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Giving back with bikes

Biking Guide

When Matt Tennant started Full Cycle Bike Shop, it wasn’t about selling bikes; it was about building relationships through cycling.

The nonprofit bike shop in Powderhorn gives homeless youth the opportunity to build their own bikes and work paid internships where they learn mechanics and basic business skills. Tennant estimates 120 kids have taken advantage of the internship over the past seven years, in addition to a couple hundred youth each year that build and receive their own bikes.

“Young folks use the bikes as transportation, but they’re also really interested in learning a new skill and getting employment opportunities,” he said.

Tennant started the Full Cycle program in 2002 when he would connect homeless youth with bikes as a street outreach worker in a shelter. Cycling became a vehicle for Tennant to help kids during free bike appointments where they would learn how to build their own bike and make a connection. Through outreach like this, the store now gives out up to 200 bikes every year.

“It was about building bikes and building relationships,” he said.

Full Cycle is able to give out so many bikes because of a steady supply of donated parts and bikes. The store also sells new and used parts and offers a recycling service for damaged bikes.

Selling used bikes and parts came later, after Tennant saw that homeless young people regularly had barriers to employment. In 2008, selling bikes and parts, in addition to several other funding sources, become a consistent revenue stream to hire homeless youth on as interns.

Full Cycle offers six-month internships that consist of three months of learning the mechanics of fixing bikes and three months of working in the store. Tennant and his staff stagger the internships every three months so kids are constantly learning. 

Many interns come from transitional housing or shelters, he said, and plenty take advantage of Full Cycle’s other programs, such as a food delivery service, “Borrow-A-Bike” program and a youth-specific food shelf as part of Pillsbury United Communities.

Demand for the internship has stayed consistent. During each three-month season, Tennant said the shop receives 12-15 applications.  Full Cycle has outreach staff that make relationships with shelters and several former interns tout the program to friends, according to intern letters the shop published on its website.

“It’s gotten really competitive,” he said. “It’s not a sure thing. You have to show up, interview and you may or may not be picked.”

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For more information about Full Cycle, go to www.fullcyclebikeshop.org.