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BFF Bikes ChicagoBFF Bikes co-owners Annie Byrne (left) and Vanessa Buccella (right).
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Live Grit ChicagoGillian Fealy, Live Grit Owner.
Chicago is no longer a man’s world – bike world, that is. In the span of a few weeks, two women-owned bike shops have opened in Chicago’s thriving bike community. And while these two shops have a very different focus, they share a common goal: empower more women to ride.
Co-owners Annie Byrne, a former urban planner, and Vanessa Buccella, a video editor, opened BFF Bikes in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood. Hoping to attract experienced cyclists, urban commuters, and anyone looking to get back into biking, Byrne and Buccella chose the location for its proximity to several main bike thoroughfares including Milwaukee and Damen Avenues.
“We want to keep the bike shop experience positive and beginner friendly,” said Buccella. “Our main goal is to establish a trust level that many women may not experience in a ‘traditional’ bike shop.”
Byrne and Buccella bridged a finance gap with an indiegogo campaign, eventually raising more than the original goal of $12,000 needed to open the shop. And they received support from around the country, not just Chicago. “It was exciting to see that we were wanted and needed,” said Buccella.
To further encourage women to ride, BFF Bikes sponsors Chicago’s first all-women racing team that includes an educational approach and a strong focus on community building. They’re also hosting a coffee shop ride on Saturday mornings and a training ride on Sundays.
Their line of women’s cycling clothing runs the spectrum from urban appropriate to performance wear. And they’ve filled one of the gaps identified when researching bike shops: a dressing room where customers can try on the clothes before they buy.
Just west of downtown, in an up-and-coming area appropriately called West Loop, sits Live Grit – a shop catering to those who may like to sandwich their bike rides between a swim and a run. But Live Grit is much more than your average multisport shop.
Owner Gillian Fealy, a native Chicagoan and attorney, wants Live Grit to be a place that inspires both new and seasoned athletes, but also puts all her customers at ease. “So many triathlon stores are intense and scary – especially to beginner athletes,” said Fealy.
Unique to Live Grit is their product labeling system: “Learn” products are comfortable, good-looking, and affordable items appropriate for all athletes; “Train” products are ideal for the intermediate athlete looking to put up a personal best in a 5k run or finish a century bike ride; and “Achieve” products are hand-selected for those who experience rigorous and frequent workouts.
While the shop is still in “soft launch” mode, there are already signs of something different. A wall that connects the clothing and accessory half of the shop from the bike and mechanic area is devoted to personal goals. “Finish a marathon,” “get in wedding shape,” “do a pull-up,” and “swim faster” are currently scribbled in colored chalk over bright green paint.
Planned are wine tastings, catered brunches after organized group rides, and family nights complete with babysitters. A coffee bar, free Wi-Fi, and a doughnut with purchase encourage customers to hang out. “We recognize that there is much more to life than just biking, swimming, and running,” said Fealy.
But it’s not the goal of either of these shops to exclude men; in fact, quite the opposite. BFF Bikes and Live Grit carry men’s and women’s bikes and clothing, and sport accessories such as locks, lights, bags, and other essentials. And both shops have bike mechanics on staff for tune-ups and full-service repairs.