As I often do, I ended my last post with the intent of working on this next one immediately afterwards. That was months ago, and this is the essence of why I have had a hard time maintaining the site, figuring out what to do with the tours, and deciding whether I would like doing this still or if I have moved on. I wish I could say I was closer to figuring any of that out.
In the interim, I ride. So far, I haven’t missed a day this year and it has been wonderfully therapeutic. As everyone does, I struggle with regular, and personal challenges along the way. Still, the last couple of years, the direction that this country has gone has me feeling at permanent discomfort at best and occasional abject terror in the worst moments. How far things have fallen down and how hard it will be to righting things leaves me a wreck if left to ruminate in it. Sometimes, just unplugging, riding my bike helps me achieve some peace. Lately, the miles ease the mental anxiety, make me healthier in body and spirit and recharge me to do my best.
Even before my dad died two summers ago and I suspended the tours, I had resolved to give up the free bike loaners program and liquidate the inventory. The bike library was set up as free loaners for people that wanted to do the tour but didn’t have bikes. While a good thing at first, it has become a burden and is seldom used in the age of bike share. Frankly, it is a p.i.t.a. to deal with and with expanded personal obligations these days, I can’t work on the schedule I used to have to promote, organize and run the rides, let alone maintain a fleet of bikes to lend out for them.
When I started the tours, my enthusiasm for promoting the rides and talking about them to others was fresh and I was excited about the concept and the process. Through word of mouth and social media and posters, I spread awareness and built an audience. It makes sense that from the get-go the audience was a cycling-centric group. Most learned of them on bike web sites, bike list-serves, eventually the Chainlink, my email list and at posters in the local bike stores, so largely, the tours drew people who were looking for fun things to do on their bikes.
When I would talk with folks that weren’t necessarily cyclists, they often complimented the concept but the interest was often tempered by people who didn’t ride anymore, maybe didn’t have a bike handy, or had one in no shape to ride. To try to counter this limitation, I built a library of bikes in different sizes and let people borrow them for the tour if they couldn’t get wheels of their own. The building up of the loaner library took 6 years from the first one to the last bike built. There were as many as 26 of them at one time, so we could accommodate riders of a large range of sizes, with more sizes in the middle to satisfy the most frequent requests. Some built for comfort. Some built for speed(ish). Everything designed to accommodate a variety of size and geometry needs.
While there were some exceptions, most of the bikes were older steel frames of good quality. Each frame was stripped, treated and powder coated and all frames were rebuilt with high quality older components, usually complete Campagnolo or Shimano grupos and custom built wheels. We made road bikes and single speed conversions mostly, but no bosses, derailleur hangers or cable stops were ever cut off or ground down. Each finished bike was truly 1-of-a-kind and was named for a famous dead Chicagoan. Most of the bikes featured custom decals and its name on the top tube. The bikes at one point all had cards describing on one side the person they are named for, and on the other the details about the bike, how it came to me, what we did to restore it, history on the frame, etc. Sadly, these were lost in one or another bike tour, or swap or exhibit of some sort. In addition to the two-and-a-half dozen or so bikes built for the loaner library, there were about another dozen I built for several friends of the tour.
I began building up the loaners in my garage in 2008. I had lots of help along the way learning everything from how to rebuild a headset or a hubset, how to build wheels, adjust derailleurs, brakes, route cables, clean rust, diagnose problems and check for frame straightness among other things. I became a scavenger of bike parts, frames, Craigslist, swaps and any little crevice or corner where someone was selling something bikey. I watched videos, and read books but ultimately learned the most from the professionals who were kind enough to teach me things and give me advice and steer me clear of mistakes. Without the aid of Alex Wilson at West Town Bikes, Kevin Womack and Owen Lloyd at Boulevard Bikes (before Owen opened Blue City Cycles), Yuvee at UV Metal Arts or much earlier in my life, Mitch Paul at Shaker Cycle, I never would have figured out even the basics of bike mechanics. While still an amateur at this, I learned a whole new skill building up the fleet of bikes.
After a couple of years, I relocated from our garage to a large space in the building adjacent to my office and started the Monday Night Bike Build club. We’d meet every other Monday and build up the bikes, or work on project bikes that the participants would bring in. I’d teach folks that would show up how to tune up a bike, check for chain wear, pack bearings, true, straighten and even build their own wheels. We would drink beers, and ready bikes for tours, work on people’s latest acquisitions, or just putz around and talk about horror movies on some nights. There was no heat or AC and there were holes in the roof and no running water or working plumbing, but there was electricity and beer, and we used my office’s bathroom next door as needed. The joke about the club in the winter was that it was like building bikes in Hoth, the winter planet that was site of the Rebel Alliance’s Echo Base in The Empire Strikes Back. A frequent topic was music or bands and whether they were METAL or NOT METAL. There were a bunch of people who joined us for a night, or a spell over the years, but the core group was Brian Kennedy, Ryan Berg, David Pertuz, Michael Latham and Michael Abene and without their help, the full loaner library would never have functioned.
