Smile Politely

Don’t just watch, get involved

“You’re either in or you can keep complaining with the rest,” and by in Matt Cho means into doing something to make your community closer to what you want it to be. He means take action, get moving, get involved — with your own projects or join someone else’s — just do something, anything, don’t wait for anyone else.

For Cho, that something began with CoLab, the collaborative workspace at 206 W. Main Street in Urbana, and Cafeteria & Company, a shared dining space for Flying Machine Coffee and Pizza M located next door. Otherwise empty, forgotten buildings clogging downtown Urbana’s Main Street drag are now thriving community-centric businesses. Cho, an Urbana native, asked himself: How can I add to the public space in a positive way? And he is not alone.

“It’s all about creating a rich community that people want to be apart of,” Tim Chao, co-founder of Neutral Cycle. Chao and Cho have been collaborating on their own answer to Cho’s question since 206 W. Main Street was under remodel, before the doors even opened for Flying Machine Coffee.

“It started by drinking coffee,” Chao remembers, as he and Cho would sit on the curb along Main Street fueling each other’s passion for pushing Urbana further, how to create what they believe to be essential elements of a community that they felt were not being provided. For Chao that began with Neutral Cycle, a local bicycle retailer with a unique community-centric philosophy. He sees the bicycle as a perfect metaphor. The bicycle has generated and sustained not only a strong community but also a distinct culture of it’s own. A bicycle is about connecting people: as a mode of transportation, as a common interest, common lifestyle, and relatively easily accessible — or at least it should be.

So, Chao and Daniel Kamberelis converted a garage on N. Busey in Urbana into a bike workshop that was more about encouraging and empowering their customers than overselling a piece of equipment that never should be overly intricate or complicated. A bicycle’s virtue is in its simplicity, and at Neutral Cycle that virtue is fully appreciated. Selling used or recycled bicycled gave many the accessibility to the bicycle community.

But that was then. Now, Neutral Cycle has opened a second retail/workshop space in Campustown right around the corner from Green Street on 5th , where many gather to work on homework (thanks to the free wifi provided in store) or participate in the community dinners Neutral Cycle hosts. Next door they’ve opened Neutral Studio to spearhead product design for a Neutral Cycle line of bicycling products designed right at home to strengthen the community. They have organized the first C-U Bike Polo tournament that took place on Broadway in downtown Urbana on April 27th. They’ve begun a bike rental service, including a couple beautiful bright yellow tandems called Big Yellow Ride for daily, weekly rental. And most recently, they’ve teamed up with @urbanalove to host a screening for the Summer Movie Nights

@urbanalove, a Twitter handle started by Cho, now contributed to by many, was created in 2011 to draw attention to places and events in Urbana. It was the foundation for the community that now stretches from CoLab and Cafeteria & Co. to Neutral Cycle; a community that has become a force for positive change that began over a conversation over coffee while sitting on the curb. As far as places to gather in Urbana, the team of @urbanalove noticed a distinct lack of a cinema, and without a theater available they organized Summer Movie Nights, free outdoor screenings in downtown Urbana during the summer months, the next of which is being produced in collaboration with Neutral Cycle.

As is only proper, this screening will be of the 1979 cyclist-fan film Breaking Away, a film about a group of bicycle enthusiasts challenging the status quo of their community. The film will be screened in the parking lot of Busey Bank (a co-sponsor of the event) in downtown Urbana, across the street from Cafeteria & Co. In addition to the screening there is a community bike ride being led by the crew from Neutral Cycle scheduled to set off from the Campus Bike Center at 608 E. Pennsylvania around 6 p.m. and end at Busey Bank a little before the screening. There will also be live music, food & refreshment (including offerings from Pizza M, Flying Machine Coffee, Common Ground Food Co-op, and Pandamonium Donuts), plus the unveiling of a few surprises from Neutral Cycle.

This is all set to take place (weather permitting) this Friday, July 11th, and is yet another opportunity to support or become involved in some of the exciting changes happening in our community. This is your chance to get in, be inspired, to make the change in the community you wish for or, you know, you can always stick with complaining. 

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