St. Paul’s Sibley Bike Depot celebrates growth in apprenticeship, library programs

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Sibley Bike Depot, according to Jason Tanzman, is part of a Twin Cities tradition of grassroots activism to serve the public. “I’m continually amazed by the community of different institutions in the Twin Cities,” said Tanzman. “The grocery co-ops, collectively owned cafés like Hard Times, the Seward Café.  Bike programs like The Grease Pit.  Sibley Bike Depot’s trying to engage people, build a movement.”

Tanzman is Development and Outreach Coordinator of Sibley Bike Depot, which celebrated its tenth year on April 11, and announced major funding extensions for the near future.

The new funding allows the Bike Depot to launch a Youth Apprenticeship Program, hiring six youth as apprentice mechanics. Other funding will enhance its Community Partners Bike Library and extend the life of this project through 2012. The programs fit well with the mission statement, which promises programs “to get youth and adults on bicycles as…affordable, healthy, and sustainable…transportation.”

How many Twin Citians access the Depot?  In 2010, more than 300 attended Bike Maintenance Classes.  170 youth built bikes in Junior Mechanics classes.  The Depot donated 110 bicycles to community organizations and loaned 151 through the Community Partners Bike Library.

Claire Stoscheck, Community Partners Bike Library program director, responded by email on her motivation to be involved and how the funding extension will be put to best use.  “What moves me to commit time and energy?  The people we work with. There’s nothing more motivating than the joy in someone’s voice when they talk about how a bike [changes] their lives, saves time and money and helped them to get healthy.”  She states that funding “will increase and diversify programming for Bike Library participants. This season from June to October we will have one to two [weekly] programs. From Mechanics Open Shop, where participants can to fix and maintain their bike to Group Rides to Riding in Traffic Workshops. [The] enhancement funding will go toward purchasing trailers so [parents] can bring small children with [traveling] by bicycle.”  The extension funding will be used to increase the Bike Library fleet and “continue to diversify programming, as well as allow time we to develop a financially sustainable model of the Bike Library. [The extension also] will give us time to report on our findings of best practices for a bike library, so that it can serve as a model and an inspiration to other cities.”

The April 11 celebration saw a standing-room-only crowd at the Sibley Bike Depot’s is 712 University Avenue West location in Saint Paul, neighboring SugaRush donut shop and Saigon restaurant. In tee-shirts and jeans, mostly 30 and older, packed house was quite a companionable get together, with much grinning and glad-handing.

Tanzman updated the group on Sibley Bike Depot’s new accomplishments, and John Carlson, who recently resigned as president of the board of directors to start a family business, gave a farewell statement.

Stanzman presented Carlson a humorously fitting, homemade award to commemorate his contributions to the Depot: a bike-rim bearing the words, “Good luck on the curvy road of life.” Stepping away from well-wishers and joyful noise, John Carlson chatted on the sidewalk.  Along with being president, he’s worn other hats over the past five years, helping out as need be.  “At different times, there’s different roles.  [I’ve been] board secretary, treasurer.  Also a lot of hands-on participation.  Teaching classes.  Working with people [in the] shop.”  He adds, “If you come in and see all the volunteers helping people fix their own bikes, it’s fantastic.  You give to the community. It’s amazing.”

Board treasurer Julia Wells was just as enthusiastic, recalling via email,  “I discovered Sibley Bike Depot at the beginning of 2008 when I took the Basic Bike Maintenance class offered at the shop.  I really enjoyed the energy of the shop, along with the educational and self-empowerment values of the organization.  I started volunteering on the fundraising and grant writing team, as well as the finance team.  I saw there was a dedicated group of people committed to Sibley’s mission.”  She went on to say, “Sibley works to ensure that all individuals gain skills and resources.  Tuesday nights are open shop for women and transgender individuals in order to ensure everyone has a safe place to learn and volunteer.”

One volunteer, Laura Felice, also emailed to comment, “Bicycles have, for me, been a great source of affordable transportation, as well as a great deal of enjoyment and sense of freedom. When I started riding, I knew nothing about how to find a bicycle or maintain it.  I was lucky enough to have a friend who [helped] me learn and made it possible to start biking. I would like to be able to do that for other people. “

Not everyone who gets involved in the cooperative becomes fully immersed in it.  Some consumers simply shop and go.  Tia Williams, for instance, is a member of Bike Library and appreciates the resource, but has a busy life.  She stated in a phone conversation, “It’s been a great benefit, for health reasons and for the family.  Also, it saves on gas.”  That’s no small consideration in this runaway economy.

Sibley Bike Depot, Tanzman summed up, makes a difference.  “I’ve seen, on an individual level, so many come, get a bike [who] didn’t have a bike before.  I’ve seen people get involved in the bike community.”

Coverage of issues and events that affect Central Corridor neighborhoods and communities is funded in part by a grant from Central Corridor Collaborative.