What did the owner of BFF Bikes actually say after her shop was burglarized twice?

BFF Bikes. Photo: BFF Bikes
BFF Bikes. Photo: BFF Bikes

Update 12/26/21, 11:00 AM: On Friday afternoon Zion Cyclery in north-surburban Zion posted on Facebook that the shop was burglarized. “Our Christmas started a little shaky this morning. We were broken into and 5 bikes stolen. This unfortunately is a trend in the area.” The Facebook post includes security camera images of the thieves and a request for help recovering the bikes.

Update 12/25/21, 11:45 AM: After the publication of this piece, Gillian Forsyth posted in the comments that she will “definitely not” be accepting any future invitations to go on Fox. “I have learned my lesson. I will not be doing any more TV interviews. The backlash is just awful.”

It’s been a bad month for Chicagoland bike shops, with a wave of break-ins and thefts. Here are some of the recent cases:

  • On December 4 at around 3:30 a.m., thieves broke into Wheel and Sprocket in Evanston and stole three bikes with a total retail value of about $15,000, according to Evanston Now.
  • On December 16, NBC Chicago reported that two thieves smashed the front glass at Heritage Bikes and Coffee in Lakeview, stealing two of the shop’s locally made cycles.
  • On December 21 at around 4 a.m., a SWAT team responded to a break-in at ERIK’S Bike Shop in Skokie, in which robbers stole a few bikes, according to a CBS Chicago report.

Gillian Forsyth, owner of Bucktown’s BFF Bikes recently told CBS Chicago, “There were five bike shops broken into in the space of two or three weeks. There doesn’t seem to be a collaborative effort to solve this problem.” BFF was one of the targeted shops, with break-ins on November 30 and December 13 between 6:30 and 7 a.m., with a total cost of $18,000 in property damage and stolen bikes.

BFF is unique in Chicagoland as the region’s only bike store focusing on women and gender-nonconforming people, and it’s currently one of only two cycle shops (along with Uptown Bikes) in the area with an all female or GNC staff. BFF was opened in 2004 by veteran racers Vanessa Buccella and Annie Byrne with the goal of narrowing our city’s bicycling gender gap.

Buccelli and Byrne. Photo: BFF Bikes
Buccella and Byrne. Photo: BFF Bikes

“Let’s say a woman is thinking about getting back into bicycling,” Buccella told Streetsblog prior to opening the store. “She may not have owned a bike since childhood. She walks into a typical bike store and most of the people there are men, and the place is a little rough around the edges. It’s an unfamiliar product and an unfamiliar environment. Our idea is to meet women where they are. It’s going to be a bike shop, but with the feel of a nice clothing store.”

In early 2018 Buccella moved to Colorado, and Byrne became the shop’s sole owner. That February Byrne crashed while riding down a mountain in Arizona and suffered a traumatic brain injury. She fought to regain her physical and mental abilities and was eventually able to resume working at the shop.

But last year, after the store struggled in during early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, she sold the business to Gillian Forsyth. “BFF strives to be the kindest and most approachable shop in Chicago,” the store’s website currently states.

Any store owner would be frustrated by having their shop burglarized twice in less than two weeks. But it was a dubious decision for Forsyth to accept an invitation from Fox & Friends, the conservative morning news/talk show on the national network that’s infamous for yellow journalism.

Predictably, the Fox & Friends segment used Forsyth’s story as fodder for its ongoing narrative that Chicago is a lawless hellscape, whose crime problems could easily be addressed if its residents would only, in the words of host Brian Kilmeade, “empower… [and] back law enforcement.” That’s despite a recent investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice that found Chicago police officers regularly violate the civil rights of Chicagoans. Watch the segment below, but be warned that it may raise your blood pressure.

While Kilmeade’s language during the discussion was largely get-tough-on-crime sensationalism, Forsyth’s comments struck me as mostly factual and uncontroversial. That is, until Kilmeade made the leading statement, “When you get these guys, they gotta stay in jail.”

Forsyth responded, “These are minors who just get off with a slap on the wrist, and they have to know that they’re going to be held accountable. I mean, put them in jail, or do whatever, but make them feel that there are repercussions for what they’re doing.”

On Friday morning after Streetsblog ran a link to the segment in our daily headline stack, one of our readers tweeted, “LMAO how does an owner of a seemingly queer bike shop in [Bucktown] go on Fox News to talk about crime and more policing??… And she’s one of the people who want a PRIVATE SECURITY PATROL.”

