Meet the Staff Series #3: Open Shop Leads Open Up

By: Halla Dontje Lindell

If conspiratorial tones or muffled chuckling is heard around either of the Cycles for Change shops, there is a strong chance Jacob Schile (he/him/his), St. Paul Shop Programs Coordinator, or Andrew Magill (he/him/his), Minneapolis  Shop Programs Coordinator, is nearby.

These mechanics and teachers are the backbone of Open Shop at Cycles for Change, where they move from assisting one person to another—whether a neighborhood kid riding a battered BMX bike, someone with a brand new just-came-in-the-mail bike, a youth apprentice, a volunteer mechanic, or another staff member—all in stride. Although Andrew jokingly maintains that he spends most of his working hours picking up nitro cold press for the rest of the mechanic team, Jacob more accurately describes the work they both do as “answering questions about a variety of issues, but usually about bicycles.” Their joking, despite the oftentimes chaotic atmosphere of Open Shop, can be characterized by Jacob’s main catchphrase: “I’m just aiming for the most smiles per mile.”

Jacob was born and raised in Cedar Rapids, IA, but claims his “hometown” as Planet Earth, Alpha Centauri. Andrew is similarly hesitant to claim one specific hometown, but admits to growing up in Milwaukee, WI. And both Midwesterners didn’t fully embrace the bike scene until they were college students.

“I started biking when I was a kid, stopped biking when I got a car, and started biking [again] in college when I found a bike on the side of a road,” Jacob said. “I used biking for freedom. I liked to be able to just disappear. I started learning bike mechanics four years ago when I got a job fixing bikes at Erik’s [Bike Shop]. I’d worked on mopeds, but never fixing bicycles. Where did I learn to fix mopeds? The internet—same place I learned the most about bicycles.”

Andrew, on the other hand, became captivated by bicycling while riding a more upscale bike.

“My parents had bikes when I was real little,” Andrew said. “My mom had a 5-speed with a seat on the back that I would ride on; my dad would commute to work on a bicycle and in high school I would bike to school some. When I graduated from high school I got a Takara. Rad, it was rad. That was my only bike for close to ten years; I just rode it everywhere. When I went to college I would go on rides and get away from studying and all that, explore and get to places. I didn’t have a car. That’s probably when I fell in love [with biking]: in college. I still have that [Takara] frame.”

What keeps Jacob and Andrew motivated at work is the joy of repairing bikes as well as  the connections they are able to make with their co-workers and a wide community of Open Shop participants.

“Taking something that doesn’t work and making it better is satisfying,” Andrew said. “Like a lot of things, with bike repairs, there’s always something new to learn. Even though you fix a million flats, you can always learn about something that’s been around for a long time that you didn’t know about or some new technology that’s cool and actually pretty complicated. And I think with many bikes—not all—form and function meet. Bikes are tools to get around, but also impressive works of design. Bikes can be artistic and beautiful, and I think that keeps things interesting.”

Likewise, Jacob explains that in our day and age, things are more difficult to get repaired.

“Open up a car, nowadays, and there’s one piece of plastic over the hood,” he said. “We have all these electronics and they’re trying to ban the ‘Right to Repair’ in many states. Lots of people don’t get the opportunity to challenge themselves mechanically or they think ‘I’m not a mechanical person, and I can’t fix stuff.’ But if they hear about us and they end up here, we can teach the simplicity of the bicycle. You can learn how to fix a flat, you can learn how to adjust a brake, and you can feel some ownership over your bicycle. It’s no longer just a tool you’re using, but a tool you know how to fix. And it feels empowering to be able to offer those skills.”

Their passion isn’t limited to bicycles themselves, and includes the personal aspect of bike repair.

“I think getting to hear a bit about a person’s story, like why they want to buy a bike or how they got into biking or why they have this particular bike, and getting to know them a little is really cool, “ Andrew explained. “A bike is an object, but there’s a human side. Each bike that comes in comes in with a person.”

And at a time when many are thinking deeply about the power of collective and individual action to achieve change, Jacob and Andrew agree that fixing bikes is simply one (powerful) part of a larger movement.

