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Bike to work? Just bike, period, Elgin area shop owners say

Gary Crittenden laces bicycle wheel Wednesday The Village Pedaler South Elgin.
June 15 2011 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

Gary Crittenden laces a bicycle wheel Wednesday at The Village Pedaler in South Elgin. June 15, 2011 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

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remaining Bike to Work Week events in Elgin

Today at 7:30 a.m.: A 30-minute breakfast ride downtown with the Mayor Dave Kaptain, beginning at City Hall, 150 Dexter Court, and ending at Ravenheart Café, 176 E. Chicago St.

Today at noon: The Bicycle Garage will conduct a bike education and repair clinic at the Harvest Market in downtown Elgin in the lot at the southwest corner of Kimball Street and North Grove Avenue.

Friday at noon: Rescheduled from Wednesday, lunch for bike commuters on Walton Island in the Fox River downtown, sponsored by the Elgin Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee. Reservations are required. Call 847-931-6788.

Friday at 6:45 p.m.: Matt Wilhelm, X-Games medalist, will perform a BMX trick bike show at the “old library” parking lot at the southwest corner of Kimball Street and North Grove Avenue downtown.

Friday at 8 p.m.: A free screening of the movie “Chasing Legends” in The Centre Ballroom, 100 Symphony Way.

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Updated: September 29, 2011 12:54AM

SOUTH ELGIN — It’s Bike to Work Week, but The Village Pedaler owner Jeff Crittenden wishes the concept were a tad different.

“It should just be Bike Someplace Week, just to encourage people to go for an enjoyable ride, maybe to the Dairy Queen,” said Crittenden.

Crittenden — like fellow bike shop owners Jeff Provisor of Main Street Bicycles in Carpentersville and Steve Pickett of The Bicycle Garage in East Dundee — knows how tough it can be for most people to get to the office or any number of places by pedalling instead of by car, and that getting people back on bikes is not necessarily an easy sell.

“When we started in 1976, there were 200 million people in the United States, and about 30 million bikes were sold,” Crittenden said. “Last year, with 300 million people in this country, about 27 million bikes were sold.”

Part of the issue is sprawl: “We rode our bikes everywhere when I was a kid. We had no Randall Road,” he said.

Subdivisions have been built without bike paths and without connecting to each other. Now, in the post-recession era, it’s not easy to find money to retrofit such routes into them, Crittenden said.

Further, sometimes “Not In My Back Yard” types get in the way of potential paths. Crittenden mentioned that a few years ago, a bike path was under consideration along the NiGas pipeline right of way just west of Randall Road that runs the length of Kane County, until some residents complained they didn’t want it.

Gas price effect?

Parents back then, too, were not as worrisome as many seem today about their children’s safety, Crittenden said.

“We wonder why we have an obesity problem when people tell their kids that they can’t ride a bike past that house a few doors down that way and that house over there the other way,” he said.

Crittenden said a few summers ago, when gas prices first broke the $4 per gallon mark, some folks would come into his shop asking if he was getting rich, thinking that more people probably were biking to work.

“I’d ask where they lived and worked, and a typical answer would be, ‘I live in Thornwood” — a South Elgin subdivision — “and work in Schaumburg.’ They weren’t biking to work, and neither was anyone else.”

What he is seeing now is people coming in for bikes for their young teenagers so they can get to activities such as soccer practice, and some adults coming in for bikes to run errands.

Crittenden, who lives in Elgin Township, volunteers with the city of Elgin’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

“The city is awesome in trying to get things connected. More towns should be thinking that way,” he said.

Looking down road

Main Street Bicycles owner Provisor also complimented Elgin for the work it is doing to link up bike routes and provide more opportunities for cyclists, and for the ties the city has made with the Active Transportation Alliance, a biking advocacy group.

But Elgin has had its setbacks, too. Provisor said an effort to get a bike route connecting Elgin to trails east in Hoffman Estates and Schaumburg didn’t fly in part because of concerns about taking away parking spaces for cars.

