A one-stop shop for cyclists

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November 7, 2011 // UPDATED 8:32 am - November 7, 2011
By: Drew Kerr
Drew Kerr
// Venture North on Glenwood is a new community hub for biking resources //

It may seem like a curious time to open a bike shop — what with the ever-cooler climes and steadily shortening days — but that’s exactly what’s happening in the Harrison neighborhood later this month.

And if the bikers don’t materialize immediately, kept at bay by the weather or other reasons, well, that’s all right, its proponents say.

That’s because this bike shop, Venture North, is unlike any of its two-dozen counterparts around the city.

Located at 1830 Glenwood Ave. N., the bike shop is being opened with the use of a stimulus grant that the city received in 2010 to tackle obesity in areas where residents were found to be struggling with their health.

It will be run by the Reedemer Center for Life, a non-profit partner of Redeemer Lutheran Church, which is located just down the street and has been working on economic development, housing and other issues in the neighborhood since 1988.

The shop, which got $350,000 in what will serve essentially as seed money to open and operate for a year, will offer traditional bike shop fare — helmets, locks, gear and, of course, bikes — but also a unique collection of services designed to encourage biking and walking in the community.

Classes on bike maintenance, safety and healthy living will be offered. Trained bikers will lead group rides. And the shop will allow bike- and pedestrian-focused groups to meet at the location, which will also include a small Dogwood Coffee kiosk.

The mission: get people in north Minneapolis, even if gradually, to embrace walking or biking to work.      

“We’re really trying to create a social hub for exercise,” said Jacob Flinsch-Garrison, who will serve as the store’s manager. “We know that people are more comfortable doing something if they do it in with a group of friends, so we’re trying to build that community.”

City officials say they decided to focus their attention on north Minneapolis because the community did not have a bike shop and residents in the area showed higher rates of hypertension, diabetes and obesity.

The obesity rate among North Minneapolis residents is just over 30 percent, compared to 18.7 percent citywide, according to a 2010 Hennepin County study.  

“We want to make it easier for people to make healthier choices and to move that dial,” said Kristen Klinger, the Coordinator of the Minneapolis Department of Health and Family Support’s Communities Putting Prevention to Work program.  

Klinger said the new bike shop is one of nine similarly-minded projects in Minneapolis that received a share of a $2.2 million stimulus grant designed to tackle obesity. Other initiatives included spreading food stamps to farmers markets and hiring people to do outreach at city parks to help deflate the perception that they are unsafe.

Several other bicycle-related initiatives were also pursued in north Minneapolis. Money was also used to bring in Nice Ride, to add bike and pedestrian signage and to work with schools to develop safe routes for students.

Klinger said it’s too soon to tell exactly what kind of progress is being made, but officials recognize there is plenty of progress to be made.

 Just 4.5 percent of North Minneapolis residents said they biked to work three or four days a week, compared to a citywide rate of 8 percent, according to the Hennepin County study. Just 12 percent of North Minneapolis residents said they walked to a destination three or four days a week, compared to a citywide rate of 19 percent.

One reason for the low numbers may not be just the lack of a bike shop, but the lack of infrastructure itself. North Minneapolis lacks connections to many of the city’s bike trails, and building that infrastructure is a longer-term goal of those behind Venture North.

Ethan Fawley, the president of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, said the neighborhood has suffered from serious barriers despite its proximity to downtown and south Minneapolis.

Glenwood Avenue, the best way to get from Harrison into downtown, has been a challenging corridor, and connections to south Minneapolis and the Cedar Lake Trail are also not ideal, he said.

The City’s Bike Master Plan calls for bike lanes on Glenwood, Penn Avenue, Cedar Lake Road and Van White Lane, however, and proponents say Venture North will serve as a catalyst to take advantages of those improvements.

Interest has already begun to materialize, backers say. When Venture North advertised a program to train youth how to be bike mechanics, the number of applications was twice the amount that could be accepted.

A group of seven young people — all 16- to 23-years-old, some completely unfamiliar with bikes — were ultimately selected and started a 16-week class on the basics of bike mechanics in the Venture North’s basement in October.

When they finish, they will be able to move into a 12-week apprenticeship at a city bike shop and spend two weeks in Portland, a regimen organizers say could set them up for a career in the industry.

“The idea is to create mechanics who will be able to walk right into a bike shop and be ready to work,” said Casey Pavek, the store’s service and education manager.

Even if those involved don’t end up working on bikes for a career, though, Pavek says he hopes the program will give participants valuable life skills.

“It’s not just about the technical aspects of bike maintenance,” Pavek said. “There’s a lot of life coaching as well. It’s really a learning how to learn thing.”