UPTOWN — It's officially bike season in Chicago.
Owner Maria Barnes said they see all types of customers with varying amounts of experience. But whether you've been riding for years or you're a novice, it doesn't hurt to brush up on safety and maintenance tips.
And when it comes to bikes, Barnes and long-time employee Nora Gallagher know their stuff. Uptown Bikes opened more than two decades ago in 1993, when it was named Urban Bikes. It wasn't until 2004 that the shop became known by its current name.
Barnes has owned the shop since 2004; Gallagher, who commutes to the shop from her Humboldt Park apartment, has been working for Uptown Bikes for the last 15 years.
Preparing the bike you already own for the road
Let's say you're pulling your bike out of storage for the first time in months. Gallagher said there are a few simple things you should do to ensure your bike will ride smoothly.
1. Check the air pressure in your tires. Use a pump accordingly.
2. Are the brakes functioning? Test them out.
3. Lubricate your chain. Barnes said it's best to spring for lubricant made specifically for bicycles.
4. Any questions or concerns? Don't hesitate to take the bike to your local shop. (Despite the construction happening outside their door as part of the Wilson Red Line renovation project, Uptown Bikes is open.)
Use two locks
According to Gallagher, bike part theft is on the rise the last five years. So when customers come in looking for safety advice, Gallagher always recommends buying at least two locks.
"What you want to do is try to slow down the thief," said Gallagher, who tests locks by trying to get through them herself using various tools.
Entry-level locks start at $35, but for $66, you can get an almost indestructible Abus lock, which Gallagher recommends.
"It's not going anywhere unless you have two cuts, " said Gallagher, who advises budgeting $100 for one good U-lock and supplementary locks, like chains or a secondary U-lock.
Why are more parts being stolen? Gallagher's best guess is more people are biking so there's a bigger market for parts.
You don't have to spend an arm and a leg on a helmet
"The more you pay, the more comfort you'll get," said Gallagher, who added that a fancy helmet does not equal a safer riding experience.
A higher-quality helmet might be more durable and provide better air flow, but all helmets meet the same safety standards, Barnes said.
State law requires cyclists use a front light and reflector at night
Not only is it against the law to not have them, but it's also pretty dangerous to ride at night sans lights. Gallagher said sometimes people assume there will be enough light because of all the street lights in the city, but that's not always the case.
Cheap bike lights will probably require batteries, whereas rechargeable USB bike lights are a little more convenient.
"If you can afford it, this is the way to go," said Gallagher of the USB lights, which range in price from $40 to more than $100.
Tips for when you get on the road
An avid cyclist herself, Barnes said she always makes eye contact with other cyclists and drivers while she's riding to let them know she's aware.
1. Ride predictably, meaning ride with confidence and don't make sudden movements.
2. Obey the rules of the road.
3. Be visible. If that means wearing a neon vest, so be it.
4. Carry some cash or a Ventra card because you never know when you'll get a flat tire.
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