Irrigating Cleveland’s Bike Desert

The term “food desert” has seeped from urban planning into general use to describe places – usually in inner cities – where there are no commercial sources of nourishment other than fast food “restaurants” or packaged junk food from convenience stores.  Food deserts are often inhabited by poorer folks: the lack of good transportation options just compounds the problem.

 The size and severity of a food desert is directly related to another, less-used (and less elegant) planners’ term, “walk-shed” (like “watershed”); the area around their home that most folks are willing to walk, which is determined by terrain, ambiance, amenities, infrastructure, and other factors, besides sheer distance. For folks without a car, the smaller the walk-shed, the more severe the food desert.

The comparable concept, of a “bike desert” – an area with no bike shops – is more dire, and insidiously self-perpetuating: people will always eat, and eventually our miraculously efficient capitalist economy will fill any desires for arugula and grass-fed beef; but if the nearest bike shop is three miles away and the only way you have to get there – or to work – is a bike with a broken chain, pretty soon you just give up and start taking the bus.

It’s probably a bad idea to coin the ancillary term “bike-shed” because it sounds like a nice place to store the family’s bikes, but it’s shorter than “bikeability catchment area” to explain why it’s easier to ride all the way from Westpark to Lakewood rather than cross I 480 and Brookpark Rd. on W130th St. And it matters, if you have to go to the grocery on your bike and dislike fearing for your life.

If their bike-shed is scary, and their nearest bike shop is far, is it any wonder that folks without cars don’t ride more?

The Central neighborhood, on Cleveland’s near eastside, where 60% of households don’t have access to a car, lies in the middle of Cleveland’s “bike desert.” There is not a single bike shop from the Bike Rack on East 4th Street to Cain Park Bicycle in Cleveland Hts., between Fleet Ave. Bike Shop and Lake Erie.

And it’s not just a bike-repair problem: independent neighborhood bike shops are also a primary source of “bike culture”; they offer riding and repair tips, route information, pick-up rides, and camaraderie with other cyclists. Central – where Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson lives, by the way – is even further impoverished in bike-repair resources, lacking even any “big box” retail outlets that sell at least crappy bikes and a meager selection of repair parts and accessories like inner tubes, chains, lights, and helmets.

Through our programming and advocacy efforts Bike Cleveland and the Ohio City Bicycle Co-op are committed to working together to improve this sad situation, and build a strong bike culture in all Cleveland’s Central neighborhood. Model programs that we have piloted in Cleveland neighborhoods include “Fix-a-thons,” youth bike rodeos, and bike clubs– provide a great starting point for growing biking in Cleveland’s bike-desert communities.

If you’re a cyclist who happens to live in Central, or even if not, we can always use your help.

The participation of the cycling community is needed if we are going to take our movement beyond the norm, so please get in touch if you want to be a part of making all of our community a better place to ride.

You can sign-up to volunteer for the Ohio City Bicycle Co-op by visiting, likewise you can sign-up to volunteer at

Jim Sheehan

Jim Sheehan is Executive Director and a founding member of the Ohio City Bicycle Co-op, a non-profit bicycle education facility in Cleveland Ohio. He was region 4 director of the League of American Bicyclists from 2006-2009, has been a League Cycling Instructor since 2003, and is a founding member of Bike Cleveland (and previous local advocacy groups, since 1992). He has been a bike mechanic, messenger, tourist, racer and (as often as possible) a bike commuter. He lives with his wife in Shaker Heights, where he enjoys mountain biking on nearby deer trails in the company (and at the "unhurried" pace) of their 12 year old beagle, Fressie.

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Volume 1, Issue 8, Posted 5:02 PM, 07.30.2013