9 posts

How to spend as little of your own money on a new bicycle as possible

You said “bicycle,” not “tricycle.” A bicycle leans. A bicyclist learns.

This post originally published May 10, 2011, on Since then, people have gained one more way to save money on a new bicycle: buying a used one from the Peoria Bike Co-op on Main Street in Peoria. In addition to prepping ready-to-ride bicycles, the folks at the co-op teach basic bicycle maintenance and repair, provide a space and tools for people to work on their bicycles, and help with more difficult repairs.

What are the original ways to save money on a new bicycle? Read on:

Don’t spend any money
Walking is about as close to free transportation as it gets. If it was good enough for Thoreau

Don’t buy a new bicycle
Can you adjust brakes and gears? Overhaul bearings? Recognize frame and wheel defects? Welcome to your Peoria-area craigslist. Skip the discount brands. You’re looking for good-quality used machines that originally came from bicycle shops. If it’s in good shape but out of style, so much the better for your wallet. On the other hand, if the owner thinks it’s a valuable antique, ask yourself why she’d sell it. Give it a good once-over before you buy. The frame and wheels must be in perfect shape. You can always buy new tires or a seat. If you have to replace much more than that, the bike’s too expensive.

Think twice before you buy a discount store bicycle
You may save money up front compared to a bicycle from a bike shop, but you may also be buying expensive problems down the road. Is the bicycle assembled? Who assembled it? The employee that just got finished with the whirl-a-tilt basketball goal? What’s the warranty? Service policy?

Buy from a bicycle shop
One of the great things about bicycle-shop bikes is they come with warranties and service policies. Ask your dealer about brake and gear adjustments after the sale. Another great thing is that good bicycle shops encourage test rides. Take advantage of the offer. Maybe you’re thinking, “I’ve got ‘x’ to spend.” Great, you have a budget.

Not sure whether you want a hybrid, a mountain bike, a folder or something else? Ride them all.

Still not comfortable with spending money? Do yourself a favor: before you buy, ride at least three bikes: one that’s in your price range, one that’s close to your price but from a different company, and one that costs at least twice as much as the first bike. You’ll either decide to spend more money, or you’ll feel even better about sticking to your initial budget. Either way: you win. After all, if you ride the first bike three months and then go back to buy the more expensive bike, you spent more money than you needed to.

Wait for your inheritance to arrive
Yeah, like that’s going to happen.


Dinner & Bikes feeds the mind in Peoria


For a few hours on May 29, downtown Peoria, Illinois, had a vegan bookstore. And all Bike Peoria President Erik Reader had to do to make it happen was ask Elly Blue, Joshua Ploeg, Joe Biel and Aaron Cynic to add central Illinois to their 2015 Dinner & Bikes tour of the Midwest.

“If it wasn’t for Twitter, I would have never been able to connect with cyclist and author of Bikenomics, Elly Blue (@ellyblue) a few months ago,” Reader wrote on

Blue welcomed the Twitter invite. “That’s all it took. And we were able to work out the details with them. They were able to organize the kind of event that we wanted to do, and the city fit into our tour schedule this year.”

IMG_4219The format of Dinner & Bikes is simple. You walk in, linger at the long table holding bicycling-oriented t-shirts, books, booklets, stickers and pins, load up your plate, visit with your neighbors, watch videos separated by raffle ticket drawings and wander back to the table to buy whatever Portland-inspired communications strike your fancy.

It’s over all too soon.

But what you learn during the evening is that bicycle advocacy is about more than improving the infrastructure we all use; it’s about people of all backgrounds discovering the bicycle and, in turn, discovering new things about themselves and their communities.

It’s a positive message and, for the most part, a Spandex-free message, though it’s only fair to note that Spandex had at least a couple of vocal supporters among the sold-out audience in Peoria.

I asked Blue a few questions before she folded up shop at the Dream Center downtown and, the next day, headed to Chicago to catch Amtrak’s Empire Builder back to Portland.

Tell me a little about your publishing company, Microcosm.

What don’t people know about Microcosm? Microcosm is 20 years old, and it started out as a record label. I was only peripherally involved until the beginning of this year when I became a part owner and marketing person, so now it’s my full-time job, whereas before I was observing from a distance. This is my job-job.

To judge by what I read on, bicycling there is in a bit of a funk. What’s going on?

I was most involved in local bicycling issues in Portland from 2006 to 2008. At that time, there was this really exciting atmosphere that I think other cities are experiencing right now, where everything was possible, everything was changing so rapidly, and like everyone who was involved felt like they were really involved. And that reached a plateau, or even a peak.

And since then, I think there’s been this, sort of like, Portland got all this attention. It was like the number one bike city in the U.S. This cottage industry sprang up promoting how great a bike city Portland was and positive changes have continued happening, slowly, at the infrastructure level, but in terms of the movement of people, the culture of people on the streets, things really stagnated, sort of.IMG_4209

Critical Mass stopped happening, because people were, like, oh, we don’t need it any more, and that actually turned out not to be true. And the local advocacy organizations were caught up in internal drama and turmoil, and only recently things have started shifting in a more interesting direction.

