By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
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Jeremy Werst can't pinpoint exactly where he lost his mind.
On a November afternoon, he sits in front of a computer in the living room of his one-bedroom Powderhorn Park apartment, nervously shaking his leg against the base of an office chair.
"I know that I was very, very worked up," says Werst, glancing off distractedly. "I know that I was exceptionally manic, that everything was falling apart for me, that the world did not make any sense."
Werst is the founder of Mpls Bike Love, an online forum where cyclists gather to discuss all things related to the bicycling culture of the Twin Cities. In just four years, the site accumulated more than 4,300 members, many of whom check the site several times daily.
Somewhere in the site's short history, Bike Love became more than just a forum for discussion. It became a lobbying force capable of convening protests and flooding the phones of the City Council. It became a means for the city's diverse culture of cyclists to connect.
This February, when Bicycling Magazine's Steve Friedman named Minneapolis the best city for bicyclists in the country, Bike Love was among the deciding factors. "In my mind, that is why it's so great," says Friedman.
But as Bike Love's popularity rose over the years, so did Werst's anxiety. Werst's mania came to overwhelm his daily life until he could no longer hold down a job.
At a time when he had the ear of politicians, he sold his own bike just to make rent.
This past summer, his manic thoughts and obsession with the site climaxed, resulting in him being hauled away in handcuffs.
"I didn't really recognize the depth of what it was doing to me."
In 2005, Werst worked the third shift at a printing shop in downtown Minneapolis. The job afforded him a few minutes every hour to steal away from the printing machines and surf the internet. On those occasions, he would invariably peruse the fixed-gear subset of Bikeforums.net, a national forum for bicyclists.
Werst had problems with the Bikeforums site. For one, moderators heavily censored the content. The site also limited conversation to the subject of fixed-gears.
By the summer of 2006, Werst had started picking up more responsibilities at the printing shop, working with new computer software. He was happy for the added workload, until the day his boss called him into his office to explain that the raise would be for far less than what Werst had expected.
"I was like, 'Okay, fuck you guys," remembers Werst. "'I'm going to take my week's vacation now,' and I walked out the door."
Werst biked back to his apartment and spent the next few days drinking. Whiskey was Werst's medication of choice in those days—Jameson, specifically. He downed a few 1.75 liter jugs every week.
Somewhere in the haze, Werst decided he would use his newfound free time to build a website that would be an alternative to the bike forums he and his friends spent so much time visiting.
The site would be simple. It would have a place for general discussion, a place to give tips on different kinds of rides, a place to buy and sell equipment, a place to post pictures of nice bikes—a.k.a. "bike porn." Basically, it would be a place for Werst and his friends to hang out online.
He had even thought of a name, an homage to the collection of short independent biking films: From Portland with Bike Love.
"I was like, 'Okay, I could do that in my sleep,'" remembers Werst. "So I basically did do it in my sleep. I passed out while the files were uploading."
When he awoke, he was surprised to see that the site already had its first members.
Werst was quick to take advantage of his sudden audience.
When four bikers died in a single month, he rallied hundreds for a group ride to commemorate them. When a city construction project made the bike lanes on Hennepin and First Avenues almost invisible, he organized a protest ride. He used the site to petition for changes to a project on Bryant Avenue; the City Council ultimately kicked it back to a review board, which solved the problems Werst had identified.
"There are elements of the bike community that don't easily engage with the system, don't really engage with government," explains City Councilmember Robert Lilligren. "With the internet, you can kind of engage without having to be part of the city administration, to be part of government. And I think the bike community here does that very, very well, and I think Bike Love is really big part of that."
As the forum grew in popularity, Werst grew increasingly obsessed with it.
Bike Love replaced meals. It replaced sleeping. He became convinced his work would change the world.
"I felt like I was given a mission," says Werst. "It was something that was going to get us to stop driving automobiles; it was something that was going to be the catalyst for change in bringing us into a new environmental utopia."