Cal-Sag Cycles: A pop-up bike shop

It started with a phone call in mid-May.

A month later, a youth earn-a-bike program will open as a bike shop for one day in downtown Blue Island.

We're calling it Pop-Up Bike Shop. We're naming it Cal-Sag Cycles.

The call came to me and the Friends of the Calumet-Sag Trail (FOCST — "focused") from long-time trail supporters Rails to Trails Conservancy and the Coca-Cola Foundation: Could FOCST take this money ($12,000) and create a youth earn-a-bike program for 15 at-risk youth this summer that benefits an urban trail? In return, the kids would receive a helmet, a lock, a light, and new Fuji bicycles.

Boy, talk about the planets aligning:

  • Blue Island planner Jason Berry and I had been talking about a pop-up bike shop idea, sparked by the pop-up art galleries...popping up in empty storefronts like Blue Island and Homewood. We had our eye on the pop-up art gallery at 12840 S. Western, next to Blue Island's hopping-busy motor scooter shop.
  • The family who owns that storefront had been looking for a bicycle shop tenant.
  • Active Trans Board President Jane Healy has been looking for ways to leverage her youth bike club for years into additional programming. Every Friday afternoon, up to 30 kids have been rendezvousing at the Healy's residence for Ms. Healy to lead them on rides. She's also on School District 130's board.
  • Troubled youth expert Steve Millsaps in Markham hadn't started his new job yet with Tinley Park High School, and he was going crazy not working with kids (Milsaps happens to be my pastor's husband).
  • Alex Wilson at West Town Bikes had figured out how to train adults to teach kids bike maintenance skills a long, long time ago.
  • Blue Island wanted a bike tune-up day on Saturday, June 11 for Bike to Work Week.
  • Blue Island is a lead agency in the Calumet-Sag Trail Coalition.
  • FOCST needed kids on bikes on trails for its capital funding campaign video.
  • I'm on the board of directors of the Friends, and I didn't have much else to do. :-)

So FOCST president Bob Lukens and I answered yes. Yes we can.

Steve Millsaps and Jane Healy were being trained at West Town Bikes a week and a half later. Jason Berry, his wife and friends spent more than 20 hours at 12840 S. Western cleaning and sprucing up. Through Jane's school connection, we got insurance for the program and teachers selected our kids. Tools and work stands were delivered this past weekend. Bikes to practice on arrive this week from West Town Bikes. The kids will be ready to rock basic maintenance needs for the public this Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. And the week after, their own Fuji's will arrive in boxes for them to build up themselves.

And the last week of the program, we're going to ride us some trails.

Today is Day One for the store window treatments Jason, his wife Mary and friends worked on this weekend. But the beautiful thing is that this program, when it ends June 22, will leave the infrastructure in place for a nearly turn-key program that can be started up again, almost anywhere in the Chicago Southland, with just a small amount of capital.

And it leaves behind, most importantly, two brilliant, capably trained and experienced youth bike program instructors in Jane and Steve M., armed with a lesson plan, work stands and tool sets.

FOCST thanks deeply the Rails to Trails Conservancy, the Coca-Cola Foundation, and Fuji Bicycles, and Active Trans for creating space for me, once again, to be in the right place at the right time to help others make something amazing happen.

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