Bronzeville Bikes Promotes New Shop With “Spoketacular” Bike Party

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Opening day at the Bronzeville Bike Box. Photo: Bronzeville Bikes

Bronzeville Bikes hopes to shift neighborhood enthusiasm for cycling to a higher gear, and drum up business for the recently opened Bronzeville Bike Box cycle shop, with the neighborhood’s first-ever “Spoketacular” celebration.

The group, which promotes biking with repair sessions, rides, and more, is holding the event on Sunday, August 17, from 2 – 6 p.m. at 51st and Calumet. Located just east of a Green Line stop, this intersection is home to the nonprofit bike store, as well as the Bronzeville Community Garden, which hosts youth cycling programs, so it’s Ground Zero for the area’s burgeoning bike culture.

The Spoketacular, also sponsored by the South East Chicago Commission, features a number of activities designed to get more people on bikes in the neighborhood also known as “The Black Metropolis.” “Bicycling is a tremendous asset, but it’s underused on the South and West sides,” said Bronzeville Bikes cofounder Bernard Loyd. “We’re promoting cycling for fun, transportation, and health, and this is a community that can use all three of those things very much.”

Loyd plans to get a section of Calumet closed off to motorized traffic during the bike block party, so that kids can enjoy car-free cycling. Since it will involve repurposing underused public space to enliven the community, the Spoketacular will be a candidate in the Metropolitan Planning Council’s “Old Place New Tricks” placemaking contest.

During the event, Bike Box mechanics will be offering affordable bike repairs to help residents get their old rides running again, as well as selling low-cost refurbished cycles, and they’ll be accepting donations of used bikes. The city’s Bicycling Ambassadors program will be there, providing tips for safe and fun cycling. Best of all, there will be a free ice cream social for Spoketacular participants. “They can eat the ice cream and then ride it off on a bike,” Loyd said.

On the first, third, and fourth Sundays of the month, Bronzeville Bikes hosts free bike tours, showcasing the neighborhood’s art, gardens, architecture and history. The Spoketacular also coincides with a 3 p.m. ride exploring urban foraging. Tour guide Latrice Williams, is spearheading sustainability efforts for Bronzeville Cookin’, a food-themed complex Loyd is developing at the intersection, which will feature restaurants, a rooftop garden, and a produce store. She’ll be showing riders where to find berries, greens, herbs and fruits, all growing wild on the South Side.

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A view of the Bike Box from the Green Line tracks. Photo: Melissa Manak

A key purpose of the Spoketacular is to raise awareness of the Bike Box, which Bronzeville Bikes opened on June 15 in a repurposed shipping container in a vacant lot just east of the ‘L’ stop. “We went with a shipping container because they’re inexpensive, sturdy, and weatherproof,” said Darin Triplett, an architect with SolQuest Design Unlimited, which helped design the Bike Box.

Right now, the Bike Box is basically a storage shed for equipment, bikes, and accessories, and repairs are done outside, so the shop closes when it rains. Eventually, there will be a workspace inside the container, and a rain canopy will be added, Triplett said. The store is currently open on Fridays from 3 – 7 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 2 – 7 p.m.

Waymond Smith, who spent several years volunteering at Working Bikes Cooperative, serves as the head mechanic, and Bill Depenbrock, a carpenter and fellow WBC volunteer who helped brainstorm the idea for the shop, is also helping out. Nayla Hale, 16, who learned to wrench at Blackstone Bike Works, is apprenticing at the Bike Box.

Depenbrock said the shop averages about 25 visitors a day. “It’s a very busy intersection, and we’re getting good foot traffic,” Loyd said. “The conversion of traffic to sales is not yet where we’d like it to be, but we’ve made good progress.” The Spoketacular will be the biggest event yet to promote the shop, so he expects it to lead to an increase in business.

Already, the Bike Box is serving its purpose as a cycling incubator. Depenbock estimated that, via repairs and bike sales, the shop has helped get some 30 people — who hadn’t ridden in years — back in the saddle.