I’d even say in the last month or two there’s been this like sort of coalescing, and unfortunately, it’s happened around tragic accidents. But coalescing is really heartening to see, and there are other things that are exciting. It’s not the same people who were in power the whole time. There are other groups that are doing really cool, interesting, useful stuff.

IMG_4201What’s the most hopeful thing about bicycling in general?

Communities all over the country, especially cities and smaller towns in the center of the country, are starting to get over this idea that, oh, that’s something that happened in Portland, that’s the thing they do in Portland, we could never do that here, and are starting to be, oh, we could do that better, and we could do it our way and then, they’re doing it. So that’s the most exciting thing I’ve seen.


Racking up the save: Mike Honnold

Recycled Northwood's Mall rack at Studios on Sheridan. Thank the man in the Caterpillar cap.

Recycled Northwoods Mall rack at Studios on Sheridan. Thank the man in the Caterpillar cap.

He’s a former president of the Illinois Valley Wheelm’n and creator of Peoria’s bicycle-rack locator, His bike advocacy efforts both preceded and informed those of Bike Peoria. And now he’s moving to Georgia.

So here’s a picture of Mike Honnold at Studios on Sheridan behind Broken Tree Coffee–and the story of the Great Northwoods Mall Rack Migration of 2015.

“We were doing some last-minute Christmas shopping at the mall, and I noticed the older bicycle racks had been replaced by a new, smaller style. The only reason I recognized the change was due to the fact I’d already mapped out the racks at our website and was familiar with the facility.

“When I got back home, I researched online and found e-mail and phone contacts for Northwoods Mall. I immediately contacted the manager, and she let me know that the racks were only days away from being scrapped out, but they’d be saved back if I could move them within a few days.

“Bushwhacker had some storage space at their warehouse on the north side of Peoria, so we were able to quickly move the racks until better plans could be made for their final placement. There were six racks originally, but in order to make four good ones, we borrowed parts off the others.”

There you go: renewed life for old bicycle racks, all thanks to a guy who believes in keeping his eyes open.

I believe down South, that makes him a peach.

Rack ’em up at 1) Peoria Brewing Company, 8012 N. Hale Avenue; 2) TNT’s Sports Bar and Grill, 4319 N Prospect Road; 3) Peoria Heights Suburban Lions Club Park; and 4) Studios on Sheridan, 929 N. Sheridan Road.

Click here for more background on


After the boom: Ray Keener talks bicycles in the 1970s and business today

Originally posted April 2012 on Note: The advocacy merger mentioned at the end of this story fell through shortly after the interview was posted in 2012.


In 1981, Vitesse Cycle Shop of Normal, Illinois, opened a satellite store in Peoria Heights, Illinois. I was fresh from an abortive attempt at a journalism career, and I had always enjoyed bicycles, so I signed on as a mechanic and salesperson.

I never worked for the guy who started the Normal operation, Ray Keener, but I knew he was the one who had “lit out for the territories,” and made a certain name for himself in California, most recently through Growth Cycle, the sales training, consulting and marketing company he launched in 1996.

The company’s Selling Cycling training program has been used by almost 2,000 bike shops. Ray has also produced custom programs for Trek, Specialized, Giant, CamelBak, Thule, Yakima and Mongoose and writes a column for Bicycle Retailer and Industry News. His newest training program, Ready to Pedal, is designed to help bicycle owners get more enjoyment out of the activity.

According to the Growth Cycle website, Ray “enjoys golf, bocce, cooking and ‘short and slow’ road rides on his custom magnesium Paketa, Trek Madone 5.2, Gary Fisher Hi-Fi Pro 29er, and custom Jack Koehler track bike. His around-town ride is a Scott SUB-10 with Burley Nomad trailer.”

The following interview represents his patient replies to several emails from me.

How did you get into the bicycle business?

I was a biochemist who got laid off in 1975 after Nixon declared war on cancer and all the “pure research” money dried up. I went to the bike shop that I frequented in Madison, Wisconsin, where I went to high school and college: Stella. The shop was importing Stella bikes from France and selling them at retail, which was quite profitable.

A bicycle shop was your backup from biochemistry? Was the professional job environment that bad or did your move also entail some personal journey of self-discovery?

A little of each. I had wanted to be a scientist since I was eight, and three years doing research convinced me otherwise. I was mostly a commuter in Madison, and I loved to tinker with bikes.

Bevil Hogg hired me to build bikes at Stella, then, six weeks later, he called me into his office and told me they wanted to send me to Normal, Illinois, to open up another retail outlet. So I moved three hours south down Highway 51 in March 1975, and we had Vitesse Cycle Shop open in a month.

