you don’t have the gears you don’t necessarily think about them. What some people like about fixed-gears is they feel more of a unity with the feel of the bike. There are certain sports that require fixed-gear riding, like track racing … also bike polo is usually done on a fixed-gear. But for riding around town … personally, I don’t really see a lot of advantages. It can be really hard on your knees, but some people really like them.
What’s the biggest challenge for bike riders in Roscoe Village and the city generally?
Well … cars. Traffic. One slightly more common problem is the problem of being “doored,” so parked cars. Potholes are also a big issue. And you know what? Here’s another one: bike theft. It’s sad when we sell somebody a bike and they come back three, four or five months later having had it stolen. I do wish the city would do a little bit more to prevent this problem or address this problem.