Though it seems like a crazy thing to do in retrospect, it was a wonderful learning experience for me, and it was a way to get people who otherwise wouldn’t ride, out on a bike again. Many would say it was the first time they had ridden in years. Sometimes people would contact me later to tell me they started biking again. Sometimes they would come to more tours…on their own bikes. That was definitely worth it. It let friends ride together when only one had a bike when otherwise, they would both have done something else. It allowed a lot of people to join us on tours and re-learn the joys of bicycling, or regain perspective and appreciation for the Chicago that surrounds them all the time. I also learned a great deal of bike maintenance and mechanics in the process by building up the fleet of bikes for the tours and passing on what I knew every other Monday evening. That was definitely worth it too.
Now however, it is time to move on. Many of the original bikes have since been sold. I also gave a number of bikes to friends, friends of the tours and people that helped out in a variety of ways, both before this liquidation of the tour assets, and now that it is underway.
In the early years, I brought bikes to the rides frequently, but as the tours have continued, they are rarely requested much anymore. These days when I get a call or email asking to borrow a loaner bike, they seem to not realize that it is for the tours. People would frequently write or ask to just borrow a bike for all sorts of time periods and purposes but this isn’t a true public bike library…it was just so people could try the tours, and try a nice zippy bike, and spend a part of their weekend biking around Chicago.
The fewer calls for a particular bike, particularly the odd sizes that are not requested often, the bigger a pain it is to try to ready the bike for the tour. Having to bring a bike for someone to the tour also means I can’t ride to the tour myself and have to drive. Sometimes people who borrow bikes don’t have it in them to finish the tour, which means locking it up wherever that happens to be, and then driving back to that spot after the tour. In summation, the many moving parts of the loaner library seem every day a greater hassle for diminishing demand so it seems like a good time to sell the loaner library.
With an exception here and there, they are all named for dead Chicagoans and offered another opportunity to explore some Chicago history on the tours. Most have the one or two of the various badges and decals I had made over the years.
To ready the bikes for sale, the entire collection was professionaly tuned-up by Ben Fietz and Steven Blum at Tailwind Cycles. Joshua Haines photographed each one for their sale page. I am embarrassed to say that with all that has gone on, this whole thing is like a year past when I had intended it to happen. Alas.
I am selling them all here, and will list them in some Facebook groups, and in some cases eBay as well. I’ll post active listings here and remove them as things sell, within reason or update their status. This will include the tour bikes, a few random builds, frames, wheels and wheelsets, parts, tools, stands, helmets, pumps, walkie-talkies, etc. The picture gallery above includes some bikes that have new owners and a couple I am keeping and all of the shots in the gallery are by the very talented joshua alexandre haines.
Prices are designed to give you a great bike for very little money. In most cases, they are selling for less than the cost of just a portion of their build cost, and in some cases, for even less than the powder coat. Picking up locally in Chicago’s Jefferson Park is free. Those out of the area can pay a flat fee of $100 to have it professionally packaged by Tailwind Cycles and shipped via Bike Flights anywhere in the Continental US. I will not ship via other methods or work with 3rd party shippers.
Everything I don’t ultimately sell this way or keep in my own collection will get donated to West Town Bikes. An organization that does great things for Chicago and Chicagoans every day. The director and founder of West Town Bikes, Alex Wilson, is one of the best people in Chicago and he has taught me a great deal, and not just about bike mechanics. I am always proud to support West Town Bikes.
To see the bikes, click on their line to open their page. I apologize that some are very flushed out and others very sparse. Part of the reason it took so long to do this is it was such a massive project, and hard to get all the details and various things I wrote all together and make sure I had an equal amount of information, etc. It was get it up as I have it right now, or never at this point so here’s everything. So apologies to Dwight Perkins, August Spies and the various other bikes who were shafted in the explanation of the bike and individual.
Also, at one point, all of the loaner bikes were set up to tour with fenders, lights and a bell. A few of the bikes have some remnants of those items, or even all of those items, and more than a few have a few spoke cards I used to give out on the rides.
You can view the bikes here on the Loaner Bike Program/Recyclery Page.
25% of the proceeds from the sales will be donated to West Town Bikes.
The bikes that are available for sale are also listed immediately below, which will take you to their page or to their Ebay Sale page.
Bikes for sale
Cinelli Trophy Proxima |eBay Sale Page
Algren – 80s Trek Road Bike conversion |eBay Sale Page
Captain Gilson – 80s Fuji Sagres SA Road bike | eBay Sale Page
Frances – 80s Centurion Road Bike conversion | eBay Sale Page
Griffin – 60s Raphael Geminiani touring bike conversion | eBay Sale Page
H. H. Holmes – 70s Sekine road bike conversion |eBay Sale Page
Queen Bess – 70s Raleigh Super Record conversion | eBay Sale Page
Sandburg – 80s Fuji Royale road bike | eBay Sale Page
Studs – 50s Hercules 3-speed conversion | eBay Sale Page
Other BIkes and bike things for sale
I will soon be listing a variety of tools, stands, wheelsets, frames, parts and the like for sale including:
Campagnolo Record Hubs to Ambrosio Rims, Sun CR18 NOS Rims, Sun M13IIs NOS Rims, 2 large rolling storage work tables/catch tables, 1 rolling tool chest – bottom drawer is busted, 1 Delta Drill Press – needs repair, Bianchi Avenue Safety Tape Hybrid Full Bike, size equivalent to 53cm, Suntour and Sram components, Raleigh Frame, Miche Track tubular track wheelset with Challenge Paris Roubaix tires, glued on, never used, and much, much more.