What kind of bikes were Stella? Were they any good?

Stella bikes were well-made for French bikes at the time. The frame quality and componentry were pretty stone-age by modern standards. We sold mostly Peugeot UO-8-type bikes: steel rims, steel cottered cranks, Simplex plastic derailleurs. There were some really sweet Columbus/Campy bikes, like the SX-76, that sold well in Madison, but not so much in Normal. Bevil sold Stellas to Lee Katz in Evanston and a couple other shops.

So you bought Vitesse right after you opened the store?

By the end of the 1975 season, it became clear that Vitesse had a lot of potential, but only having one line, no kid’s bikes, no three-speeds, etc., was limiting us. So me and four of my customers, including Dale Kruse, chipped in $2000 each and bought the store from Bevil and his source of capital, Dick Burke, in September. Shortly thereafter, the Stella factory in Nantes, France, burned down, and Hogg and Burke started Trek.

Vitesse was one of the first seven Trek dealers in early 1977.

What was the retail bicycle environment like when you started?

The bike boom actually peaked in 1974, which was and still is the biggest U.S. bike sales year ever. Vitesse had no capital whatsoever. Like small northern-tier shops of today, we lived on the suppliers’ willingness to be the bank. And prayed for an early spring.

In 1975, the pro market was just starting to evolve. But not in central Illinois, although Peter Davis at Champaign Cycle was importing Sekai bikes and doing a lot more pro business than we were. Sekai was our main bike line after Stella.

How smart were you in comparison to everyone else who was in the retail trade in those days? I’ve know a few people that got into bikes for the love of the sport and only realized much later that it would have been nice to have known something about running a business as well.

None of us really knew what we were doing at first. We grossed $92,000 the first year. My partner Dale Kruse, who now runs the Bloomington-Normal airport, kept track of the money, I was kinda the front man and the mechanic.

Keep in mind, I had worked at Stella Bike Shop for all of six weeks before Vitesse. It was total on-the-job training. I never wore shoes if it wasn’t snowing. We had my friends’ artwork hanging in the store instead of race posters. We took in stray cats. But we figured it all out.

After five years of trying to talk farmers out of K-Mart bikes, I was ready for greener pastures. Leslie Bohm and Tom French really encouraged me to get out of Normal, so I sold my share of Vitesse to Chris Koos, who is now the mayor of Normal. And still owns Vitesse.

Who was doing bicycle retail right in the early days?

Cupertino Bike Shop and VeloSport in Berkeley were the shining examples, doing their own importing of Italian and French pro gear. That’s why I headed for the Bay Area in 1980, to manage The Bicycle Outfitter in Los Altos. My customers knew more than I did. Just what I was looking for!

What about Schwinn?

The Schwinn dealer in Normal, Gibson’s, also sold outboard motors and lawn tractors. We tried every year to get the Schwinn franchise, and we would have sold a lot more of their bikes. But Schwinn was really loyal to its dealers. Dare I say, unlike today? When I got to California in 1980, I asked, “So who’s the big Schwinn dealer?” They all looked at me like I was crazy. There wasn’t one!

Wait a minute. There was no big Schwinn dealer in California? I though everyone in Hollywood had a Schwinn. I know Captain Kangaroo was hawking them. What were they selling out there?

At The Bicycle Outfitter, we sold mostly Univegas, which in 1980 were still made in Japan. Our competitors were selling Miyatas, Nishikis, Centurions–Asian-made bikes that came in through Pacific ports. Brands were less important than value, which was who had the best price for a given parts spec. At least, that’s what we, the sales guys, thought was important. I still don’t know who the Bay-area Schwinn dealers were. Or the Raleigh dealers, for that matter.

It’s amazing to think of all the changes in bicycles since 1974, and yet, how 1974 still represents the high-water mark for bicycle sales.

In 1974, you were either selling US-made stuff like Schwinn and Ross, French bikes like Peugeot, Gitane and Motobecane, and the British-made Raleigh. Fuji was really the only Japanese brand with any traction. Quality definitely went up after that.

Suntour, SR and Shimano components were way better than the cheap French and Italian stuff. Japanese frames were much straighter than the European stuff, although it took a while for the Japanese factories to match the finish and aesthetics of the best Euro bikes. They did what they were famous for: copying. Look at a late-1970s Centurion, for example. Without the names on the frames, they were identical to the Stellas we were selling in 1975!

So your California customers knew more about bicycles than you did. How is it that, not only weren’t you crushed, you actually turned into an expert in retail operations?

I wanted to learn more, know more. We had eight enthusiasts in Normal, and I knew more than any of them. Our customers in Los Altos, a bedroom community for Silicon Valley, were working at National Semiconductor and Rolm and IBM. They were techies to begin with, and they loved bikes and understood them on an engineering level I hadn’t even imagined.