“One time I saw this sign in the lobby of an apartment building that said ‘What skills do you have for the apocalypse?’” Andrew recalled. “Bike repair will definitely be needed. And more seriously, when we hit a point when we don’t have petroleum to fuel vehicles, people will still need a way to get around. Bikes are one way to slow the effects of climate change, and I also think it is easier to interact with people in public when you’re on a bike rather than in a car. That’s one of the things about a community bike shop—people come in from different walks of life but with a common interest. People have different things they are skilled at and passionate about, and all of that is needed. But people have to get to the protest, right? Direct action is important, but so is behind the scenes work.”

Jacob sees a community bike shop as an opportunity to model a shifting paradigm.

“Having a space like this, we can role model that there are alternate ways to meet problems,” he said. “Maybe someone has other skills, and they can see this model and be inspired. Riding a bicycle, even when only one trip a week, it’s still one trip a week saved. And more importantly, when the world’s falling apart, biking can give you some endorphins to think better and feel better.”

Finally, the program coordinators emphasize their gratitude that they are a part of the Cycles for Change community.

“If you have to make a living, if you can do it in a way that makes someone’s day better or advances someone’s ability to do something around bikes, that’s a cool thing,” Andrew said

“There’s not a place I have ever known like C4C,” Jacob echoed. “And if I’m going to trade my time for money, I think this is one of the luckiest opportunities I have to do that.”

Meet the Staff Series #2: Learning, teaching to love biking

By: Halla Dontje Lindell, Cycles for Change Intern

Ever wondered who’s behind Cycles for Change’s Learn to Ride Program? And what is their story? Although there are many hands involved in bringing this program to the community, Anneka Kimiecik (they/them), Community Outreach and Program Associate, and Pacha Galavis (she/her), Learn to Ride and Bike Grant Program Coordinator, do much of the heavy lifting.

Anneka, who joined the Cycles for Change team this year, didn’t have a linear experience learning to ride a bicycle. They first hopped on a bike when they were six or seven, while living on an agricultural research station near Madison, WI.

“My dad taught me, but when spring came after a winter of not riding, I couldn’t remember how to ride a bicycle,” Anneka said. “I got really frustrated, and was like, ‘no, forget it!’”

However, because both their parents worked full-time, Anneka spent afternoons with the kids of a neighboring farm family. Then those kids decided to go on a bike ride.

“I didn’t want to be left behind, so I found this green bike that sort of fit me, and I said I was coming too,” Anneka recalled. “I retaught myself how to ride by gliding down [the neighboring family’s] driveway so that I could bike with all of the other kids. I continued to practice on a big hill by a machine shed, where I would see if I could bomb down it really fast and then coast all the way to my front door.”

Anneka has since upgraded from that ill-fitting, borrowed green bike, and owns a track bike, a singlespeed cross bike that they ride in the winter, and a Surly cross trek that they use for bike camping. Biking is foundational to Anneka’s lifestyle. Although they have a driver’s license and legally could drive, they’ve remarkably driven a car just three times in the past seven years. Anneka did own a car when first living in the metro area, but when it was ruined in a flood they decided to seize the opportunity to go carless.

Anneka’s primary form of transportation became city buses, with a small amount of biking mixed in. Then, in 2004, Twin Cities bus drivers went on strike for over a month. Instead of busing, Anneka started biking everyday.

“I loved it, and I never looked back,” they said. “I didn’t go back to riding the bus [after the strike ended]; I just kept biking.”

Pacha, who’s beginning her second year working at Cycles for Change, first had a bike as a kid living in North Carolina. Although her mom loved to bike, the lack of trails and roads that could safely accommodate her made rides a rare occurrence for Pacha. She later joined her dad in Minneapolis. He did not have a car and biked throughout the winter despite having a low-budget bike and no fancy equipment.

“I fell in love with biking during those years because I got to spend time with my dad and go around town” she said. “Exploring the river, woods, and the street was the best part.” She has replaced the “super heavy and horrible” bike her dad bought her from the Lake Street K-Mart with a hybrid Bianchi Grizzly, and continues to explore the city.

