For their November issue, Today’s Chicago Woman ran a Personal Profile on two of Higher Gear’s owners, Todd Ricketts and Sylvie Légère. Author Carrie Williams beautifully captured the entrepreneurial efforts and playful relationship of two of your Wilmette neighbors. In case you missed it, we’ve reprinted the article below.
As business owners, avid cyclists, philanthropists and parents, this extraordinary couple shares the details of their active lives and invites you along for the ride.
When most people hear the name Ricketts, they think of the family that owns the Chicago Cubs. The youngest Ricketts sibling, Todd, even appeared on an episode of CBS’s Undercover Boss so he could find out what life was like for employees outside the Cubs boardroom. However, beyond the ivy-clad walls of Wrigley Field lies a completely different life for Mr. Ricketts and his wife, Sylvie Légère.
Visiting Higher Gear bike shop in Wilmette, you wouldn’t know two of the three owners were involved with the 136-year-old baseball franchise, even if they were wearing Cubs jerseys. What you’d see is a loving couple sharing a passion for the cycling industry. “When we were dating in the ‘90s, we’d head over to Kettle Moraine Park on our mountain bikes and peddle around,” shares Mr. Ricketts, who purchased Higher Gear in 2009.
“My business partner Brendan Sullivan presented an idea that had to do with bicycle parts,” recalls Mr. Ricketts. “I had that in the back of my mind when the original owner of Higher Gear passed away, so I called Brendan and said, ‘Why don’t we learn a bit more about the bike industry by buying this shop?’ I also had another motive – I didn’t have a bike when I was a kid. So I’ve always gone out of my way to have a bike, and I feel people deserve to have a good bike shop in their neighborhood. I didn’t want to see mine go away, so we bought the shop. I now spend a lot of time with my business partner, going through all purchasing/inventory and coaching our managers.”
Ms. Légère’s focus at the bike shop is growing women’s cycling. “I started a women’s riding program, which offers weekly rides in spring, summer and fall,” she says. “I’ve also partnered with [cyclist/racer] Francine Haas to build an annual Women’s Cycling Clinic, held once a year in April for an entire day. Through the clinic, we want women to be more confident on their bikes, and we’re trying to get more women to participate in races and become really active in the sport.”
While Mr. Ricketts and Ms. Légère admit business is relatively slow during the winter, that doesn’t prevent the bike shop owners from engaging their customers year round. “Chicago’s a six-month bicycling environment, but we have a CompuTrainer at the studio in Highland Park,” says Mr. Ricketts. “A CompuTrainer provides our customers indoor training,” adds Ms. Légère. “People bring in their own bikes, set them up on the CompuTrainer [to create a stationary bike] and do a training program to stay in shape so they’re ready to ride come spring.”
The couple has also transferred their love of cycling over into philanthropic endeavors like the Wrigley Field Road Tour, which raises funds for Cubs Charities and World Bicycle Relief – an organization that’s established bicycle programs in several African countries to improve inhabitants’ access to education, healthcare and economic opportunity by increasing carrying capacity and accessible travel distance while decreasing the time it takes to commute to and from schools, clinics and markets.
“The Wrigley Field Road Tour is once a year, generally in August or September,” explains Mr. Ricketts. “World Bicycle Relief became a sponsor of the free bike valet at Wrigley Field, and one of the things I told the organization when they committed to sponsoring the free valet was that we’d make it worth their while. So we came up with the idea of riding our bikes to Milwaukee in 2011 to raise money for Cubs Charities and World Bicycle Relief.”
Mr. Ricketts admits they were a little more prepared for this year’s 100-mile Wrigley Field Road Tour, which started and ended at Wrigley Field and raised $500,000. “Everything was based on a handshake the first year, and I’d say we had a very organized ride this year thanks to Sylvie,” he says. “She did everything from getting corporate sponsorships to water bottles.” Ms. Légère adds, “I was the person who brought Cubs Charities and World Bicycle Relief together to make this happen. It was a natural role because I knew both organizations and now the Wrigley Field Road Tour has a foundation on which to grow.”
The couple is also active in several other charity organizations. They sit on the board of Opportunity Education, which makes quality education available to children in developing nations. “And we’re involved with the Colorado-based dZi Foundation, which does community development in Nepal,” says Ms. Légère, who’s also on the board of directors of Housing Opportunities for Women (HOW). “My sister-in-law Laura introduced me to HOW 10 years ago, and I’ve been on the board for four years,” she says. “It provides homeless women with a place to stay so they can rebuild their lives.”
Between working for the Cubs, owning/operating two bike shops, being involved with countless charities and raising three children — ages 6, 8 and 10 — one wonders how this dynamic duo can do it all. “It takes a lot of communication,” notes Ms. Légère, “and we have a fluid calendar that changes all the time.” Adds Mr. Ricketts, “The key to our relationship is having zero expectations when it comes to traditional roles. We both do whatever it takes to get through the day. There’s not one person who takes out the garbage or mows the lawn. And I make an effort to get home by 5pm at the latest every day.”
“Why are you making that face,” Mr. Ricketts asks his wife of 13 years. “I come home early!” Ms. Légère then smiles endearingly at her husband and says, “We schedule time for family and we never compromise that.”