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Perspective: You can learn a lot in a used bike shop


You can learn a lot in a used bike shop. About all kinds of people.

Amidst all the flat tires and derailleurs, rescued Schwinns and Huffys, customers at The Bike Place in Princeton could keep anthropologists busy for years.

Take Mr. Tattoo, for example, with artwork covering his entire body. No home address and no money. He left his wallet as security until his disability check arrived in the mail so he could buy a BMX bike. The same week four grandparents bought similar bikes for their little grandkids.

High schoolers have signed up to learn how to fix bikes, to get credit for community service…and fulfill court orders. Several Spanish-speaking guys wanted bicicletas so they could ride to their jobs each morning. A retired couple from Nebraska wanted a comfortable way to get to know the town. Nice!

A customer from Missouri told us he had ridden a giant, bone-shaking two-wheeler, across the entire country in 1999, more than a century after the first bicycles like them showed up in Princeton.

The non-profit Bike Place offers a unique view of life beyond strong legs and spandex outfits. More than 3,200 bicycles repaired, sold, recycled or given away in the past six years.

Pedal it Forward, we say. You never know who’s going to roll into your place of business and tell you a story or two.

I’m Rick Brooks, and that’s my perspective.

Rick Brooks retired after 26 years as an outreach program manager at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Co-founder of the Little Free Library movement, Rick now lives in Princeton, Illinois and runs Midwest Partners, a civic engagement group.