Building a better biking community

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November 8, 2010
By: Michelle Bruch
Michelle Bruch
// Four new biking routes, new shop for ‘citizen rider’ on the way //

A new bike shop is negotiating to move to Central Avenue later this year, and it isn’t your average high-end retailer.

Recovery Bike Shop is aimed at the “citizen rider” — someone dusting off an old Schwinn, for example, or someone who hasn’t ridden a bike in years. The store has scouts that pick through garage sales on a weekly basis to find vintage bikes to fix up and sell. The store also provides bikes to people living in transitional housing.

“We’re changing the world, one bike at a time,” said Mike Smieja, a partner involved in the project.

Recovery Bike Shop is arriving at a time when cycling is taking center stage in Northeast. Four major bike routes are finally under development. A Northeast marketing firm called Bicycle Theory recently bought the heavily-trafficked MplsBikeLove online forum. Staff there helped convince Bicycling Magazine to name Minneapolis the nation’s No. 1 biking city this year.

“[We told them] how tight the whole community is,” said Bjorn Christianson, the forum’s new lead administrator at Bicycle Theory. “Multiple independent shops are all friends, as opposed to having
cutthroat competition.”

Citywide, biking is more popular than ever. Minneapolis bike counts have increased at least 30 percent since 2007, and the city’s percentage of bike commuters has gradually risen since 1990.

“There is a great shift in the public mindset,” said Council Member Kevin Reich (1st Ward), who is a biker himself. “More people are seeing it as real transportation.”

Northeast doesn’t contain the city’s busiest bikeways. Bike counts conducted by Transit for Livable Communities and the city of Minneapolis indicate that bikes are more prevalent in Dinkytown, Downtown and portions of South Minneapolis. But Northeast could catch up. Bike traffic north of Lowry & Central has tripled since 2007, according to the city.

Tony Hull, an analyst with Transit for Livable Communities, said he is anxiously waiting to see if Northeast biking grows as a result of all the new routes under construction. Prep work is underway to fill a gap in the bike system along 18th Avenue; create bike boulevards parallel to Central along Fillmore, Polk, Tyler and 6th Avenue; build a bike boulevard along much of 22nd Avenue that cuts down to the 18th Avenue bikeway; and create new bike lanes and boulevards down 5th Street.

“A lot of mileage is happening all at once,” Reich said. “It’s exciting to see all of this coming to fruition.”

MplsBikeLove forum heads to NE

The new bike paths will be closely watched by thousands of members of, the city’s definitive biking forum. It’s a place to plan rides and seek advice on things like how to dress for a winter ride.

With the forum drawing 800 unique visits per day, Northeast-based Bicycle Theory jumped at the chance to buy the forum this fall when it was offered up for sale. The company is based in the Northrup King building and offers graphic design, web and branding services to clients like Peace Coffee, Speedhound Bikes and Life Time Fitness.

Bicycle Theory wants to keep the forum free and operating as it always has. Staff are kicking around ideas to improve the site, however, such as an events calendar, new edited content and a space to highlight noteworthy items that percolate up from the forum.

Christianson was the 21st person to join the MplsBikeLove forum (now there are 4,200 members), and he’s an authority on everything from bike polo to the creation of indoor bike races. He said the forum provides four years worth of extensive search results.  

“[The forum] makes Minneapolis a better place to ride,” added Principal Ben McCoy.

Recovery Bike Shop opening next year

A couple of posts on the forum already rave about the Recovery Bike Shop, which currently operates out of an Uptown home and is slated to reopen in Northeast in January. It will occupy the retail space at the northwest corner of the Eastside Food Co-op on 26th & Central, pending board approval.

The shop was founded two years ago by Brent Fuqua, a former community journalist and photographer. It’s an outgrowth of a period in Fuqua’s life in which he fell into addiction, ran his photography business into the ground and decided to enter rehab. When he moved into a transitional housing facility in Uptown, he started working on his old Schwinn Cruiser as a means of transportation.

“I had one bike, and I decided to take care of that bike and let everything else fall into place from there,” he said. “There is a lot of stress and anxiety with getting your life back together. Biking calms you down.”

A friend taught him how to fix up a few more bikes, and before he knew it, Fuqua had a full-time business repairing bikes and selling them on Craigslist.

Fuqua has returned the favor by providing bikes to people in transitional housing at the House of Charity Downtown and at sober houses in Northeast and Uptown. He explained that bikes are vital for residents who have lost their licenses or can’t afford transportation to work.

“Bikes are my job,” he said. “But they have done more to get me back on my feet by simply not spending money on transportation.”

The partners at Recovery Bike also operate a sober house near Lowry & Buchanan, and they have donated bikes to kids on that block that don’t have them. They’re planning to donate on a larger scale next spring by collecting kids’ bikes.

“We’ll fix them all, make sure they’re running, and put bikes in the hands of kids,” Smieja said.