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Half of school children walked or biked to school in 1969, but only 13 percent were doing it in 2009.

Midwest’s first female-centered bike shop to open its doors in spring

The first female-centered bike shop in the Midwest will be opening in March at 2113 W. Armitage Ave. in the Bucktown neighborhood./

Owned by veteran cyclists Vanessa Buccella and Annie Byrne, BFF Bikes will offer bicycles, gear, women’s apparel not found in other city shops, dressing rooms and a primarily female staff.

Geared toward commuter cyclists and racers alike, the shop will carry Public city bikes and performance models from companies yet to be decided. With a pipeline to Minneapolis-based wholesale distributor Quality Bicycle Products, BFF will have a vast catalog of cycle parts and gear that can be ordered.

According the League of American Bicyclists, only 26 percent of Illinois bike commuters in 2011 were women. Buccella and Byrne want to help change that by encouraging more women to ride bikes. They visualize BFF Bikes as not only a neighborhood bike shop but also as a sort of a community center for women cyclists of all levels and interests.

“We want to get more women on bikes by normalizing cycling as a viable option for transportation, and helping them overcome any obstacles they see,” the owners said in statement.

To accomplish this, BFF is planning a variety of clinics, including Commuting 101 and a three-week series on bike anatomy, maintenance and options for different types of bikes.

As competitive bike racers, Buccella and Byrne also want to make bike racing more accessible to women. They have organized a BFF team of 16 women racers and will offer racing clinics.

From a business perspective, Buccella and Byrne hope to tap into the growing market for women’s cycling products. As Buccella points out, “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. In addition, sales of women's specific bikes grew 20 percent 2010-2012, outpacing the sales of men and gender-neutral bikes. We want to help women who ride find products that will make their biking more fun, comfortable and better looking!”

Funding the Midwest’s first female-themed bike shop has not been easy. Traditional sources have provided the bulk of BFF’s start-up capital, but there is still a gap to be filled. Buccella and Byrnes are hoping to generate some of the needed funds from contributions that can be made at their indiegogo.com website.

Buccella says, “We want to spread the gospel of cycling — how much fun it is, how it's the perfect way to commute in the city, how it can take you places you've never been before.”

This post was written by Active Trans volunteer contributor Lynda Barckert.