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.