Jobst Brandt was the guru, he held total sway over the Wheelsmith guys, the Avocet/PaloAlto Bicycles guys–all of us. I’d call Jobst up and he’d just talk about what he knew. You’d listen for as long as you had time for.

As far as retail operations, we were all still groping our way along. Most of the shop owners were ex-racers. Dick Powell, who owned The Bicycle Outfitter, was an ex-Lockheed engineer who burned out on the military track and loved bikes and wanted a new challenge.

When was the last time you managed a store? Did you ever take another ownership position after Vitesse?

My last retail gig was co-managing Cupertino Bike Shop with Al Budris in 1984. Al now runs Sidi America. And no, I never again owned a shop, just worked for others who did.

You’ve been giving advice to independent bicycle shops for quite a while. And all during that time, while the successful shops have gotten larger, the number of bicycle shops has dropped. Is that a problem? Or simply the fallout of so many people who didn’t have the business skills and/or capital to succeed?

Yes, when I got into the industry, there were about 7,000 shops, now there are about 4,000. Most of that fallout occurred in the 1980s and 1990s; the number seems to have stabilized at around 4,000. Although as the Internet becomes a greater and greater factor, it’s hard to imagine that number won’t continue to go down.

On the other hand, compare those numbers to, say, camera stores or audio stores, whose numbers are a much smaller fraction of what they once were. The fact that bicycles come from the factory broken down and needing adjustment used to be seen as a pain in the butt. Now I think it’s clear that it kept the Internet sellers from taking over!

What were the would-be bicycle dealer’s barriers to entry in 1975? What are they today?

There were very few barriers to entry in 1975. Most of the shops, with the exception of the Schwinn stores, were small and crappy. So you could be small and crappy, too, and give them a run for their money. Also, consumers were less used to instant gratification then they are now. So you could show them a bike or a jersey you didn’t stock, order it for them, and they’d wait for it.

Today, almost every large market has more than one kick-ass dealer who would eat your lunch in terms of marketing, merchandising, volume buying, having the best brands to sell, etc. If you don’t have either strong access to capital (to open a big, good-looking store Day One) or a strong niche (fixies, triathlon, family), you can’t really expect to succeed.

I get calls all the time from people: “I want to open a shop. So-and-so said to call you.” The first question I ask them: “What brands can you get?” And if they’re not talking to Trek, Specialized, Giant, Cannondale, maybe Raleigh or the Fuji/ASI brands, I ask them to call me back when they have.

If the best brand you can get isn’t one of those, what are you thinking? It’s not just the consumer appeal of these brands, it’s the support you now get from these companies to make you a better retailer.

I’m still shaking my head between the top sales year being in the 1974, when the level of product sophistication today is higher than it’s ever been. I walk into Peoria’s Bushwhacker and I’m still wondering how there’s a market for so many high-end bikes.

It’s not really about the product. I tell people all the time, “You can’t really buy a ‘bad’ bike, so don’t worry too much about the minute differences between the brands. Find one that fits the way you want to use it, feels good to you when you ride it, and you like the color and the way it looks. Shop for a person to help you in a shop that’s close to you, always go back to them for advice about additional gear or upgrades, and you can’t go too far wrong.”

Demand for bikes in the early 1970s was more driven by the “ten-speed fad,” Baby Boomers taking up cycling, and the high gas prices. Yes, the bikes we sold were very badly suited to their intended purpose. And people bought them, and rode them, anyway. Although I would bet in today’s era of way more comfortable and easier-to-ride bikes, the average bike bought in a shop gets ridden a lot more than the bikes we sold back then.

What do bicycle dealers do better today than they did before? Have bicycle margins improved?

Is it too glib to say they do everything better? This really became clear when I did staff training clinics for dealers at Madison’s IceBike event in London last year. Dealers there are 25 years behind U.S. dealers. No training, no dressing rooms, crude merchandising, greasy hands—it was like a time machine to the past and helped me realize how far we’ve come in the U.S.

Competition has driven this to some extent. I give Trek most of the credit. Trek realized a long time ago that its success is completely tied to that of its retailers. So Trek helped its retailers get better, and it’s working.

As far as margins, yes, bike margins have gone up. Bike shops no longer lose money on every bike they sell. So profit margins for the stores have gone up as well. Average gross margins for successful stores are now in the mid-to-upper 40s, which is 10 points higher than in my day. That’s a result of higher bike margins and the fact that bikes are a lower percentage of total sales–and accessories, labor, rentals and bike fittings are a higher percentage.

How have dealers responded to the Internet? How should they?

There are a lot of different strategies. The most common is to get a SmartEtailing e-commerce website and get into the Internet business yourself.

The least effective is to get angry at your suppliers for wanting to broaden their reach to a wider customer base through selling to online stores. And to get angry at your customers for buying from those online stores.