When reflecting on the Learn to Ride program, both Anneka and Pacha mentioned the excitement they witness in participants.

“When I started [Learn to Ride], I knew I loved to bike and I wanted to share that,” Pacha said. “But I didn’t realize how life changing it is, and how much it means to people who go to the classes.” The “overjoyed, geeked-out, ‘like a little kid’ reaction” that people have when they start pedaling gets her out of bed on Saturday mornings.

“There’s a lasting impact that I really appreciate and that makes the work fulfilling,” she says. “There are people I have connections with even when their session is finished. There’s real friendship there, and it’s not just ‘you’re my instructor and I’m your student’, but instead ‘wow, you really helped me do this and you did it with care, so therefore let’s be friends and bicyclists in this community together.’ I feel like could call them up right now and say ‘Hey, what’s up?” I’ve gotten to know people in my community, and that’s really important to me. I’m going to be around here for a while, so I should get to know my neighbors.”

“So many adults feel that they are the only adult that doesn’t know how to ride a bicycle,” Anneka said. “And then everyone comes together with different stories…but they have this goal and they’re doing it. I love that and I love the fact that the majority of Learn to Ride participants are women of color. I want to see more women and more people of color feel that they can take over the trails of Minneapolis.”

This summer, Pacha will be passing Learn to Ride leadership to Anneka so she can focus on expanding the Bike Grant Program. Anneka will bring their own wisdom and experience to the Learn to Ride Program as a long-time biker and educator, and both Anneka and Pacha will continue to serve large community needs.

 

Meet the Staff Story Series #1: Retail Reflection

Our summer intern, Halla, is doing a story series highlighting the awesome C4C staff. This is her first story in the series.

Jeff Lathrop (PGPs: he/him), Cycles for Change’s Service and Retail Manager, and Jesus Suarez Gurrola (PGPs: he/him/bro), Cycles for Change’s Retail Mechanic, didn’t get along when they started working together. Jeff didn’t like the way Jesus did things. But a lot has changed over three years of “bro-ing out” in Cycles for Change’s retail shop, where they spend about half of their time spinning wrenches and the other half interacting with customers.

Jeff, a local guy who went to St. Paul’s Central High School and studied music business at St. Paul’s McNally Smith College of Music, bought a bike during college because he needed a convenient and inexpensive way to get around. He quickly realized that his bike would fit better if he made a few adjustments, so he added riser bars and a shorter stem. He said, “If you’re interested in learning, you seek out more and more.” His interest led him to Cycles for Change, a “cool as hell” place he could go to get the tools he needed and continue tinkering.

Jesus’ adventure with bikes budded when he started riding at the age of six, but he really got into bikes while working at a shop during high school. In his hometown of Jerez, a city in the Mexican state of Zacatecas, he worked on beat-up kid bikes and learned the creativity and innovation necessary to fix bikes that have seen better days. “I kept showing up to the shop and eating their food, and they finally gave me a job,” he said. He later moved to California, and then joined his older sister in Minnesota where he attended diesel technician school and started working at Cycles for Change.

Nowadays, the two admit to being good friends. They buy each other meals, joke about their bromance, and ride together on the weekends with their co-worker Jacob (the St. Paul Shop Programs Coordinator). In fact, the two mechanics each have over 15 bicycles of their own. Jesus collects old school BMX bikes, and also rides a mountain bike and a crosstrek (and even dabbles in unicycle riding). Jeff’s broad array of bikes includes a low rider, a BMX, two fat-tire bikes, and two road bikes. Their skills are in high demand, and both mechanics are perpetually busy, so the last bikes that get worked on are their own. By having multiple bikes, they can be sure one of them is ready to grab when they want to shred the streets or trails.

