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Former Rapid Transit Owners Opening Cosmic Bikes in Jefferson Park

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The new logo.

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the former owners of the influential, recently shuttered Rapid Transit cycle shops are launching a new store called Cosmic Bikes in the Jefferson Park. They plan to open the shop at 4641 North Milwaukee by the end of April.

Back in 1994, when bike commuting was relatively uncommon in Chicago, and the city had few bike lanes or parking racks, married couple Justyna Frank and Chris Stodder had the novel idea of opening a shop that focused on transportation cyclists. From their storefront at 1900 West North in Wicker Park, they sold bicycles that were hard to find at the time, including European-style city bikes, cargo cycles, and folding bikes. 15 years later, they opened a satellite shop at 1344 South Halsted, near the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The Rapid Transit shops helped shift Chicago's utility cycling revolution into high gear. They provided people who were new to bike commuting with the equipment, service, and know-how needed to stay on the road. The stores also functioned as an incubator for other commuter-focused shops opened by ex-employees, such as Boulevard Bikes in Logan Square (where I once worked), Blue City Cycles in Bridgeport, Comrade Cycles in Ukrainian Village, and Green Machine Cycles in Ravenswood, plus the mobile repair business Pedal to the People.

However, last December Frank and Stodder closed both Rapid Transit stores and liquidated their inventory. “It was a viable business back when the economy was stronger,” says Frank. “But due to the rising rents in Wicker Park and the economic downturn, it was no longer viable.”

It may seem surprising that the couple is getting back into the bike business so soon after closing the Rapid Transit shops, but Frank says the move makes sense. “If you’re a dentist and you can’t operate your current practice for whatever reason, you would probably find ways to continue in the field you know and understand,” Frank says. “Chris and I have a quarter-century of experience in the bike industry, but we’re not easily hireable by another company.”

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Justyna Frank and Chris Stodder in front of the new space.

Frank and Stodder declared personal bankruptcy when they closed the Rapid Transit stores, which lets them to launch Cosmic Bikes with a clean slate. “That’s a legal opportunity that allows well-meaning but unfortunate debtors to get a fresh start,” Frank says. She adds that they were able to maintain good relationships with suppliers over the years.

Lower rent at the new space should help make Cosmic Cycles a sustainable business. It’s a 4,000-square-foot space, while the two Rapid Transit stores were each about 1,500 square feet. However, due to the many vacant storefronts in Jefferson Park, the rent is less than a third as much per square foot as the Wicker Park location.

The extra room will allow the couple to have more cargo bikes, recumbent bikes, and recumbent trikes out on the floor. “In a small shop, those things are space hogs,” Frank says. “We’re still going to have a transportation focus, but this allows us to stock more niche products people can't get anywhere else.”

So far they have Kona Bikes signed on as a supplier of road, touring, hybrid, and mountain bikes. They also plan on carrying Brompton folding bikes, Rans recumbents, and Catrike recumbent tricycles, as well as a line of European city bikes that isn’t currently available in the U.S.

Frank and Stodder’s son Peter, 19, who learned mechanic skills at Rapid Transit, has taken on a portion of the ownership and will be involved with several areas of running the shop. Their daughter Nadia, 15, will likely help out as well.

Although Cosmic Bikes will be located around the corner from the venerable Jeff Park shop Sportif Importer, 5225 West Lawrence, Frank thinks there won’t be much competition between the two stores, since Sportif is more focused on bikes for racing and recreation, rather than transportation.

One of the perks of the new location will be a shorter bike commute for the couple, who live about a ten-minute pedal northwest. “It was a 45-minute bike ride to Wicker Park on Elston, which is doable, but day after day it starts to take its toll,” Frank says. “This will be a nice change of pace.”

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