It’s a real weakness that our industry is so enthusiast-based. Store owners want to stock and sell the high-end stuff they use themselves. Which means they’re selling to completely fickle enthusiast consumers who (mostly) care only about price and availability: both bike shop weaknesses.

What would I do? Go into the “family” business. Sell entry-level stuff to non-enthusiast consumers who need and want my expertise. If these folks stay in the sport, I have a decade of selling them stuff before they know enough to buy stuff online without your expert advice.

I’m sure the computer revolution helped your business a bit. As long as you stay digital, I’d guess it costs little to reach and correspond with your customers. And, of course, your training materials are on CD and online, too. That has to be a bit more lucrative than traveling from one shop to another to talk to mechanics between customers or right after the work day.

Yes, and it also leaves the training to the shop owner, who is usually so overwhelmed that s/he hardly ever can make it a priority. That’s one of the reasons that the big shops are getting stronger and the small shops aren’t either as successful or even staying in business.

I would say that having enough management to do a good job of things like training and merchandising and marketing is way more important an advantage for big shops than getting discounts from greater buying power.

Is the Internet the Great Satan that “mail order” was in the 1980s? Or is the market becoming so diversified that some businesses can only exist on the Internet?

For bike dealers, the Internet is a similar Satan to mail order; it’s even easier to get what you want online than it ever was from, say, Lickton’s in Chicago, our main mail-order competitor in the 1970s.

And yes, there are tons of niche products that bike shops could never hope to stock. Look at it from a manufacturer’s perspective. I get these calls all the time: “How do I get my Cool New Product into bike shops?” The simple answer is, you can’t. Try to get Quality Bicycle Products or Trek or Raleigh or KHS or Hawley or SBS to carry it.

Getting the product directly into shops is next to impossible now. Shop owners are looking to have fewer suppliers, not more. If you can’t get distributors to carry your CNP, or you can’t handle their 25-percent to 30-percent cut, then going direct online is about your only option.

In the eighties, I came to believe that my shop’s competition wasn’t the other bike stores or big-box stores in town, it was everything else that people could spend their money on.

People say that all the time, I was just hearing this from Dave Guettler at River City in Portland, who’s wildly successful, by the way. But to me, almost everyone walking into a bike shop is there to buy a bike! Are they really thinking, “Well, maybe I’ll get a 105 road bike, or maybe I’ll get a 62-inch flat-screen TV?”

I think we need to make the sport and activity of cycling more appealing by helping Bikes Belong and the LAB and IMBA and Adventure Cycling and Rails-to-Trails do their work. Make more safe and scenic places to ride. But once someone decides they want to ride, why would they consider doing something else? A $400 bike is such a better value than a $400 golf club.

Do dealers understand the connection between their business and the environment for bicycling in their communities? Or is the time commitment/potential-return equation just too weak to explore? Do you know of any dealers that are making a difference?

Oh, dealers now totally get the connection between better places to ride in their communities and their ultimate success. There are so many stories of that happening, you’d have to be brain-dead not to see the connection.

What they do about it is a totally different thing. There is a huge continuum. There are store owners who would rather sponsor a race team than support their local advocacy groups. And then there are dealers–Mike and Claudia Nix at Liberty Bikes in Asheville, North Carolina come to mind–who have basically retired from the store to focus on advocacy work.

Any thoughts on the Bikes Belong/League of American Bicyclists merger?

Bikes Belong has been a huge success. Strong funding and the industry’s best minds, the John Burkes and the Chris Fortunes and the Patrick Seidlers and the Steve Meinekes (sorry for everyone I’m leaving out) and the day-to-day leadership of Tim Blumenthal and Bruno Maier have made a huge difference in funding and construction of bike facilities nationwide.

The LAB has struggled a bit, despite the huge respect we all have for Andy Clarke at the helm. I believe the League has lacked the singularity of purpose that Bikes Belong has. The Old Guard is against bike paths. They’re more interested in getting what they want for the way they ride. Growing the sport and the activity and the industry is not their priority.

Bikes Belong is all about ensuring the future of bicycling in America. So I think the merger is a great thing, as long as the Bikes Belong agenda and its ability to leverage federal funding remains the priority, it’ll be great.


Four things a bicycle expert can do to help a friend

Originally posted January 2015 on

Picnic setup outside of a village shop in Newcastle, County Tipperary, Ireland. Photo taken by Julian Westerhout during a tandem tour, August 1, 2014.

Picnic setup outside of a village shop in Newcastle, County Tipperary, Ireland. Photo taken by Julian Westerhout during a tandem tour, August 1, 2014.

The worst axiom in English may be, “It’s just like riding a bicycle; you never forget.” The problem is many people think they know how to ride a bicycle, but a lot of them are wrong.

Riding a bicycle is more than balancing a bicycle long enough to move forward. It’s also riding a bicycle on the right side of the street, which in the United States is, ding-ding-ding, the right side of the street.

(By the way, how much do you really know about riding a bicycle?)

