You probably often walk into your local bike shop for quite prosaic reasons. Maybe you need a tube, or you need the drivetrain cleaned, or help removing the frozen seatpost, or pedal, or bottom bracket. And we help you out with that, because that's what we are here for. But if our job description read "removing stuck parts from bikes", life wouldn't be very exciting for us, and chances are, you'd receive mediocre service.
Rapid Transit Cycleshop is often described as the "urban" or "commuter" shop. I'm not sure that this does justice to what we actually do. What we did set out to do is to enable cyclists in Chicago to use their bicycles in ways that they envisioned, without judgment or intimidation. We wanted to participate in their vision. We have also always felt that transportation was a viable and appropriate use for the bicycle. And it simply happened that in a dense urban area like Wicker Park, there were quite a few people whose vision of the bicycle included transportation.When we opened the shop in 1994, we felt that much of the bike industry at the time, including bike companies and bike shops, were unresponsive to urban cyclists' needs, so we eagerly stepped in to fill the niche.
Perhaps the urban image that has grown up around us also has to do with our name. We deliberately called ourselves Rapid Transit, because we felt that bicycles were at least as sensible and efficient at public transit. For many years, we also used the tagline "We're Chicago's Transportation Alternative". Although this further played on the idea of comparing ourselves to the urban transit system (playing on the abbreviation of Chicago Transit Authority), what it meant to us, is that we offered folks who wanted to cycle real alternatives.
A bike, of course, is an alternative to a car, or train, or bus, or traveling on foot. However, we also felt that there were very few alternatives for the cycling public among the offerings of local bike shops. We wanted to change that. We were not after defining what a cyclist should be. We wanted to open up the possibilities of what he or she could be.
For example in 1994, with one Vision R40 in stock, we became Chicago's first recumbent bicycle dealer. Every year since then we have expanded or fine-tuned our recumbent offerings, and currently stock several brands and configurations of both recumbent bicycles and adult trikes. These are not traditionally considered "urban" bikes, yet a number of our customers use them extensively on the streets of Chicago.
For several years, we tried unsuccessfully to incorporate folding bikes into the mix. There simply were no US manufacturers or distributors who were set up to sell folders through a dealer network. Fortunately, several years ago that changed, and we now offer a selection of models from several different manufacturers, that give cyclists travel options simply not available with a standard bike.
Over the past fifteen years, we have seen many trends in bikes come and go. No one type of bike can fill the needs of a huge and diverse cycling population: not hybrid, not recumbent, not folding, not fixie, not road, not mountain, not Chinese, not even Dutch. Thus, we offer many different bikes, because there are many different kinds of cyclists.
Recently, we had a chance to revisit our old tagline, and really think about what it means. What does it mean to be Chicago's Transportation Alternative? It's not just who we are and what we offer. In fact, that's only a small part of it. What really matters is what you want, and how we can help that come about. Why do you want to bike? What are your dreams?
We noticed that many people coming in to look for a bike, to repair a bike, to get back on a bike, to find a different, more appropriate type of bike, were looking, in some measure, for freedom, autonomy, intependence. Freedom from traffic, from stress, from the city, from the car, from gas, from illness or injury, from convention, from routine. They expressed a desire to escape, in bigger or smaller ways, from something that was limiting or holding them back.
And our job, the way we see it, is to help them realize their dreams of independent travel.