Bronzeville Bikes Rolls on With Its Mission to Encourage South Side Cycling

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This year, the Bronzeville Bike Box got a rain canopy and flower boxes. Photo: Bronzeville Bikes

It’s been another productive summer for Bronzeville Bikes, an organization that promotes cycling in the historic South Side neighborhood also known as “The Black Metropolis.” The group hosts neighborhood rides and repair sessions, and runs the Bronzeville Bike Box, a small nonprofit bike shop housed in a recycled shipping container. This summer, they also launched the Sister Cycles program, with courses that teach maintenance and repair to women and women-identifiers.

Founded in 2013 by the Urban Juncture Foundation, Bronzeville Bikes is part of a grander vision for the intersection of 51st Street and Calumet Street as a hub of sustainability in the neighborhood. Located just east of a Green Line stop, the location is also home to the Bronzeville Community Garden. Urban Juncture president Bernard Loyd is currently establishing Bronzeville Cookin’, a food-themed complex that will feature restaurants, a rooftop garden, and a produce store. The first eatery, a Jamaican-style chicken place called the Jerk Shack, recently passed its health inspection and should be opening in mid-September. Last year, the Bike Box opened across the street from the garden.

The Bike Box scaled back its operations a bit this year, from three days a week to two. It’s currently open on Saturdays from 12 – 6 p.m. and Sundays from 2 – 6 p.m., which overlaps with the group’s regular Sunday “Celebrate Bronzeville” ride series. “We’ve become an express shop, doing on-the-spot repairs with low-cost pricing,” Bronzeville Bikes intern Cassie Halls explained. “We want to have quick turnover and make sure that a lot of bikes are getting fixed, since we don’t have much capacity to hold bikes overnight.” Simple repairs, such as flat fixes and brake adjustments, run between $5 and $15.

The Celebrate Bronzeville rides take place three times a month. The tour on the first Sunday of each week focuses on art in the neighborhood, the second Sunday spotlights local sustainability efforts, and the fourth highlights history and architecture. The August rides included a Bronzeville gallery tour, a look at small-scale urban agriculture, and a celebration of the 50-year-old jazz collective the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicisians. Another notable ride last month was the Glow Bike Spectacular, in which riders decked out their bikes with glow sticks for a cruise to the Bronzeville Summer Nights 47th Street Takeover, a festival featuring art, music, dance, and poetry.

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Riders decorated their cycles with glow sticks for the Glow Bike Spectacular. Photo: Bronzeville Bikes

This Sunday, September 6, Patric McCoy will lead a tour of several Bronzeville artists’ studios. On September 20, Latrice Williams will take riders on a tour highlighting large-scale food production models. And on September 27, Sharon Samuels will lead a ride to check out the architecture of local churches and other structures created for worship and reflection. All rides depart from the Bike Box at 3 p.m, returning around 6. There is no charge to participate.

The Sister Cycles program hosted a couple of five-week courses, with each class highlighting a different aspect of maintenance and mechanics, such as fit, brakes, wheels, and emergency repairs. The cost was only $20, plus five hours of volunteer time at the Bike Box.

“The vibe of the classes is very inclusive,” Halls said. “One issue I’ve come across, being a woman in a bicycle shop, is that there’s often a sense of authority from the bicycle repair people, that they don’t really want me to learn how to repair bikes. So this is a great experience because it’s very low key. We’re starting with the basics, like how to change a tire, and we’re going from there.”

Base on class feedback, the Sister Cycles format has recently been changed to be a one-day workshop. Upcoming classes take place on Saturday, September 19, and Saturday September 16, from 9 a.m. to noon at the Bike Box. Cost is $20 and you must bring your own bike to work on.

“What’s really amazing about Bronzville Bikes is that we’re trying to encompass the whole community,” Halls concluded. “Working at the Bike Box, people from all walks of life come to the shop, and they’re excited. They’ll tell you a story about how in they biked in the past and they want to bike again. There’s a wonderful sense of community here.”

  • R.A. Stewart

    I love seeing things like this out in the neighborhoods, especially the neighborhoods that aren’t hip, don’t get a lot of attention from the politicians, and don’t have rivers of money flowing through them. I got a chance to visit a little urban farm in Back of the Yards that, with the farmer’s market and hydroponic operation nearby, left me with the same feeling of hope. These are regular people in the neighborhoods doing these things. If there is any real future for the city, it is going to have to include lots of these bottom-up, back-to-basics, neighborhood enterprises.

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