By John Greenfield
My holiday wish for 47th Ward CTA riders? The return of the full #11 Lincoln Avenue bus route.
For everyone else, here are some groovy gift ideas for transit, walking and bike enthusiasts. Most of these Chicago-centric goods and services are homegrown, so you’ll be supporting local businesses and organizations, while minimizing the amount of gasoline burned in transporting schwag to stores.
Up in Rogers Park, the Recyclery offers bike safety and mechanics instruction for kids, plus open shop sessions and maintenance classes for adults. They also donate refurbished bikes to refugees, people experiencing homelessness, and low-income families. You can help fund their good work by purchasing gifts from their online store. Gift cards are available for bike upgrades at an open shop session ($30), a two-part tune-up class ($75), a six-week overhaul class ($180), or a used bike, helmet and lock ($300). They also sell Recyclery t-shirts, featuring a beautiful intermeshed gears design ($25), and limited-edition posters by local artist Jay Ryan, with a fanciful image of the shop overrun by cats and bears ($25). The Recyclery, 7628 North Paulina, TheRecyclery.org.
Another organization that deserves your support is the Active Transportation Alliance, which advocates for better conditions for walking, biking and transit across the region. You can buy gift memberships online for as low as $35. In addition to bankrolling the group’s work, an Active Trans membership includes discounts at more than 100 bike shops and small businesses, a copy of the regional bike map, and a discount on an annual membership for Divvy bike-share. ActiveTrans.org/membership.
My blogging partner Steven Vance recommends the new book “Terminal Town” by DePaul professor Joseph P. Schwieterman. It’s a history of Chicago’s many passenger terminals, including Union Station, Dearborn Station, Midway and O’Hare airports, plus many other less-famous and long-gone stations, depots and ship landings. Chock full of cool vintage photos and custom maps, the book illustrates why Chicago continues to be the nation’s transportation hub. $27.95 at Chicago Architecture Foundation, 224 South Michigan, TerminalTown.org.
Wicker Park’s Transit Tees sells clothing, wall art and knickknacks inspired by the El system, bikeway signage and other Chicago iconography. Best of all, most of these products are designed and printed in-house by founder Tim Gillengerten and his crew of creatives. Some of my favorite items include vintage postcards showing a cutaway view of the subway ($4), a hoodie featuring historic Illinois rail routes ($48), a necktie embroidered with a map of the rapid-transit network ($45), and a t-shirt with a whimsical illustration of the #56 Milwaukee bus ($24). 1371 North Milwaukee, TransitTees.com.
Gillengerten’s store also makes products for the CTA’s online gift shop. Earlier this month, the agency launched a new line featuring logos from long-defunct, pre-CTA Chicago transit companies: Chicago Surface Lines, Chicago Elevated Railways, and Chicago Rapid Transit. This retro iconography is plastered on everything from coffee mugs to messenger bags to cell phone cases. Various prices, CTAGifts.com.
Bike-friendly purses, handbags, and briefcases from PoCampo, owned by local cyclist Maria Boustead, are always a safe bet for your favorite pedaling fashionista. For every twenty-five bags sold, the company donates a bicycle to a schoolgirl in Africa, via the Chicago-based nonprofit World Bicycle Relief. PoCampo’s Bike & Be Free Basket includes a Six Corners handlebar bag, a Theo organic chocolate bar, and a reflective bird pin ($49.99). The company also makes a roomy Bike Share Bag that fits perfectly in the narrow front racks on Divvy cycles ($85). Products sold at stores citywide, PoCampo.com.
I’ve long been a fan of Legacy Frameworks’ beautiful and practical city bikes, and I wasn’t even the one who nominated them for Best Craft Bike Maker in Newcity’s recent Best of Chicago issue. Owner Levi Borreson’s latest model, the Rambler, comes with a grease-free belt drive, weatherproof brakes, internally geared hubs, full fenders and a rear rack, making it a low-maintenance, high-utility steed. At $1,750, it’s a bigger investment than your usual off-the-rack ride, but isn’t your loved one worth it? LegacyFrameworks.com.
For an even fancier handmade bike, pedal over to Heritage General Store and take a gander at the Gaucho, their collaboration with Santa Barbara-based frame builder Aaron Stinner. This single-speed cruiser/mountain bike mashup, priced at a cool $3,200, comes with twenty-nine-inch wheels, fat tires and disc brakes, which makes it perfect for exploring the more rugged parts of Chicago’s lakefront. Stylish-yet-practical bike clothing, leather saddles, and other cleverly designed gear are good choices for more affordable gifts, and you can take a shopping break with a cup of Stumptown java and a slice of Hoosier Mama pie. Heritage will open a coffee-only outpost in Uptown in the very near future. 2959 North Lincoln, HeritageBicycles.com.
Note: The print version of this article includes a writeup of Divvy’s Red Key Membership, a deluxe package priced at $500. However, after the issue went to press, Divvy notified me that they are no longer sure if or when this new membership option will launch.