BUCKTOWN — There are plenty of bike shops in the city but only one that plans to be geared toward female cyclists when it opens in Bucktown this spring.
With 19 days left in a crowdfunding campaign, BFF Bikes at 2113 W. Armitage Ave. hopes to serve what its owners Annie Byrne and Vanessa Buccella believe is "an unmet demand from a growing and underserved market: women who bike or are interested in starting."
As of Tuesday, BFF Bikes has raised $7,485 of its goal of $12,000, with the help of 115 donors who in return for their donation will receive perks such as T-shirts and tuneups. For a $50 donation, bikers will get a Riyoko shirt-band that provides "perfect bum coverage while you're riding in your lower-cut pants."
The money, which will supplement a small business loan, will be used to build a full-service mechanic's station and finish the 1,200-square-foot retail shop just west of the Damen and Armitage intersection.
More than just a place to buy bikes and apparel, the community-focused shop plans to offer weekly rides, at leisurely and training paces, as well as "Commuting 101" clinics on safe commuting, how to lock a bike, maintenance and more topics.
Byrne and Buccella, who describe themselves as "children of the 1980s," met each other in winter 2011 when they were both involved in a Half Acre bike-racing team.
In an Active Transportation Alliance blog post, Buccella said, “I think this fact says it all: For the first time in U.S. history, 60 percent of bicycle owners between the ages of 18-27 are women."
The name BFF, which is also the name of a female racing team that will serve as the official BFF shop team, was chosen "because it's fun, playful with a little bit of feminine feel to it, but not girly-girly," Byrne said.
Though a logo featuring a BFF or a "best friends forever" charm hangs on the door of the storefront, men should not be deterred from hanging out at the shop, the owners said.
"The bikes we sell are unisex and not women-specific bikes. We know not all women need or want women-specific bikes. We totally hope men shop at our store, too. It's geared to women but we will have accessories like locks and a mechanic center," Byrne said.
Though the majority of apparel for sale at BFF will be for women, Byrne said the shop will stock men's apparel too.
To launch the store, Byrne left her full-time job working as an urban planner for the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning on Jan. 15, while Buccella continues to work a day job as a video editor.
"Adjusting to a new routine is fun, there's so much to do, " said Byrne, 33.
Byrne will be overseeing the renovation of the shop and managing day-to-day operations and business administration, while Buccella, 35, will focus on marketing and promotions and plans to stay at her day job.
Byrne said she and Buccella chose to open BFF Bikes on Armitage Avenue because it's "a nice east-west thoroughfare for commuters" and is close to boutiques on Damen Avenue as well as bars like Map Room.
Additionally, BFF Bikes isn't far from Milwaukee Avenue, a very popular road for commuters. The proximity to the expressway will be good for women driving into the city from the suburbs who make BFF Bikes a destination shop, Byrne said.
Cycling is the only form of transportation for Byrne, who lives in Humboldt Park, and for Buccella, who lives in Albany Park. But Byrne said the shop wants to help women who haven't ridden a bike in a long time or have been wary about cycling on city streets.
BFF Bikes will sell Public Bikes, a seven-speed lightweight cruiser bike that is geared more for commuting and touring since there are more people using bikes for commuting rather than racing, Byrne said.
With a lease starting this Saturday and the buildout beginning soon after, Byrne said BFF Bikes hopes to open in mid-March.
In the next few days Byrne and Buccella plan to hire a full-time head mechanic.
When asked if they are looking to hire a female bike mechanic, Byrne said, "We have interviewed several people, both men and women who have a lot of experience. We're definitely interested in anyone qualified... we're an equal opportunity employer."
To contribute to the "Help Launch BFF Bikes!" campaign, click here.