Picture a bike commuter, and you might see a lanky white guy with quirky facial hair on an expensive bike with high-end, weatherproof accessories.
There are plenty of those guys.
Cycles for Change, a Twin Cities bike shop/nonprofit combo, has been trying to change that for years. Its board and staff sought a “diverse, empowered” community of bicyclists. That meant more people of color, women, queer folks, and people who can’t afford top-of-the line gear, but still want a place in the scene.
Cycles for Change (C4C for short) offered “learn to ride” classes for adults and open-door workshops for help fixing bikes out of its Seward neighborhood location. Even rarer: special "Grease Rag" nights just for women, femmes, and trans and nonbinary folk. Youth could sign up for apprenticeship programs to learn bike mechanics and basic job training. For a while, C4C offered a free bike to winners of a grant.
All that programming is suspended, and the Cycles for Change shop has closed until further notice, according to a press release sent out last week.
The news might come as a surprise to anyone who’s been hanging around the shop. By the nonprofit’s own measures, 2019 was a great year. Sales were strong, the staff is even more diverse, and program participation rates doubled over the last 18 months. Executive Director Tina Cho said all that growth just wasn’t enough to keep the doors open.
“Changes in the philanthropic environment have led to a loss of several significant, long-term sources of funding,” the release said. The release thanked the community for years of support and asked for donations to help the nonprofit pay its outstanding debts.
A GoFundMe post by Cho said she came into the executive director job “unaware” of a “huge, inherited cash deficit” and tried everything to make ends meet.
“That included taking a pay cut at a time I knew I should be saving up for emergency funds because I wanted to make sure everyone else got paid,” writes Cho, who was not immediately available for an interview.
The closure is a big blow to the Twin Cities bike scene. C4C—under different names and forms—has been around since 1996. Back then it was an early ride share program rooted in St. Paul. From there, it became a commuter hub and advocacy group before branching into Minneapolis and shifting focus to community organization.
Patrons are mourning on social media, saying they’re “grateful” for everything C4C has done – even gestures as simple as wearing nametags with pronouns on them. Anything that made it easier for them to call themselves "bikers," and made them feel like they belonged.
If you want to donate to Cycles for Change's cause, you can do so here.