At the end of last week local bike shop Rapid Transit, a 21-year-old industry veteran, announced on its website and Facebook page that it will close its doors soon. In an excellent piece on Streetsblog Chicago, John Greenfield reports that Rapid Transit has been struggling since the economic crash in 2008, and owners Chris Stodder and Justyna Frank say they don’t have enough cash to make it through the winter. Both locations (the original one in Wicker Park, and a second one in University Village), will close within the next two months.
I was sadder to hear of its closing than I expected, considering that it hasn’t been my local bike shop since I moved out of Wicker Park about three years ago. But it was my go-to spot for repairs and biking equipment for about five years before that, and the first bike store I ever went to when I first moved to Chicago. It’s also where I learned how my bike worked; sometime around 2009 I took a three-part evening class Rapid Transit offered on how to tune up your own bike. The idea was that over the course of three weeks, the bike shop’s mechanics would show participants how to overhaul their bikes. At the end of the class you’d have a completely tuned-up bike and know how to do the work yourself.
It can’t have made the shop much money. While I can’t remember how much the class cost, I’m pretty sure it was under $200, and there were at least three mechanics there for each session to help the five participants. Even with that impressive level of staffing, we didn’t make it through everything we needed to, and the shop added on a fourth three-hour session, bringing the total to 12 hours of almost one-on-one instruction. While it didn’t quite qualify me to become a bike mechanic myself, the class gave me enough knowledge of bike maintenance and repair to do some basic stuff on my own, and to take my bike to the open shop hours at West Town Bikes to work on more complicated tasks (while there are volunteers at the open shop hours, it helps if you have at least some idea what you’re doing).
More important than the classes it offered, though, was Rapid Transit’s staff of friendly, knowledgeable mechanics. In all the dozens of times I’ve gone in over the years, none of them has ever been condescending —which hasn’t always been the case at other bike shops. Every mechanic I’ve encountered there has taken the time to explain exactly what’s wrong with my bike and discuss all the possible solutions. The one time I was unhappy with the work that was done, Rapid Transit corrected the problem free of charge with no hassle. It was a shop full of good people, and I wish they could have found a way to survive.
Stodder and Frank may not be gone from the industry for long, though. Stodder told Greenfield that they’re already contemplating opening another store, though he wouldn’t go into detail about the idea. Here’s wishing them all the best.