Chicago Bicycle Company
Chicago Bicycle Company is an independent retail establishment in the city of Chicago.
Previously, the Chicago Bicycle Company was a short-lived American bicycle company which operated from 1994 to 1997. It is unrelated to the current retail store that operates today.
The original Chicago Bicycle Company was founded in 1994 and owned by Vermont Teddy Bear Company owner and CEO John Sortino, the company had its headquarters in Burlington, Vermont with production taking place in Chicago, Illinois, with an assembly and retail space in Burlington, Vermont. Based on practicality, the bicycle was designed for comfort and ease, using an internal-gear hub, available in both 3,5 and 7-speed options, with "step-over" and "step-thru" frames available and customizable for color, saddle, handlebar and size.
The bicycles were marketed via cold calling, based initially on a list of yacht club members that was purchased from a yacht club. They also used radio ads to encourage people to come into the factory at 363 West Erie St. in Chicago, Illinois to test ride, and order a custom bicycle.
Sortino hired Mark P. Walker, assembly and shop manager of the bike shop The SkiRack in Burlington, Vermont, and Tim Matthewson, owner of Champion Cycles, also in Vermont, to design a marketable bicycle concept that would appeal to commuters and people wishing to have a practical alternative to the mountain bike and road bike without the complication of derailleurs, and above all, made in the U.S. The bicycles sold for $500– $1000, depending on hubs, and options chosen by the customer. They used internal gear hubs from Sachs, with drum, or internal brakes, to avoid the complications of vulnerable external mechanisms. The bikes would later become known as "comfort cruisers", and though CBC was unsuccessful in marketing, famed bicycle maker and MTB pioneer, Joe Breeze later produced his own straight-tubed version.
50 frame-sets were originally fabricated by Tri-Angle Metal Fab in Milton, Vermont, and 50 more were made by Waterford Precision cycles of Waterford, Wisconsin, under the guise of Richard Schwinn (great grandson of Ignaz Schwinn) and Mark Muller. After that, the CBC built their own in a factory on 363 W. Erie in Chicago, Illinois. On the first floor, there was a retail space with representative bicycles,and an indoor track that surrounded the spacious retail floor. The actual factory was on the floor above, and was equipped with lathes, mill, welding stations, and powdercoat booth. A bicycle could be custom built to order inside of a week in most instances.
The Design of the bicycles was carried out cooperatively between Mark Walker in Vermont and Patrick Ege, industrial Designer and Joe Ryan, welder, both from Chicago who worked to develop the frame geometries in CAD, welding jig setups, and completed most of final prototyping and testing. Joe Ryan also served as the shop foreman and oversaw fabrication at the facility in Chicago including milling operations, welding, and powder coating. Vincent Delfini, a bicycle technician also from Chicago, oversaw the assembly of the bicycles in the Chicago plant. Approximately only 100 or so were made at the factory before the company went out of business in 1997.
The framesets were made from True Temper 4130 CrMo Steel with Reynolds 531 chainstays, and CBC’s own CrMo fork. The frames were powdercoated to any color to order, or to any of the several predetermined models. CBC offered Sachs 3,5, and 7 speed hubs, with Sun M25 rims. A selection of handlebars, saddles, mudguards, racks, were added per customer’s specs. The headbadge was made in Middlebury, Vermont by Danforth Pewterers, by lost-wax casting method. These badges cost $10 each to produce, and were hand fitted to every frame. Models include the 'Shoreline Cruiser', 'City Attack Cruiser', 'Silver Shadow', and the 'Wonder Bike'.
The bicycle shown in three of the photos was one of five, 22” frames made for the Burlington Police Department, with the Sachs 7-speed alloy front and rear hubs with dual drum brakes.
The Chicago bicycle was unfortunately ahead of its time,as many people were unwilling to spend more than $200 for what was perceived as a beach cruiser. The Chicago bicycle was much more than that, intended to become a long-lasting reliable quality tool to be used to get someone to work, or go for a nice ride on weekends on a virtually maintenance-free bicycle.
In 1998, Stephen Marmon took over as chairman and CEO at the request of the investors. At that point, the company was suffering substantial losses. "I shut down all production within days of becoming CEO," says Marmon.
Although he still felt that an expensive cruiser could be a viable business proposition, Marmon says the built-to-order model did not work. "The cost of production was too high," he notes. That, coupled with the low number of bikes the company produced, made profitability virtually impossible. CBC was renamed the US Bicycle Corp and Marmon says he is working with investors to turn the company into a roll-up.
Today there is a new Chicago Bicycle Company, unrelated to the original factory, that is a two store bicycle chain in the city of Chicago and online at chicagobicyclecompany.com The business is owned by long time retailer Denis Smith and his partner Elizabeth Georgescu. With locations in the historic printers Row in the Southloop, and North Center neighborhoods Chicago Bicycle Company employees master mechanics and carries all Trek related products
Online store www.chicagobicyclecompany.com
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