Their forever curious mentality helps them to have fun at work. Jeff says, “If you put me in a dungeon with a radio and a bunch of tools and bikes, I’ll be a happy person forever.” In addition to bicycle mechanics, Jeff values the regular interactions he has with the community he lives in and works with. He appreciates the autonomy available to him as manager of the retail shop, and explains the potential and opportunity he sees within Cycles for Change’s work. “We’re growing,” he said. “It’s not without pain, but [every year] we’re doing a little better and a little bigger. I’d like to see increased organization and increased sustainability, growth of the retail shop and open shop, and access to more resources for moving forward as a community cycling center.” Jesus strives to set Cycles for Change apart from other bike shops that may come across as snobby, and makes sure to ask all customers clarifying questions so he can effectively give people the information they need.

No matter how one spins it, the expertise and care that lies within Cycles for Change’s retail staff is evident. They have the kind of knowledge one can’t get from a book, and they’re an integral part of the way Cycles for Change is tightening its spokes within the Twin Cities community. Jeff and Jesus will keep retailing, repairing, and doing the good work.

We’re hiring an AmeriCorps VISTA member!

C4C is hiring for an AmeriCorps VISTA position: Volunteer and Community Engagement Specialist. This VISTA member will be tasked with reviewing, strategizing, and developing/improving systems for volunteer tracking and management.

The AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) program began in 1965 and was created by President John F. Kennedy to be a domestic counterpart to the Peace Corps. It is a national service program with a goal to eliminate poverty by placing VISTA members in organizations to build capacity through resource development and volunteer mobilization.

Learn more about AmeriCorps and the VISTA program here.

Apply to our open position here.

New Hours Begin April 3

Beginning Monday, April 3, 2017, our hours will change to accommodate a busier summer season. Check out our new hours below!

Retail – St. Paul
Tuesday: 1-8pm
Wednesday: 1-8pm
Thursday: 1-8pm
Friday: 1-6pm
Saturday: 1-6pm
Closed Sunday and Monday

Open Shop – St. Paul
Wednesday: 1-8pm
Thursday: 1-8pm
Friday: 1-6pm
Saturday: 1-6pm

Open Shop – Minneapolis
Wednesday: 4-8pm
Saturday: 1-6pm

Grease Rag
Monday: 6-8pm – Minneapolis
Tuesday: 6-8pm – St. Paul

C4C Employees Attend Frostbike

By: Andrew Magill, C4C Open Shop Minneapolis Coordinator

Frostbike is Quality Bicycle Products’ (QBP) annual wintertime educational gathering and bike industry trade show.  QBP is a major bicycle parts distributor located in Bloomington, MN, that also owns several popular bicycle brands including Surly, Civia, All City and Salsa. QBP plays an important role in advocacy to further the development of bicycling in Minnesota and elsewhere, whether it be related to trail development, dealer and mechanic education, or community bike programs. QBP has been a C4C supporter for many years, and this year they funded scholarships for a group of female bicycle mechanics (including a C4C employee) to attend a two-week mechanic training program in Ashland, OR.

Six C4C employees had the opportunity to attend Frostbike this year.  C4C’s retail manager Jeff Lathrop worked to make it possible for all of us to be at the event, seeing it as a chance to connect outside of the shop environment, and an opportunity to learn about new bike products and designs. The first day of the two-day event was focused on educational seminars related to bike sales and repair service, trends in the bicycle industry, and effective communication. I was very fascinated by an interactive seminar I attended that covered various preferred communication styles based on a theory of personality types.

Another highlight for me was talking with other folks I know from local bicycle shops including the Hub and Venture North. I met and talked with folks from a small shop in New Mexico, as well as a community program and retail shop located in Burlington, VT, called Old Spokes Home. The folks from Vermont contacted C4C ahead of time as they wanted to learn about our programs and mission. I arranged for them to visit our Minneapolis location during Open Shop and to lend them two bikes to visit a few other nearby bike shops.

Another takeaway from the two-day gathering that many of my colleagues noticed was that the sales, service, and manufacturer side of the bike industry was heavily represented at this event (but certainly not exclusively) by white and male individuals. There was little organized discussion of this fact, but those I talked with agreed that this needs to change right away to better reflect everyone who is riding, repairing, and buying bikes.

