Riding a bike can create a certain feeling of independence, and Jenna Severson (she/her/hers) is learning that fixing a bike can create a feeling of independence through reciprocity both in community mentorship and individual learning.
Jenna sands and stains floors by day and is a bike mechanic apprentice by night. She came to the Twin Cities looking for diversity, opportunity, and to learn new things.
“I was in customer service for years and got burned out,” she says. “Now I go to work, get the job done, and do it well. I’ve been sanding and staining floors for three months and I’ve never had any sanding experience. I like to learn new skills.”
And that desire for exciting opportunities that expand her skills is why Jenna has also taken up learning bicycle mechanics. She regularly comes to Cycles for Change’s Grease Rag Open Shop nights to work on her own bike, as well as help others.
“I went to the [Cycles for Change] St. Paul location one day and saw how easy it was to talk to people and change my cables,” she explains. “They’ll show you how to do it instead of doing it for you. I’m looking for guidance and I learn by doing. It’s something you don’t have to go to college for.”
After becoming familiar with C4C and Open Shop, Jenna wanted to expand her involvement in the organization.
“I emailed about volunteering and learned about Learn to Ride volunteering,” she says. “I did two sessions. It was fun to see how quickly people could catch on. Or even just how explaining one or two things consecutively was all they needed. That brought me a new appreciation for learning to ride a bike when I was young. I learned how to break down and explain a process that seemed so natural to me.”
Jenna’s involvement in the world of bicycling goes beyond Cycles for Change.
“I apprentice at Cherry Cycles [in Minneapolis],” she says. “It’s a little bit of volunteering and a little bit of learning. And it’s really fun to learn from another woman who owns her own business. Cali (owner of Cherry Cycles and another Cycles for Change volunteer) has a little dart board set up for tasks that need to get done and we use that to pick our tasks for the day. I’ll need Cali’s guidance for most of the tasks–like if I don’t know if a hub is adjusted correctly, I can ask her questions. It’s the learning I like to do–hands on learning–but she knows people learn differently. We’ll just do some organizing in the shop, cleaning bikes, truing wheels. I’m someone who needs to practice a lot before I feel comfortable with something. I need to fail a little bit, too–that’s how I learn.”
Being involved in bicycling and bicycle mechanics has taught Jenna more than just the specifics of bike parts and how they operate–it’s also taught her confidence, independence, and community building.
“I do have knowledge to give even though I don’t think I do,” she laughs. “So, honestly, learning my own confidence is a skill. And when I’m sharing my skills, people show their appreciation for someone having that knowledge. Even just telling someone to pass on the left or telling them that cars won’t always stop for you is helpful for people to be safe. And as they are learning these things, it just becomes more natural. It’s satisfying to give people the building blocks [they need for bicycling].
“Having a bike has been such a great tool for me and my independence, and giving others those skills to learn to ride and be confident can help them be more independent in their own lives, too. Just starting with these skills on a bike can transfer to other things; it also builds community.”
Besides working with floors and apprenticing with bicycles, Jenna also volunteers her time at the Northeast Minneapolis Tool Library and makes it a point to create time to do what she loves.
“At the Tool Library, I help people check out tool materials,” she says. “It’s fun to introduce people to the library and sign them up. You can donate tools, use tools, take classes–members get discounts.
“I work very part-time and try to just live within my means. Our culture thinks people are lazy if their schedule isn’t full. I like to enjoy my life and find community and not live such a stressful life.”