Given the number of United Statesians who ride on the left side of the street, a more accurate saying would be, “It’s just like riding a bicycle; the less you’re willing to learn, the less likely it is that anyone can convince you you’re doing it wrong.”

At the same time, it’s possible to know too much, especially when it comes to helping someone with a bicycle issue. That’s right: Your big bike brain can work against you.

What to do?

  1. Understand the problem. If your friend doesn’t ride because the chain is jammed against the chain stay, but you think your friend doesn’t ride because your friend doesn’t have a $10,000 bicycle, the two of you aren’t working on the same problem. Use the most important tools you have: your ears.
  2. Maintain friend-speed at all times. I don’t know your level of expertise. Maybe you move households with your cargo bike. Maybe your riding goal for this year is 75,000 miles. It doesn’t matter. What matters is helping, not overwhelming, your friend. If your friend wants to ride to a store three miles away, ride to the store with your friend–don’t invite your friend to next week’s double metric century.
  3. Check the tires. If I could wave a magic wand, everyone who buys a bicycle would buy a pump at the same time because bicycle tires lose air way faster than car tires. But since I don’t have a magic wand and you have a pump, offer to air the tires. If your friend only rides once in a while, your friend will be amazed by the difference.
  4. Make sure the saddle and seat post are securely attached. Most of the time, the problem with nuts and bolts isn’t that they fail, it’s that they come loose. A saddle that was at the right angle tips and slides backward; a seat post slides into the frame. Readjust and secure both items, and your friend will be more comfortable—and more likely to ride.

Now this might be where you say, “But there are a lot more ways to help a friend with a bicycle. There’s adjusting brakes and derailleurs, fine-tuning the person’s fit on the bike, teaching a person how to work on a bicycle, getting a friend to ride more often, encouraging a friend to get stronger, faster. And what about clothes?”

Here’s where I say, first thing, you’ve got the big bike brain. You may be right. Second thing, you’ve got the big bike brain; you may be wrong.

The only way to move forward is to weigh your enthusiasm for the bicycle against your friend’s interest in the bicycle. You have to keep everything in balance.

It is, after all, just like riding a bicycle.


The trail goes to the dogs, but not yet all of them

IMG_4192The Rails­ to ­Trails Conservancy set March 28 as the date for the nationwide Opening Day for Trails event. So that’s when people gathered at Peoria’s Junction City Shopping Center to celebrate the Rock Island Greenway.

Of course, Opening Day is a bit of a misnomer; the Greenway is open year­-round. Still, I wondered whether the date was determined by someone who lived well to the south, because in central Illinois there’s about a 40­ percent chance you’ll encounter snow or rain during any one day in March.

Per Ellingson adds style to the repair area while removing a broken water bottle cage.

Per Ellingson adds style to the repair area while removing a broken water bottle cage.

And you have to worry about the white stuff at an event like this because the Greenway, though paved, is the three-­season room of bicycle infrastructure. Snow is only removed by higher temperatures and the sun.

(Here’s hoping the Peoria Park District eventually finds the funding to keep the trail plowed in the winter, like many of the trails around, say, Minneapolis.)

As it turned out, it did not snow or rain, and the ground was dry. The low temperature was 22 degrees at 5:30 a.m., and the high temperature was 43 at 4 p.m. The normal high for March 28 is 56 degrees.

So, chilly but sunny. The wind was less than 10 miles per hour.

IMG_4194 2Is there a perfect date for an outdoor event? Probably not. But it’s more important to hold an event like this than to worry about the date on which you hold it. And here’s why.

Throughout the year, multi­purpose trails are all about movement. People walking, running and riding bicycles. Even people watching cardinals and chickadees and hoping for bluebirds move from spot to spot.

But Opening Day, especially a cold Opening Day, is also about people grouping together, for however short a time, to talk about whatever crosses their minds.IMG_4186

Could be the upcoming riding or running season, or car­pooling in early May to Allerton Park outside of Monticello, Illinois, 92 miles to the southeast.

Or, when you’re standing near the Peoria Animal Welfare Shelter’s (PAWS) table, discussing the circumstances of a dog’s last home, lost when his caretaker died, and whether he has found a new one.

At noon, Custer, a 10-­year­-old English Springer Spaniel and Border Collie mix, was still looking for a new friend, maybe someone to walk with on the Greenway.

After all, it’s open for everyone. And isn’t that a great thing?


It’s not about the bicycle; it’s about the infrastructure

Originally published March 24, 2011 on

I enjoy the technology of the bicycle: the machinery that makes self-propelled travel possible; the machinery that an average owner can maintain at reasonable cost with a few simple tools. Moreover, I really enjoy how that technology has been steadily improving over the past 40 years.

But I don’t need the latest and greatest equipment. A bicycle is still a bicycle: it’s not going to pedal itself.