Finally, I do feel QBP was a great host; in other words, they know how to “put on a party.” We were welcomed to the various events, very well fed, entertained, and had easy access to the necessary details ahead of time. I really enjoyed meeting and learning from several of their employees. I was even escorted through the preferred bicycle short cut over the last mile of a bike route to QBP headquarters, by a Q employee who was riding to work Saturday morning and came upon me as I confusedly looked at Google maps on my phone.

Interview with Bryonna Baines About UBI Mechanic Training

C4C Mechanic Bryonna Baines was a QBP 2017 Women’s Bicycle Mechanic Scholarship recipient. Here, she reflects on her experience at United Bicycle Institute.

What was the application process like?

I applied a couple times before and didn’t get it, but thought about applying this year and the application was really easy. It wasn’t essay form, which made it so that there wasn’t too much content. But it was hard to answer questions in under 125 words. I ended up typing huge 500-word answers and then had to take it all out. I would work on it and walk away from it and I typed up the whole thing and I removed myself from my computer for like a day and when I came back it was all gone. So I had to make the choice to retype everything or just not submit it. I was typing it up in Google Docs, so I hit the undo button a million times until I had the paragraph I wrote for one question, and then did over and over for each question until I had everything back. I CTRL-Z’ed hard. And then I submitted it and didn’t think I would get it because I hadn’t gotten it before. They never said why I didn’t get it in previous years. I think the difference this time was I did it less like a resume and more about who I am. It was less about what I’ve done but more about what I am about–about underrepresented people in the cycling community, because I am one of those people. I talked about how it was rare that I had the opportunity to race, wrench, and all that kind of stuff. And I got the scholarship.

 

Give me a snapshot of the two week training.

It was January 30-February 10, 2017 in Ashland, OR at United Bicycle Institute (UBI).

There were 16 total mechanics including me. All WTF mechanics from across the country. Majority of people were POC, one was transitioning and identified as he/him. This year they were going for POC. Previous years weren’t as POC. But it could have just been who applied in each year.

We’d go to class 8am-5pm and had a huge UBI student’s handbook that we went through. It was similar to the Park Tool book I’ve used. We’d go through a chapter or two a day, depending on how thorough each chapter was. For example, the wheel building chapter was a day’s worth of content plus actually doing wheel building. Most days we would learn about a subject and then work on the subject hands-on. One or two subjects a day, depending on how dense they were.

 

What subjects did you cover?

Wheel building, derailleurs, tires, frame building, bearings, headset adjustment, crank set adjustment, hydraulic disk brake bleeds (fluid system instead of a mechanical system), and suspension fork overhaul.

I was familiar with every subject because I’ve been doing this for 7 years. But every subject had some interesting history behind it that I wasn’t aware of or names to the stuff I’d been seeing and had been just broadly categorizing. It created more dialogue to add to my work. Before, it was like “bearings are like this and work like that,” but we would just dive so deep into it. Before I could talk about bearings for like 15 seconds but now I feel like I could write a book about it.

 

Were the other mechanics there doing similar work as you?

In the broad sense of the type of people I met, there were just a bunch of cool, POC women for the most part that we’re doing hard, breakthrough work in the cycling industry. Most of these people were working or running their own nonprofit or shop in areas where there was a large concentration of low-income people or marginalized people or underrepresented cyclists. For example there was a black chick from Brooklyn working at a high-end shop in Portland in a very white area. They were all doing cool stuff like that, breaking the mold.

Every night after class, we would have some beers and talk about the industry and we’d swap stories about what it’s like working in a male-dominated industry and what it’s like to work in each city. I was really interested in the fact that there were a lot of people doing similar work to C4C, having a retail shop and doing a lot of programming. So it was interesting to hear from people doing the same things in different cities and struggling in the same way or succeeding in it. So I got to ask questions about why they think what they’re doing is working so well or not working so well. Sarah, who worked at a shop in Denver, said that the reason she thinks her retail shop is generating revenue and subsidizing all the programming was for two reasons: 1. They were known as the quality mechanics and shop operators in town, so people were willing to pay a little more and know they were getting quality service. They had a higher quality product that you could trust. 2. They were in a location in Denver where there were a lot of cyclists who could afford to spend a little more for higher quality service.

