Conversation with Alex Wilson, Founder and Executive Director of West Town Bikes

West Town Bike Youths on Parade

Alex Wilson founded West Town Bikes, using bikes as a vehicle [pun intended] to better the quality of life for young people on Chicago’s West Side. It hasn’t always been easy.

Alex Wilson, Executive Director and Founder

Only as recently as 2020, the pandemic all but wiped him out, forcing Alex to take himself off the payroll and fire over half of his staff. The pandemic hit him from all sides, drawing away talented mechanics West Town had trained when suddenly the pandemic sent the demand for competent bike mechanics sky high. Many of his best moved to positions at Divvy. There were shortages of space to host interns due to social distancing guidance and shortages of new bikes to sell in the retail shop.

The bike shop, located two blocks west of Western on Division, is the hub where he runs apprentice programs for young persons who aspire to learn how to fix bikes for for the satisfaction of acquiring a new skill or for the chance to work someday in Alex’s shop as a paid professional. The shop is where kids come together and organize to go on chaperoned rides to visit parts of the city they never dreamed existed, learning how to ride their bikes safely and with confidence (the shop is currently sponsoring about a dozen youth rides each week). Talking about his experience transitioning young riders from practice in a parking lot to hitting the streets for the first time, Alex observed, “there’s no adventure without misadventure”. The shop is still recovering and cannot yet host all of the programs it had going pre COVID-19. It is still working to bring back its Cyclocross racing program and DIY nights for persons who want to come in and learn how to fix up their own rigs with guidance and proper shop tools at the ready.

Some of his corporate sponsors have tailed back their contributions as the pandemic hit their businesses or ironically as they chased programs with more obvious social justice “messaging”. All of this West Town has had to survive in lean days where it couldn’t afford to hang onto a development director. Tough times.

A great time for grass roots fundraising to emerge and support such a wonderfully worthwhile program.

Inside the WTB program


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