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per and floor wax. But he’s still a youthful man with big, calloused hands and a gentle voice who does most of the bike repairs himself. In addition to the sixty hours a week he puts in at the shop and his contracting business, he’s also a deacon at the Rock of Ages Baptist Church in the south suburbs.

Sitting on a spool of wire, John tells me the history of the shop. After working here as a teen, he bought the hardware business in 1969 and started selling bikes a year later. “Kids kept coming in asking for bike repairs,” he explains. “My brother had a bicycle shop in Englewood, California and he suggested I get into the business.” Ever since a Home Depot opened nearby a few years ago it’s been tougher to sell hardware, but John says bikes help him keep the shop open because no one else around here fixes them.

Asked why there aren’t more bike shops on the South Side John says, “Most bike shops don’t like to work on low-end bikes. Here that’s all we get. With a department store bike you fix it and a couple days later the customer brings it back with another issue.” But he adds that more people are riding bikes on the South Side then ever before because of rising gas prices. “Last year we couldn’t keep up,” he says. “Sometimes I had to stay hours after closing time.”

Bicycling offers a slew of benefits for people who live in low-income communities: cheap recreation and transportation to jobs and schools, improved physical and mental health, and a positive activity for youth. But when these neighborhoods lack places to buy a dependable bike or get a flat fixed, it’s a major deterrent.

For more clues on what’s keeping entrepreneurs from opening shops on the South Side, I contacted Ron Kozy, owner of a local chain of bike stores, all in the more affluent half of the city. His father opened the first Kozy’s Cyclery in 1944 in the blue-collar, South Side McKinley park neighborhood. Ron grew up two blocks away and took over the business around 1960, but decided to close the original store in the nineties. “By the time we closed the store most people on the South Side were buying their bikes from K-Mart,” he explains. “We were still making money but not as much as my stores on the North Side. It was slowing us down. There’s no question in my mind that it was a good business decision, but it was hard for me because it was my dad’s store.”

Eighth Inch