 
Tell me all about the mountain bike ride.

I was super stoked about the mountain bike ride. They offered different outings for the Saturday we were not in class: road race, hiking, or mountain biking. A lot of people were interested in mountain biking but there was a $75 charge for rental, which was normal but were broke, so a lot of people were on the fence about going. The day before the ride, QBP (Quality Bicycle Parts, who sponsored the scholarships) said they would cover the cost of the ride, so everybody decided they wanted to go. We were going with Nathan, one of our instructors, but he was a professional enduro rider. We watched his Youtube videos of him shredding hard and fast. So we were all intimidated by this guy and there were a mix of people there who either lived where there was mountain biking or people who grew up in the city and have never seen a mountain bike trail in their life.

They gave us just the nicest mountain bikes–full suspension, dropper seat posts. They paid for it all. They shuttled us up this mountain–two vans with a huge trailer of bikes. We went up this dirt road on a mountain only wide enough to fit one car. And I was scared to shuttle up it. There was someone going down the mountain with a horse and we had to stop the van and proceed with cautious and suddenly the horse freaked out but we bypassed that. When we got to the top of the mountain, we had to do a good amount of climbing on our bikes, which is something I’m not used to in Minnesota. But then Nathan took us on these trails that were pretty easy and incredibly beautiful. We got to one point that was a beautiful overlook, surrounded by all these beautiful mountain in Ashland and the sky is completely clear of clouds but there’s a mist coming down. I learned it was called the “Ashland Sunshine.” We could see the mountains in the distance that had snow at the top–someone was skiing up there on snow-capped mountains while we were biking down here.

But then it was time to shred. It was just the best mountain biking ever, ever, ever. I mountain bike here in Minnesota and it’s alright. I’ve gone to Moab and it was pretty insane. But this was just the best. And we had the best bikes. It was sick. And there was a photographer from QBP posted up at a good vantage point and we’d be going around a berm and he’d snap a picture. And so I was just in heaven, absolutely, just loving it, making a lot of noise. It was a very long descent but very beautiful and perfect trail conditions. A couple others and I just followed Nathan, and I’m sure he toned it down a bit, but we were shreddin’ it. Me and a chick from Virginia who had mountains in her area and another from Hawaii who also had mountains. And I’m from Minnesota and we don’t have any mountains and I’m just loving it and they’re like, “How do you know how to do this?” So we were the shredder crew, and man, we’d hit these jumps and super tight switchbacks. And every now and then we’d have to wait for the rest of the ladies to catch up (every one but one person from class went on this ride).

When we were done with the gnarly rad mountain bike ride and were riding on the road back to the school, we were going pretty fast down the road and it was fairly steep and we were up in elevation. We were a big cluster riding together and we went around this turn and someone fell hard. She had looked back and looked ahead and grabbed a handful of brakes and these hydraulic brakes are incredibly powerful so she went overhead. She was unconscious and immobile. We got someone to give her a ride and she could barely get up and get into the car. She punctured her liver and bruised her pancreas and was in the hospital for 3-4 days and had to Google Chat into class. It was insane because we just had the gnarliest mountain bike ride on these mountains but she fell on the road. The ride’s not over til it’s over.

 

What is one major takeaway from your time at UBI?

I think the coolest thing was that there was this lady named Laura from Sram (a really big bike component company). She was a really good role model, so she taught a class, and just talked to us during an open discussion about how she came to be and made a career out of cycling as a woman. So that was inspiring. She just kept saying, “Keep doing what you’re doing and just power through all the bullshit.” I’d say the biggest thing was how not only Laura was inspiring but the other people that were there were doing really important things in the industry and they are the underdogs. Just by watching my instructors teach classes, I learned a lot about that teaching, specifically better ways to teach in Grease Rag and better ways to explain things. It wasn’t so much the content that I took away, but the way they taught the content.