Chicago’s Albany Park might not be the first place in the city you’d look to open your dream bike shop. Even with the 100+ miles of new protected bike lanes the city has added since 2015, more gentrified commercial areas like Lincoln Park or Bucktown still tend to see the lion’s share of trendy concept storefronts.
But veteran bike mechanics Ben Fietz and Steven Blum have seen their share of trendy– with their new shop, Tailwind Cycles, they’re ready to give back in a deeper way to the residential community that gave them their start in the Chicago cycling scene. Sometimes, this means discounted bike cleaning for local cyclocross racers, and sometimes it means stepping-up to build 120 kids’ bikes for a nearby elementary school.
Steven Blum and Ben Fietz of Tailwind Cycles, with the 120 kids’ bikes they’ve assembled for Manierre Elementary School in Chicago.
From their upbeat, personable approach to service for everyone from neighborhood commuters to pro-level racers, to their slightly more out-there ideas– a blimp-like mobile full-service repair truck– it was a real pleasure to hear Ben and Steven’s thoughts on starting their first business, their takes on independent bike shops, and their early plans for world domination.
How long has Tailwind Cycles been in the works? Why start the shop now?
Ben: Steven and I worked together at another bike shop in the same building which closed unexpectedly just over three years ago. We would have liked to take over that shop and keep it going, but didn’t really have enough time to react– or the means to take it over when it closed.
We have been talking about it since then, and the landlord of the previous shop, being an avid cyclist, has wanted to have a bike shop in his building since the old shop closed.
One of the storefronts opened up this past December (2016), he reached out to us, and we decided to try to make the shop happen. We wanted to get back into the same area, and try to do it before too much time had passed, since a lot of our customers remembered the shop, and nobody had really moved into the neighborhood to fill the void.
In a city the size of Chicago, with a diverse cycling community, different shops tend to attract different crowds. Does Tailwind have a target audience? What would you like your shop to be known for?
Steven: Honestly, our target audience is anyone that rides a bike. I’m not trying to sound cliché, but that is how I feel. I would like our shop to be known for impeccable service and treating everyone with respect, regardless of their budget or their bike.
Ben: We want people to feel comfortable hanging out at the shop talking to us about cycling, and also asking whatever questions they might have– without fear of judgement. At the end of the day, we would really like our shop to be known for top-notch service for all customers.
We are also going to operate our mobile service shop, which is pretty unique in Chicago. We will be able to perform repairs and tune-ups at customers’ homes and workplaces, and also plan to have our mobile service vehicle present at local bike races.
Pre-opening day party at Tailwind– the shop’s mobile repair truck is visible outside.
What has been the most challenging part of opening your first shop? Any big surprises?
Steven: No, not really any big surprises– mostly lots of medium-sized ones in rapid succession. We were on such a tight timeline to get Tailwind open, it feels like it’s been non-stop work. It’s kind of like putting out fires: pick which one is today’s and knock that out, and then move on to the next one.
Ben: We were lucky in that we had help from the North River Commission, a non-profit organization in Albany Park dedicated to economic development and helping businesses get established and succeed in the neighborhood.
Ben and Steven work quickly to transform raw storefront space into a full-service shop over just a couple of months.
Let’s hear your dream for Tailwind– what is your vision for the next few years?
Steven:World domination, and lots of happy people riding bikes. Hopefully our mobile repair will grow, so we can service more and more cyclists in the coming years.
Ben: I hope to just continue doing what we do into the future. Steven and I are both very hands-on with the shop and definitely want to continue to be the faces of the shop into the future. We do hope to grow and possibly have some employees at some point, but our primary focus is to operate the shop we have always wanted to work in.
Souvenirs from their years as pro mechanics line the walls of Tailwind, but Ben and Steven are eager to share their skills, levity, and impressive facial hair with anyone in the neighborhood.
Say a few words about what independent bike shops have meant to you over the years. What would you hope your shop will bring to its community?
Steven: If there were not independent bike shops, I would not be here today. I got my start in this industry because I talked a good game to Fred, the owner of a shop in Austin called Discovery Cycles. The extent of my experience was having a decent mountain bike and being able to take it apart and mostly put it back together. He helped steer me on the path that led to Tailwind Cycles. Every bicycle shop I have worked at since then has been an independent shop. I always liked the personal touch that we had with our customers. Now I am very proud to have my own independent shop with Ben.
Ben: There are already so many great independent shops in Chicago. We just want to be able to add to the landscape of great shops who grow and maintain the amazing cycling community present in Chicago.
Evan Holmes is a musician, writer, and everyday cyclist from Chicago, Illinois. He’s worked seasonally at Chicago’s vibrant Village Cycle Center for the last ten years, and is a co-founder of Pedal, a web design and content hub for artists and small businesses.
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