Bike shop closing as owner plans bike trip of her own


For 26 years, Joanne McSweeney has helped other people get out and see the world on bicycles.

Now, it’s her turn.

She’s retiring, and the first things on her list are two cycling tours of her own — first in Mexico, then in Italy.

Actually, there’s one thing she hopes to do before that: find someone to buy her business, which has grown since she bought it, with two On the Route Bicycles locations, one in Lake View, at 3144 N. Lincoln Ave., and the other in Lincoln Square, at 2338 W. Lawrence Ave.

News of the closing is posted on the shop’s website, along with a simple plea: “Please email me directly if interested in shop ownership, or spread the word if you know anyone who might be.”

Since announcing her plans, “the outpouring of thankfulness really has brought me to tears,” said McSweeney, 59.

Among the thankful: David Horowitz, a customer of On the Route for 23 years, who would be sad to see it go.

“It’s sort of the sign of the times, the end of the access to the neighborhood place,” said Horowitz, 59, who figures he’s bought about a dozen bikes at the Lake View shop.

It has been his go-to shop for everything from helmets to bike repairs to bicycles for his kids — just in the past week, he’s been there three times for bike repairs for his son.

He said he loved the store for its neighborhood charm and friendly, helpful mechanics. And he doesn’t blame McSweeney for wanting to take a cycling tour of her own.

“I mean, who wouldn’t?” he said.

Before she was the boss, McSweeney was a customer. Owned at the time by Armando Gallo, it was a small 650-square-foot shop called La Ruta, in a different location on Lincoln Avenue. When Gallo decided to retire, McSweeney bought it.

Since then, she has grown the business into a multimillion-dollar operation, she said, offering everything from an affordable first bike for kids all the way up to $15,000 models for serious cyclists.

McSweeney knows “what bicycles do for people,” she said. “It’s an easy joy to reduce stress and lose weight.”

As a sustainable form of transportation, “it really does solve a lot of world problems, too,” she said, which is one of the reasons cycling culture has grown so much in the city.

Biking has also been a big part of McSweeney’s life. 

“I’m of the age where the two coolest things to get were a bicycle or a skateboard,” she said. For her, that first bike arrived when she was 8. Even attending college, then law school in California, a bike was her everyday ride.

“I didn’t have a car until I was 25,” she said.

On the Route owner Joanne McSweeney (left) with former employee Amanda Payne at the bicycle shop’s Lake View location on Sept. 10, 2023.

On the Route owner Joanne McSweeney (left) with former employee Amanda Payne at the bicycle shop’s Lake View location in September.

Courtesy of Joanne McSweeney

So stepping up to keep On the Route open came naturally — especially at the time when there weren’t nearly as many bicycle shops in the city.

Now, she hopes someone else will do what she did then and continue the store’s legacy. 

Either way, though, both stores will close by the end of October — the Lincoln Square location on Oct. 25 and Lake View on Oct. 31, McSweeney said. 

McSweeney first will go to Durango, Mexico, to ride there before heading to Italy. And though she bikes more than 900 miles a year along DuSable Lake Shore Drive, she’s never been on a bike tour this extensive.

She picked Italy for the people, the architecture and the scenery — and the food, she added with a laugh.

The Italian leg of her bike tour will start in Monopoli, a town on the Adriatic Sea. She’ll travel inland, then along the Mediterranean coast, before stopping in Bianchi, where popular performance bikes are created, some of which are sold in On the Route stores.

Both locations will remain full-service shops right up until closing, she said. And though all remaining items are on clearance, she hopes people haven’t seen the last of On the Route.

“I really would love another owner,” she said. “It’s just my time to move on.”


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