The person was referring to a recently announced proposal by the shadowy Bucktown Neighbors Association to hire a private security firm to patrol parts of the neighborhood. Everyone from criminal justice reform advocates to Mayor Lori Lightfoot has denounced the plan. As I wrote in 2018, when a similar scheme was proposed in nearby Ukrainian Village, residents of color have pointed out that such programs can lead to increased racial profiling, among other equity issues.

Multiple people responded to the Streetsblog reader’s Twitter thread, and tweets by others that quoted it, by announcing that they planned to boycott (“withdraw from commercial or social relations with an organization as a protest”) the bike shop.

Another SBC reader and longtime BFF customer later tweeted that boycotting the store was a reasonable response. “Lots of shops who have been hit with robberies. I don’t know of any others who are running to get on TV to talk about how bad Chicago is. She is clearly out of touch with the community so why shouldn’t customers go elsewhere?”

If, like me, you disagree with Forsyth’s statement that jailing teens may be a good solution to Chicagoland’s bike shop burglary epidemic, it’s reasonable if you choose to vote with your feet by not spending money at her store.

(My opinion on boycotting BFF? It might be a good idea for Forsyth to apologize for her ill-conceived Fox appearance and wrongheaded comments on juvenile justice. But I don’t see those missteps as a reason to shun a shop that’s historically done a lot of good for the local bike community.)

But don’t base your decision on the notion that she endorsed the private security patrol proposal, because she merely mentioned that the plan exists: “The neighbors are talking about [laughs] hiring a private security firm to keep an eye out on the neighborhood.”

And she didn’t trash our city. She simply alluded to the obvious fact that burglaries and serious crimes have been on the rise here lately: “Everything that’s going on in Chicago.”

So, in the interest of generating more light than heat, here’s a transcript of the talk show discussion. After reading it, feel free to take your bike business elsewhere because you disagree with Forsyth’s decision to go on Fox & Friends, or if you have a serious problem with something she said in the interview. But don’t boycott BFF based on something she didn’t say.

Brian Kilmeade: Gillian, before these two incidents, have you felt insecure in the past?

Gillian Forsyth: About three years ago there were multiple incidents [of people] robbing bike stores, but this is just another level with everything that’s going on in Chicago, in addition to that.

BK: Describe what happened to your store the first time.

GF: The robbery happened at about ten to seven in the morning. It was very light out. There were people kind of going to work and cars about. And the robbers crashed through one of my windows and they targeted five very high-end bikes, and they just kind of rushed in, grabbed the bikes, and left very quickly.

BK: I’m watching the video. You can’t really see them, right? Are you able to use that video to try to hunt them down? It looks like just… three white males.

GF: Yeah, there’s a lot of footage. There’s some footage that shows one of their faces. But it’s very hard to see, because for the most part they’re all masked. 

BK: So it happens again, two weeks later.

GF: Yeah, so the window was replaced. I had put some new bikes up on the racks. And I got the call in the morning, the phone ringing from Brinks [the security system company] , and sure enough it happened again. It was obvious that it was the same people, same cars involved. 

BK: It’s organized, they case the place, they liked it the first time and went back again, and they feel impervious to arrest. So let’s take a look at what’s happening to the rest of Chicago. [Quotes crime stats.] And this area, it’s not just gangs shooting gangs or stealing from gangs. These are high-end neighborhoods. What is your recourse, to move?

GF: I don’t know, I mean the neighbors are talking about [laughs] hiring a private security firm to keep an eye out on the neighborhood. Clearly we don’t want people to move out of the neighborhood, it’s a very lovely, old neighborhood in Chicago. Yeah, I mean, when you look at the footage, you see people walking their dogs a couple minutes later, so it’s just…

BK: Gillian, what’s your message to people out there watching, wondering what the hell is going on? What do you tell them?

GF: Honestly, I’m no expert, but… I never would have thought I would say this but just kind of watch your back, and try to support the small shops as well as the big shops when you’re shopping.

BK: And empower law enforcement so we get more of a presence. And when you get these guys, they gotta stay in jail.

GF: Yeah, well that’s the thing, I know there’s some laws that came in… You know, these are minors who just get off with a slap on the wrist, and they have to know that they’re going to be held accountable. I mean, put them in jail, or do whatever, but make them feel that there are repercussions for what they’re doing.

BK: Yeah, maybe get them to have a job instead of screwing up your job and your shop, that would help. Gillian, thanks so much, sorry you’re going through this, and hopefully people are so alarmed they’re going to take action, and back law enforcement.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG