1) How/when did you get into cycling as a profession?
I fell in love with the bicycle again in 1999, while studying abroad in Europe and taking a city bike tour. I thought ‘WOW, this is easy and awesome.’ I loved the idea of being able to use more of my senses while transporting around a city. The sights, the sounds, the smells (both good and bad) really touched me. After school I moved to Chicago and immediately sold my car and started biking everywhere. I fell in love with biking in Chicago and thought that visitors should fall in love with it as much as I had. So, in 2002, I decided to sell off a lot of my things to raise money to start Bobby’s Bike Hike, guided bicycle tours of Chicago appropriate for a variety of ages, skills, and interest levels. I’m lucky to have a position that promotes such a healthy, eco-friendly mode of transport – the bicycle.
2) How does your organization directly benefit cyclists?
Bobby’s Bike Hike directly benefits cyclists by putting more bodies on bikes. There is power in numbers and as most bikers know, we need more bikers to make the streets safer, to get cars to notice us, and to get the kind of lane improvements we all desperately want and need. We take pride in reintroducing the bicycle to thousands of people each year, and we do our best to make sure that experience is a positive one for our guests. When our customers see that they can ride a bike confidently in downtown Chicago, they realize that they can do it back in their hometown. So we take our grassroots efforts very seriously. The greatest thing we hear on our tours is when someone says “This is great, I’m going to buy a bicycle to ride where I live.”
3) Do you specialize in a certain type of cycling?
Bobby’s Bike Hike specializes in guided bicycle tours appropriate for a variety of ages, skills, and interest levels. Our goal is to provide something for everyone, to get more people on bikes. We have short tours, long tours, kid tours, historical tours, neighborhoods tours, and our brand-new Bikes, Bites, & Brews tours. So we balance biking with Chicago culture and history. We have all types of bikes for rental as well – Comforts, Hybrids, Cruisers, Mountain, Road, Tandems, and all Child bikes and equipment.
4) What are your "must-have" items for cycling (this could be a tool, an accessory, a food, etc.)
On a personal level, I always carry a helmet, a multi-tool and a snickers. I have to admit, I’m a chocoholic. And there’s just something about that the combination of chocolate, nougat, peanuts, and caramel that gets my juices flowing. On a business level, we never leave the shop without a full array of tools to make sure we’ve got everything we need to get our groups through the tours. We also ensure safety by enforcing helmet usage on our tours.
5) What do you see as the biggest area of opportunity in your niche market?
We’d like to see improvements to the biking infrastructure in Chicago, better trail maintenance, more rails-to-trails, more dedicated bike lanes, and moving the bike lanes to the outside of parked cars which will decrease doorings. Regarding Chicago bike infrastructure, the City is currently looking to improve the Eisenhower Expressway. One suggestion is to just add another car lane. Really??? I encourage everyone to reach out their alderman and City officials to try and get a bike trail lane in for biking commuters to ease congestion.
The City came to us a few years back and said that they wanted to use money to promote the Lakefront bike path as a means to bring more bike tourism to the City. While this would have directly benefited our company, we flatly refused this idea in lieu of using those funds to improve the path for the citizens of Chicago. Our thought is what good is a promoted bike path, if that path is in shambles and in need of improvements. It wasn’t the feedback that they were looking for, but we’re focused on what is best for Chicago.
6) How do you think the cycling community has changed in the last year or two?
I can’t say that I’ve noticed a considerable change in the last year or two, except for the addition of more bike lanes and bike parking (balanced with the loss of pay meter parking spots). But I will say that since we launched in 2002, the feedback from our guests has changed considerably. Chicago, a former industrial town that wasn’t known for natural environment and biking, has quickly transformed into a reputation for being a great bicycling community. I attribute this to such organizations as the Active Transportation Alliance, a bike-friendly mayor, and a very active biking community. Keep it up, we’re transforming Chicago before our eyes and I have to say it’s quite amazing.
7) What is your favorite bike?
My favorite bike is my Schwinn World 24. Why Schwinn? I take pride in the fact that a Chicago family created the company, the brand, and it’s been going strong for over 115 years.
8) Tell us about your biggest challenge at work.
The biggest challenge at Bobby’s Bike Hike is creating a positive experience for every guest. As bikers know, many things can go wrong while you’re out riding. This gets multiplied when you’re riding with groups of people who didn’t pay to have a flat tire happen while they’re out on tour. So it’s been a fun challenge to continuously learn from what can go wrong on our tours and try to prevent as many bad experiences from reoccurring. Always learning from mistakes and growing positively from them.
9) If you could go on a bike ride with anyone (living or dead), who would it be?
If I could ride with one person (living or dead), I would ride with my late father Bob, for whom I named my business after and who inspired my passion for the tourism industry. He was an entrepreneur himself, he owned a bus tour company down in Arkansas. But I was more of a tree-hugging health nut, so I thought biking was a better, more sustainable solution to urban touring. But I’d love to discuss and compare struggles, ideas, business, government, and everything.