In fact, you could argue that the general outline of the machine – a seat here, handlebars there, equal-sized, air-filled tires and rear wheel drive – was settled in the 1890s, though you have to admit that 120 years of refinement have made bicycling way more enjoyable.

Today’s tires are lighter, livelier and more durable. Frames are more precisely constructed, with similar results. Brakes are easier to adjust and maintain. Multi-gear systems match the rider’s limited power to a wide range of wind and road conditions.

There’s only one potential problem with today’s road bicycle, and that’s the environment in which it is (or isn’t) operated. What we’re talking about is infrastructure: the existence and quality of bicycle-friendly roads, paths, trails and parking. Bicycle access.

Some locations have better infrastructure than others. Sometimes it’s by design, a conscious decision to introduce improvements; more often, it’s the result of benign neglect. In other words, they haven’t screwed up a good thing yet.

Erik & DanielleFor instance, a city that simply continues to support and extend a 19th-century street grid is likely to have a mix of high-speed and low-speed roads, with more or less traffic on certain streets. Chances are good that people riding bicycles in that city can 1) find a route that suits their comfort level and 2) use that route to get to the places they want to go.

Rural areas have their possibilities, too, especially for recreational riding. For instance, farmers in central Illinois and other states have long been the reason behind the continued existence of the paved and lightly traveled roads that are so amenable to bicycle travel. I’ve used farm roads to comfortably ride from Appleton, Wisconsin, to Peoria and from Peoria to southern Indiana and to central and southwestern Missouri.

Such roads are one of the reasons that Illinois can promote the Mackinaw Valley Trail, a combination of on-road and off-road connections.

Unfortunately, there’s no natural law that ensures bicycle-friendly areas remain bicycle friendly. Many communities, including Peoria, abandoned the grid in the 1950s and 1960s in favor of a cul-de-sac planning mentality that eliminated low-traffic, low-speed connectors in favor of dead-end neighborhoods tied to high-traffic arterials.

Similarly, some rural roads were summarily bisected by interstate highways, reducing local travel options for all road users.

And that’s a shame. When you damage the diversity of a transportation system – a diverse system being one that addresses the needs of pedestrians and people on bicycles as well as other travelers – it’s difficult to re-establish it.

Just as we tend to forget what an area looked like before an historic specimen oak was cut down, we tend to forget the travel options available to our predecessors, but denied to ourselves. Moreover, people can sometimes confuse the status quo with its desirability, such as when Illinois Representative Joe Walsh said one reason to question the cost effectiveness of high-speed rail was the idea that Americans love their cars.

That’s not to say we don’t love our cars. But a lot of Americans really don’t have any transportation choices besides the car. It’s like two people stranded on a island. Yes, they might love each other, but it’s just as possible that they would have liked to consider some other options before settling down.

That’s what bicycling can and should be: another transportation option. And that’s why having the most advanced bicycle derailleurs, wheels and frameset just isn’t all that interesting to me. You can improve the bicycle all you want, but at the end of the day, you need access.

You need bicycle-friendly infrastructure, which depends on a society that values transportation diversity.

What you don’t need is someone’s stereotypically romantic assessment of the relationship between car driver and car. What you don’t need is “love.”


Gear up at the Bike Peoria Co-op


Time hides the genius of progress.

Take this group of rear derailleurs from the Bike Peoria parts bin. In 1948, any one of these derailleurs would have been revolutionary.

Instead, that year’s winning Tour de France bicycle featured a four-speed freewheel and a shifter that required the rider to 1) reach toward the rear of the bike to flip open the rear wheel’s quick-release lever, 2) move a second lever to slap the chain to the next cog, and 3) close the quick-release lever. Every shift took a lot of skill.

Every one of these parts-bin derailleurs shifts faster and more accurately. For a dollar each.

That old bicycle at the back of the garage? It doesn’t take much to get it back into winning condition.

Just a trip to the Bike Peoria Co-op. Check for here for shop hours.





Take me to your Reader. Erik Reader

Erik_Reader_0029-2In 2013, Erik Reader wrote about walking in Pekin, specifically walking to the grocery store–a simple task 100 years ago but more challenging in the 21st century due to consolidation in the food industry. (The fact that we call it an industry points out another change in the grocery business.) Consolidation–the loss of the corner grocery store–reduced the number of stores, increasing the distance between people and their grub.

A walkable catchment, or ‘ped shed,’ maps the area one is willing to walk to get to their destination is a good tool for looking at the reality of the situation,” he wrote in 2013. “A 1/4 mile radius equals 5 minutes and a 1/2 mile radius equals 10 minutes. Generally, once you get out of that range you’re more prone to taking something more convenient than your own two hooves.

He walked 14 minutes that day and turned that walk into a question for his readers: How far would you walk for food? It was a rhetorical question–the answer is pretty clear: Most people will walk to their car.

And today, it will take them about as long to drive to the store as one hundred years ago it took to walk–which can be discouraging if you think about it long enough.

