Cyclists along Chicago's lakefront path

Cyclists along Chicago's lakefront path (PHIL VELASQUEZ / CHICAGO TRIBUNE / May 25, 1999)

Jana Kinsman knows the hassle a suddenly flat inner tube can cause a cyclist.

Kinsman, 28, of Pilsen, rides her bike to and from the beehives serviced by her nonprofit organization, Bike a Bee. In case her bicycle needs work, she carries a patch kit and multi-tool wherever she goes, she said. But it's common for other Bike a Bee riders to get caught without access to tools or spare parts.

"We take the Lake Street bike path out to one of our beehives, and there's glass on every square foot of it, it's so bad," she said.

Cycling Chicagoans like Kinsman and her crew often can't make repairs on the fly, away from a bike repair shop or commuting at hours when repair shops aren't open.

To solve the problem, Lakeshore Bike, a bicycle repair and rental shop, installed a vending machine filled with bicycle parts at its 3650 N. Recreation Drive location, on the lakefront near Waveland Avenue.

"There are commuters from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. at night, and I can't be here all of those hours," said Demian March, the owner of Lakeshore Bike. "This was an opportunity to tap into commuters who might run into trouble when there's nothing open."

March hopes the decision to install the vending machine will pay off and allow him to install more around the city, he said. So far the machine has been netting between $20 and $100 a day.

The bike-part vending machine, manufactured by Minnesota-based Bike Fixtation, is the second of its kind in Illinois and the first available to cyclists on the well-trafficked lakefront trail, where a flat tire or other maintenance problems can add an hour or more to a commute. The machine sells tools and parts such as inner tubes, bike locks and nutrition bars. It accepts payment by credit card.

Kinsman thinks bike-part vending machines will be most effective if located on streets or paths with a lot of bike traffic -- near Divvy bikeshare stations, for example.

"The problem," she said, "is if you get a flat, you can't ride your bike to a bike shop or that vending machine."