November 29, 2012
Source: Chicago Bike Blog
Sometimes, the work we do in a bike shop isn’t very romantic. We clean gritty chains, change dirty tires, and loosen stuck parts. Our benches are littered with tools and debris, and covered with a fine sheen of oily residue. Our aprons bear the signs of repeated wiping of greasy hands, etched with black lines that ordinary soap can’t remove.
Sure, there’s romance to working with one’s hands. We don’t sit in cubicles, facing pie-charts on computer screens, overflowing in-boxes, or mind-numbing office bureaucracies. We are never at a loss when asked to describe what we do. The work is immediate. It’s clear. Obvious. But the romance of working with one’s hands can wear off pretty quickly after ten hours on our feet, with barely time enough for a slice of cold pizza, and cuts and bruises on our knuckles bearing witness to the many battles fought with those stuck parts. So if that’s all there was to our job, life wouldn’t be very exciting for us, and you’d receive indifferent service.
No, our work is infused with romance, because when the bike shop doors open, you bring in your dreams.
Each dream unfolds slowly, because at first you are not sure if you can trust us. Perhaps you have mentioned your dream to someone previously, and you were met with skepticism. So, we talk a little about bikes, and parts, and we ask you some questions, and tell you a bit about ourselves. And as we talk, you find a light of understanding in our eyes, your passion reflected back at you, and you pull us into your dream. And, next thing we know, we find ourselves on a wild adventure of helping you make your dream come true.
All metaphors aside, over the many years we have spent talking to you about bikes, we noticed that when you came in to look for a bike, to restore or repair a bike, to get back on a bike, to find a different, more appropriate type of bike, you were looking, in some measure, for freedom, autonomy, independence. For some of you, it was freedom from traffic, from stress, from the city, from the car, from gas, for others, from creeping weight, illness, injury or disability, and even from convention and routine. You expressed a desire to escape, in bigger or smaller ways, from something that was limiting or holding you back.
Our bike store has built a reputation in Chicago around the urban image, which, no doubt, has a lot to do with our name. We deliberately called ourselves Rapid Transit, because we felt that bicycles were at least as sensible and efficient as public transit. We have also used the tagline Chicago’s Transportation Alternative, partly to further play with the idea of comparing ourselves to the urban transit system (playing on the abbreviation of Chicago Transit Authority), but mostly, because we offered folks who wanted to cycle real alternatives.
A bike, of course, is an alternative to a car, train, bus, or traveling on foot. But it so much more! The bike industry tries to define the cyclist based on the type of bike they ride: hybrid, fixie, mountain, road, recumbent. In fact, each bike rider in his or her own way, defines what a bicycle is. And so it becomes a vehicle for expressing an alternative world view, living an alternative lifestyle, moving at one’s own speed, and reformulating one’s priorities in the context of one’s community. When we chose the language to describe our store, we were not after defining what a cyclist should be. We wanted to open up the possibilities of what you could be.
So for us, being Chicago’s Transportation Alternative is not just who we are and what we offer. 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?
The true romance of what we do is helping you realize your dreams of independent travel.