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Bikes, coffee, apparel and more: Heritage Bicycles

Updated: May 24


Tell us about the name Heritage Bicycles.

Our owner Michael Salvatore is a fifth-generation Chicagoan. After living in New York and working at the start-up bike store Bowery Lane Bicycles, he moved back to Chicago to raise a family. He wanted to bring back the idea of what he was doing in New York and honor his family heritage here in Chicago. And the types of bikes we make reflect this. We are not making modern, fancy racing bikes. Instead our bikes are inspired by the classic proven models from Schwinn and Raleigh, but with a new, retro approach.


As I waited on a Thursday morning a steady stream of customers trickled into the shop. Some regulars, others first-time visitors looking for a unique coffee experience. New bikes were interspersed with tables and a counter with delicious-looking pastries. In the rear was the service center in its own room, and out back was a picnic table and chairs underneath a tree canopy. What a unique vibe for a bike shop! As the music played softly in the background, I sat down with store manager Alan Gagne to learn more about Heritage Bicycles.


Cafe inside the Heritage Bicycles store.
 
Milk and cream for coffee are in the oven!

What environment are you trying to create?

We see ourselves as part of the community and want create an experience that is different. Through the cafe we have regular customers who come in for coffee some of who don't like bikes but tell their friends. We also carry unique items like American-made products or the cool-piece from Denmark that's not available here. We have full shop services and since we build bikes we can do frame repair and bike painting.


The hybrid concept is what drives us. There is no better place to come in and get a flat fixed. We'll do it in about 10 minutes while you have a cup of coffee, socialize and shop around.



 

Tell us about your customers?

With our bikes, we are trying to appeal to the first time in a long-time bike rider. Someone who has ridden a bike before but maybe its been five or ten years and they want to get back on the bike and enjoy the ride. Our bikes are something you ride daily on your commute or across the state with the right components. More than anything our primary focus is the fun behind looking good and feeling good - fun and fashionable for daily use. I've built a lot of dream bikes over the past couple of years.

So you build your own bikes?

We manufacture bike frames in batch production which helps us to produce affordable bikes. We then have a consultation with the customer to understand how they will ride and what is their style and budget. Together, we explore 400+ color options and 1100+ gear options, as well as saddle, grips and other options to match the ride. We can do a custom bike for approximately $1000.


Alan Gagne shows off a new set of wheels from Heritage Bicycles at the Chicago Farmer's Market at Daley Plaza.

How did you get involved in this venture?

I live near the shop and was a paralegal downtown biking to work. Everyday, I would pass the shop on my bike commute and saw the shop open and offering locally-roasted coffee. I was interested in meeting the owners and kept missing them. One day, we finally we caught up at the church Oktoberfest. They were doing bike portraits and I helped to shot pictures. One thing led to another and I left my paralegal job. I got fully trained as a barista, did a stint as a mechanic and the web-stuff. Nowadays, my focus is on sales, business development and keeping everything on track.

 

Do you have a favorite bike?

I cannot name one. I am totally a fan of the old Chicago-made Schwinns. I love the Schwinn Speedster, a 26 in beach-style alley cruiser bike and a I have a Chief from here as well that I built out to be really fun. I'm all about enjoying the ride and having fun while getting from point a to point b.


Divvy bike sharing program in Chicago.

What is your sense of bike commuting here in Chicago? Has it changed?

I can tell in my last decade here that there are more bikes lanes and more people on the road. Divvy has definitely changed it. At times, I'm not sure for better or worse since there are more inexperienced riders on the streets. But overall, its better since more drivers are aware of bikes and how to react.





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