By: Halla Dontje Lindell
“Stories are important,” said Sheldon Mains (he/him), Special Projects Adviser for Cycles for Change. As one of the original Learn to Ride instructors, the first director of what is now Cycles for Change’s Minneapolis Shop, and an electrical-engineer-turned-nonprofit-adviser, Sheldon has stories aplenty. Additionally, Jason Partridge (he/him), Executive Director of Cycles for Change, has his own wealth of adventures and experiences from his almost 12 years in a leadership position at Cycles for Change.
Sheldon has lived in Minneapolis nearly his entire life. He earned his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and has worked in energy conservation.
“I liked working with people more than electrons,” Sheldon confessed, so he went back to school to get a master’s degree in public policy from the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Since then, he’s worked with a variety of organizations—particularly nonprofits—including the Twin Cities Daily Planet, the Minneapolis Public Library Board, and the Cable Access Center in Minneapolis. His current role at Cycles for Change is adviser for the upcoming Minneapolis shop move.
Jason attended Macalester College in St. Paul, where he spent time “hunting for sweet bikes” in the dumpsters of Express Bikes and other nearby shops, along with studying Geography. He is a co-founder of the campus bike club, Mac Bike, and started a bike share program and open shop program out of a dorm basement. (The student organization is still going strong to this day.) The summer after his junior year of college, he took a two month, 2500-mile bike tour with another student he met through Mac Bikes. Since graduating, he’s been a consistent presence at Cycles for Change. Jason writes grants, program evaluation plans, budgets, and scenario projections; meets with funders, community members, and employees of other nonprofits; and fits in annual bike tours during the winter off-season.
These long-timers may have been around for a while, but their sincere enthusiasm for pure bicycling hasn’t dwindled.
“I’m a sports dork,” Jason said. “I play in a wood bat baseball league as a pitcher, and I also play in a recreational basketball league. I’ve always been a physically-embodied person. My world isn’t as good when I’m sitting at a table or a desk the whole time. For me as a young person, being able to go anywhere I wanted on the power of my own two legs, or to be a able to cross a continent on the power of my body… I don’t know. It’s just a viscerally enjoyable experience.”
For Sheldon, the attraction of bicycling has more to do with the opportunity to spend time outdoors and the practical aspect of using a bike to commute.
“I’m not a sports dork,” Sheldon said. “I have really bad hand-eye coordination, so any ball sports are totally out. But I love being outside, and I just love recreational and commuting bicycling.”
Sheldon has cycled through a variety of work commutes.
“From third grade on, I bicycled to my elementary school, which was a mile away, but I didn’t bike to my junior high or high school, even though they were within bicycling distance—because that wasn’t cool. While working for an engineering corporation, I had a five minute ride to work because it was all downhill, and I got to work and wasn’t sweaty. And then it was a 40 minute ride home, and I got my exercise because it was all uphill. It was perfect. When I worked in Hopkins, before there were any trails, I would bicycle the 12 miles from Seward [neighborhood in Minneapolis] and I had to use Excelsior Boulevard, which was scary. That was the only route. I’ve always liked biking. My favorite bike—the bike I ride the most—is probably older than most people at [Cycles for Change], a 1988 Trek road bike.”
Since both Jason and Sheldon have been involved with the organization, they have sought to find the intersection of bicycling with justice, equity, and access through the way they do their work and check their own identities.
“I feel a sense of ownership over this work,” Jason said. “I don’t mean that in a way that takes ownership away from anyone else, but that I feel personally responsible for forwarding the mission of Cycles for Change to deepen our integration with this neighborhood and our depth of commitment and execution towards being a justice organization that uses bicycles as a tool to change our society. I believe there is a place for white people, for privileged white men in this movement. I’m doing a ton of learning about what that place actually is, and how I, as a leader in this organization, need to change the way I do my work and how I need to grow… I’m trying to build those relationships of accountability with other white dudes; I’m trying to build relationships with BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color), WTF (Women, Trans, Femme) leadership of this organization, and to step back and allow [them to lead] the direction and vision of this organization.
“And what I feel like I have been uniquely successful in doing is bringing resources—particularly financial resources—to help grow the voice of this organization. If there’s a way that I’ve been able to use my privilege as a writer with a fancy education, I think that’s a very specific place.”
Sheldon is grateful for those who have helped him find his place.
“As a 60-some-year-old white male, I have to be conscious of my identity,” he said. “I’m not always great at leaving room for people. I try, I make mistakes, I ask people for help… It’s important to leave space for others to make decisions, have roles, and express their opinions, and I want to make sure people are comfortable enough to talk to me when I make mistakes. And I can’t list the number of people who have helped me; there have been so many.”
As Sheldon and Jason continue to learn alongside us all, they also bring wisdom to share. Sheldon wants to encourage confidence and vision in others, particularly the youth apprentices that work at Cycles for Change.
“In general, if you have something that you want to do, or you think is a great idea, don’t worry about the bureaucracy,” he said. “Ask forgiveness, not permission. Go ahead and do it. And if someone is on your case for doing it, say ‘whoops, sorry,’ and move on. But be brave.”
Jason encourages consideration of the ‘how’ question in the bicycling movement.
“I think movement builders need to do a better job of being specific,” he offered. “We can get into these plotted ideals, of ‘we want to build community, we want to change systems.’ But what does that mean? How do you do that? What does it take to change the infrastructure of how a city looks? We can’t just talk about nice things. We have to be able to tell a compelling story and get organized. But I love, love this work—I love the community of people that are in this space, I love the youth, I love the adults, I love the people that drop in, and I love the neighborhoods that we’re in. It’s been amazing to see where we were ten years ago or even five years ago compared to where we are now—and to think about where we are going to be in five years excites me and opens my heart.”