Aside from the Fox River Trail, Provisor feels Carpentersville doesn’t have a lot for bicyclists.

“There are no bike lanes,” he said. “They’re going to be building one up Maple Lane, but that’s a tough ride with a big hill. The village tried to get federal money to put lanes in on Huntley Road for people on the west side of town, but they didn’t get the funding.”

Provisor wants the village to work toward building a cycling-friendly culture. He said he hopes to talk with representatives from Otto Engineering, which is close to his shop, to see about pursuing government dollars for encouraging employees to bike to work.

Provisor lives what he preaches. The East Dundee resident takes the short bike ride to his business each day. Prior to opening Main Street Bicycles, he would try arrange his schedule during good weather to bike once a week to his job at the time in Long Grove, 30 miles away, which would take him about 75 minutes, he said.

New directions

If things are to get better for cyclists, it will take grass-roots efforts from locals telling politicians they want improvements. And municipalities need to build a network linking what already exists, Provisor noted.

“Right now, there aren’t enough safe routes for commuters to get around,” he said.

As for Bike to Work Week, Provisor said for those who do try it — despite what obstacles there might be — there are some healthy pluses.

“The ride to work can give you energy to start your day,” he said. “And the ride home can be a great way to relieve stress.”

The Bicycle Garage owner Pickett rides from his home in Sleepy Hollow to his East Dundee shop, too, so he also knows firsthand what a challenge it can be to pedal in the suburbs.

“Let’s face it. We’re a car culture, and everything has been designed around the auto,” Pickett said.

With his location close to the Fox River Trail, Pickett said, “In about three or four weeks, I’ll be getting an annual visit by someone touring the country by bike. Invariably, one of them will ask if there is a way to get to Wrigley Field by bike. I tell them to take the path to Elgin, then get on the train to Chicago. Or bike Route 58 between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. but be on the lookout for drunk drivers. This area has good north-to-south bike routes, but not so much east-to-west.”

While Pickett noted the need for better connectivity of bike routes, he also was critical of his own industry in how it has promoted its product.

“I’m going to get on my soap box here, but too much of this industry doesn’t want to touch the mass market,” Pickett said. “It’s more concerned about the upper echelon, the racers. I’m not a racer, and that’s not my market. Their thinking has turned off a lot of people with the way they designed bikes. Now, over the last several years, they’re beginning to design bikes that are comfortable and practical.”

What, where to buy

For any adult looking for a bike, the three shop owners said a new one would cost between $350 and $550.

Adjusting for inflation, the latter price point is about what it would have cost to buy a Schwinn Varsity 10-speed, the top-selling bike in 1976 when Crittenden got into the business. It’s also about seven or eight fill-ups of a car these days, Provisor noted.

The men mentioned several advantages of getting a bike from a bike shop instead of a big-box retailer, where prices might be considerably cheaper.

The bikes at those large stores tend to be built to a one-size-fits-all approach, and a bike needs to be adjusted to each and every rider. Also, such bikes are quickly put together and as such are sometimes incorrectly assembled.

Pickett said people have brought him bikes to fix from big stores where the handle bars had been put on backward. Pickett also noted that a young man once working for him left to take what turned out to be a short-lived job assembling bikes at a big-box retailer.

“He was led to believe he could make more than $20 a hour. They were paying $7 a bike. You can’t build three bikes in an hour. If you’re doing it right, it takes about 90 minutes (each),” Pickett said.

“I think they should regulate assembly to certified mechanics. Bikes are not toys. They’re machines,” Pickett added.

As for casual riders, they should look for the varieties that are built more for comfort than for speed, the men said. Models include mountain bikes with wider tires and hybrid bikes that combine features of mountain and road bikes.

“The idea when I get you on a bike is that I want you to say, ‘Wow. That was fun,’”  Crittenden said. “That’s what’s going to get more people on bikes more often.”

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