Perhaps, say, during a walk.

Today, Reader, president of Bike Peoria, continues to exercise shank’s mare, but organizationally he’s more focused on travel by bicycle, a form of transportation with its own unique challenges. “Personally I’d rather have a walking movement and more walkable communities, but that’s not as exciting as biking. Walking number one, biking number two, bus and train three followed by driving.”

And that’s why we met at Two25 downtown to talk about bicycles and Bike Peoria, not about walking and Schnucks. The pizza was pretty good, too.

Tell me a bit about the Bike Peoria journey.

We really hesitated from making this a formal organization for such a long time because of existing membership groups trying to get people to ride bikes. Additionally, there were so many different people with such a variety of different viewpoints involved, which gave us many directions to consider.

150We think we’re filling a gap where other organizations weren’t quite tackling the advocacy side of things. So we were able to insert ourselves immediately into something that wasn’t there. But with doing that comes expectations, some fair, some otherwise, but things had to be more organized for the sake of growing the movement.

To me, it seems like there’s still that traditional consensus that things have to be organized in a manner that other people can understand for them to participate, donate, etc. And so you can answer questions like, “What does a more bike-friendly Peoria look like and what areas are you serving?” You have to be able to explain the mission and vision–aside from we all like to ride our bikes and be around other people who ride bikes.

So we took a lot of raw energy and formalized it, which is interesting with a lot of creative different minds and personalities. You have people who just want to get out and ride, people who really just want to do advocacy work, and other people who want to work on bikes.

Getting the foundation built is extremely important for sustaining success, but it’s not much fun. We’ve done a bunch of legal, financial and planning stuff behind the scenes. I’m a glutton for punishment.

962Yes, Bike Peoria now has legal non-profit status. What does that mean?

bike peoria logo smallOur non-profit status legitimizes and adds credibility to the movement, but it also allows people to donate to us and get that tax exemption, just like when you drop off a bunch of clothes at Goodwill. We are able to apply for grants for bike-related infrastructure, host events, and receive funding which will keep the wheels of progress moving.

So the focus is the city of Peoria?

For simplicity’s sake I think we have to focus on Peoria, but that’s not to say we shouldn’t care about other areas. Even from an advisory standpoint it helps to be in the mix. Some of us live in different cities and work in fields professionally that could help make changes possible.
For example, two of our board members work for the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission. Our eyes and ears are open to things going on around the region, but because there’s so few of us we have to concentrate our efforts at the moment.

What are your hopes for 2015?

A couple of well-structured events that have Bike Peoria continuing to collaborate with other organizations and get more people on their bikes for everyday purposes. A big opportunity is the Bike Peoria Co-op, and we’re trying to program that with more workshops and educational activities.

The city-wide bicycle master plan should be completed, but the biggest thing I want to see is the public works department continue to implement some of the things we’ve wished would happen. Things like bike lanes, signage and racks. Slow progress is what needs to be made. Continuing to build off each year’s progress is going to be crucial the next four to five years.

Where do you get your inspiration?

I was always riding my bike as a kid. To practice, a friend’s house or downtown where I grew up in Geneva.

However, spending a semester abroad in the Netherlands kind of shaped what I thought could be possible. It was something of a novelty to me 10 years ago, but later I recognized how the way they did things could transform how you function daily.Leeuwarden

They made a decision, in the sixties, not to be so car-reliant, and when I was living there I didn’t have a car. It was easy to walk everywhere. When we first got into town they showed us where we could rent a bike. For $25 you could rent a bike for the semester. You could ride to the bar, ride to school. It was natural.

They also had great public transportation in their bus and train systems. It made it almost effortless to not have to get into a car. There, we used a car maybe five times in five months. Here, people use the car for every little occasion, whether it’s going to the grocery store or getting your hair cut.

You live in Pekin but you’re working on Peoria. Why?

Even crazier is that I moved from Dallas to Pekin to work in Peoria. My wife is from Pekin and the transition there made sense at the time. Peoria has its issues as a post-industrial city but still has many assets. I see it as a blank canvas to work on with a lot of things. 

In Pekin I tried, but we’re not there yet. Culturally speaking that is. They’re working on Court Street right now, they have a trail going out to the east part of town. Pekin’s known for the park system, but they haven’t figured how to connect all the dots with an overriding leisure and recreational lifestyle with infrastructure that builds it into your everyday life.

So when there was activity about starting up a group like this in Peoria, I wanted to get involved. People are the ones to push policy makers to understand its importance. For me, it’s not about hating cars but simply trying to build more equitable, easy-to-get-around cities.

How can someone get involved in Bike Peoria?

We can get you plugged in to where you want to be, whether it’s planning an event, raising awareness, working on bikes or leading a ride. The public is welcome to come to our first Tuesday meet-ups where we talk business and bikes. Visit us virtually at, then email us at Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter to join the conversation.