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Enjoying the Ride

Chicago Cubs and Higher Gear bike shops co-owner Todd Ricketts discusses his two passions: cycling and baseball.

In addition to his interests in the Cubs and Higher Gear, Todd Ricketts is involved in numerous charitable organizations, including World Bicycle Relief, Opportunity Education and Project Run America.

Talk about a man of diverse interests. While Todd Ricketts has embraced his role as co-owner and board member of the Chicago Cubs, his life is firmly grounded on the North Shore, where he runs Higher Gear (highergearchicago.com), a successful full-service bike shop with locations in Wilmette and Highland Park, and serves as a consultant for numerous local enterprises. For the Health and Fitness issue, we sat down with the youngest of the Ricketts clan to discuss his businesses, the Cubbies and the future of Chicago’s rapidly growing cycling movement.

How did you come to be a co-owner of Higher Gear?
My business partner in the shop, Brendan Sullivan, came to me one day and said, ‘I have an idea for an online bike parts business.’ I said, ‘That’s interesting, but I don’t know anything about the bicycle industry or how things work.’ Maybe a month later, the owner of Higher Gear passed away, and I was concerned this great neighborhood bike shop would close. I called Brendan and said, ‘Hey, why don’t we buy this shop? We’ll learn a little bit about retail and the bike industry.’

What have you learned so far?
Never get into retail! [Laughs.] Actually, it’s an interesting time. Retail obviously is changing with the Internet. I think within the next 10 or 15 years there will be a dramatic change in what retail space is used for, and unless you have something that requires a human interaction, that requires someone to actually touch something, any shop that just sells things will probably be going away. You can buy discounted bike parts online, but at some point you’ll need an expert opinion to get things exactly right.

Cycling has exploded in popularity in Chicago in recent years. What do you see as the next big development?
I think we’re going to see a lot more people riding bikes to commute to work. As a society, we’ve become victims of our own success, and now we have to take personal responsibility for our health. I think people commuting on bikes is a big step in the right direction, and I think the city is doing a good job with bike sharing and bike lanes. But as more and more people ride, more people are going to get hurt. The next big conversation for City Hall will be how to make our streets safer for bikes. We’re going to be hearing a lot more about that over the next few years.

Ricketts

In addition to being a co-owner of the Cubs, you’re also a board member. Can you describe what that entails?
It can be hard to understand because the position doesn’t have a clear definition. As a board member, you’re not exactly responsible for season ticket sales, but you’re definitely involved in making sure everyone feels comfortable with the strategy we have going forward. There’s a fine balance between giving input and giving people responsibility. One of the things our family has in mind for all of our businesses is that you need someone who is responsible, or you can’t hold them accountable. There’s a fine nuance to being in charge, creating and directing strategy and then allowing the executives to execute it.

All of the North Side wants to know: What are the Cubs’ most immediate challenges?
I think our biggest challenge is developing a farm system and bringing in more talented young players at that level to turn ourselves into a perennial contender for the playoffs. That’s what I get really excited about. If you can get to the playoffs, it’s a coin flip, statistically speaking. It doesn’t matter if you’ve won 100 games or 83. If you make the playoffs, you can win the World Series.