Text By Demae DeRocher, Video by Bill Sorem
Sibley Bike Depot doesn’t just encourage you to ride a bicycle as your means of transportation …they make sure you have one! And, if you have one, they make sure you know how to maintain and repair it. And, if you know how to repair it, they make sure you can get the parts for it.
And, they do all that for free! Why?
“You can advocate, but if people don’t have access to a bike, they’re not going to ride.” Jason Tanzman, Sibley Bike Depot’s Outreach Development Coordinator, is practical, passionate and pointed about the role the bike shop plays in the community, for the environment, and socio-economically. An interesting perspective Tanzman mentions is the disproportionate amount of money the low-income and unemployed spend on a vehicle versus their income, whereas a bicycle makes more financial sense.
“Sibley Bike Depot is trying really hard to build stronger relationships in our neighborhood. People see us as providing resources. We’re trying to find a sustainable organizational structure that can manage the great growth we’ve had the past three years. With the cost up to four dollars a gallon for gas, more people are going to get on bikes.”
And, with Sibley Bike Depot’s winter bike riding training classes, Minnesotans can stay on their bikes all year round, making riding a sustainable transportation solution. “Winter in Minnesota is really long if you’re trying to run from it. So, the best way to embrace a Minnesota winter head-on is to ride your bike year round,” says Tanzman.
Not only is bicycling an economical, reliable means of transportation, Tanzman also points out its health benefits in fighting obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Sibley Bike Depot believes bicycling is “essential to the planet and individuals’ health.”
Community organization, not a government social service
While the bike shop offers free programs, Tanzman clarifies, “We’re an organization led by our community, not a social service.” No matter the reason people initially come to Sibley, perhaps to borrow a free bike or repair, they tend to eventually become active participants, volunteering their time and skills as a way of giving back for what they have gained from the bike shop. “A community bike shop [as an advocacy tool] reaches a lot of people. It’s concrete and real compared to just doing mailers. People get to learn something and they get something out of it. We’re a teaching organization. Our fundamental value is teaching people to repair their own bikes. We won’t fix it for you. We want to teach you to do it yourself.”
Several programs centered around the community include:
• The Community Partners Bike Library (CPBL) which provides fully equipped bicycles for a six-month loan to low-income community members for transportation purposes.
• The Bike Library provides under-served communities with classes in bicycle safety, maintenance, and commuting.
• Open Shop offers a free service of repairing bikes by helping people fix them and learn new skills, thereby giving them more confidence and reliability about biking.
• The Earn-A-Bike Program is designed to provide people with a bike at no cost, while also offering an educational experience. A participant’s hours of service get credited toward a free bike or parts.
• Youth Programs are aimed at developing skills, encouraging thought about how bikes relate to larger ideas of transportation and community, learning small non-profit business operations, learning to build art bikes, and getting a chance to receive high school credit for classes in partnership with St. Paul Connections.
• Free Adult Classes include maintenance, bicycle trailer construction, and winter commuting.
• Bike/Parts Sales – Sibley also sells refurbished donated bicycles, and new and used parts.
“We’ve become a community center with a broad array of people,” says Tanzman. “I talk with a lot of people every day about how a bike has changed their life – health benefits and activity, freedom of accessibility, or the unemployed looking to be engaged in something. People appreciate the opportunity to give back. They value being part of Sibley Bike Depot.”
Sibley Bike Depot supports local charities and has donated bikes to Tanzania and New Orleans. They are funded primarily by income earned in selling refurbished donated bikes and new and used parts, as well as a federal grant, and by donations ($25,000 in 2010). Sibley is asking for bike donations and suggests that people set up a bike drive at their church or work.
Sibley Bike Depot
712 University Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55104