Photos and Story By John Greenfield
"Hyde Park makes it easy to fit biking into your lifestyle," said Jay Han, owner of the neighborhood's Tati bicycle shop. "Traffic is mellow and access to the lakefront is phenomenal, whether you're doing a training ride or just riding to 'The Point' (Promontory Point in Burnham Park) for a picnic."
This one-square-mile community is famous for being the home of the Museum of Science and Industry, the University of Chicago and Barack Obama. A wide range of bike shops serve Hyde Park's brainy, ethnically diverse population. That, plus the high density of museums, bookstores and other cultural landmarks, gives one plenty of reasons to spin down the Lakefront Trail for a look-see.
For years, Tati – located in Obama's old state senate offices at 1013 East 53rd St. – has been a magnet for those who drool over classic cycling gear – lugged steel frames, leather saddles, cloth bar tape and wool jerseys and knickers. But recently, Han softened his retro-grouch stance because he started to sponsor the University of Chicago Velo Club along with the shop's own team: Team Tati. "We tried to fight it as long as we could, but a lot of team members want carbon fiber," he apologized. Still, he's proud that about two-thirds of Team Tati members ride steel, and most choose wool over Lycra.
Tati is open by appointment only, so if you need to get patched-up quickly, head to DJ's Bike Doctor at 1500 East 55th St. Hyde Park. Lifer David Jones, who wrenched down the street at now-defunct Art's Cycle for two decades, opened DJ's two years ago. The new shop sells road, commuter and cruiser bikes by KHS, Manhattan and Sun, but Jones said the focus is on repairs. "We make sure we get everybody's bike up and running," he said. "That's why I called the store the Bike Doctor."
Three blocks west at 1340 East 55th St. is Wheels & Things, one of Chicago's most unusual bike shops. The store houses a Great Dane and a huge birdcage with colorful, noisy parrots and cockatiels. It was the first in the city to stock Terry women-specific cycles. "I was looking for a niche," explained owner Rich Padnost. "And I like talking to women. They're much prettier than men."
But what really sets Wheels & Things apart is Padnost's "carefully cultivated" reputation as a curmudgeon. "I don't think just because I'm a retailer I should have to tolerate bad manners from customers," he insisted. So how can you avoid a tongue lashing when you come in for a flat fix? "Wait your turn," he warned. "Remember that you're not the most important thing in the universe."
Expect a more relaxed welcome at Blackstone Bicycle Works; it's part of the Experimental Station complex at 6100 South Blackstone Ave. and home to various eco-friendly endeavors like the Urban Farm Project organic garden, the 61st St. Farmers Market and the studio of Dan Peterman, who creates public art from recycled materials.