A new bike center in a former rail trench has high aspirations, and is already getting great reviews.
Grand opening of the Freewheel Midtown Bike Center. A good chunk of public and private money went into creating the Freewheel Midtown Bike Center, which will provide a range of services to bike commuters, including: bike valet service, bike maintenance and washing facilities, showers and a cafe.
It's the million-dollar bike shop that isn't expected to sell many bikes.
Instead, the Freewheel Midtown Bike Center, which opened Friday on Minneapolis' bicycle-commuter superhighway, is offering riders a place to park, fix, accessorize and wash their bikes-- or refuel and wash themselves.
The 5,500-square-foot center on the Midtown Greenway includes private showers for riders, a big shower stall for washing bikes and 150 secure indoor bicycle parking spots that riders can access around the clock. There's an array of helmets, water bottles and other equipment for sale, plus a full-service repair counter.
The shop does stock "a couple of really expensive bikes that everybody oogles over," said Jason Lardy, a spokesman for Freewheel. But the point of the center is to make bicycle commuting easier, get more cars off the streets, improve public health and protect the environment in the nation's No. 2 bicycling city.
"We want to make sure that this is a model for what happens all over the city to give amenities to bike riders," said Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, one of the local leaders who spoke at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, as bike commuters too hurried to stop whizzed past the podium.
The city contributed $434,000 of the more than $800,000 in construction costs, while $283,000 came from federal grant money.
The airy center is in the lower level of a building owned by Allina Hospitals and Clinics, which is hoping that many of its employees will take advantage of the lockers and showers and commute by bike. Workers can also pop down an elevator and visit the center's coffee shop.
Allina gave $75,000 for construction and isn't charging the center rent. Freewheel, which has a flagship store in the Cedar-Riverside area, spent about $220,000 in start-up costs.
Heart of the greenway
The Midtown Greenway is an old rail line that's been converted to a bike and walking path that stretches across Minneapolis. The city estimates that 1,700 bikes pass the bike center on a typical fair-weather workday, with weekend and holiday traffic reaching 3,500 a day.
That's a far cry from the site's days as a derelict rail trench, according to City Council Member Robert Lilligren, a longtime resident of the area. "Twenty-five years ago, we would not have felt comfortable standing here like this today," he said.
Kevin Ishaug, Freewheel's owner, said nearby apartment dwellers might appreciate the bike storage. He also is planning a "commuter tutor" program, which will consist of group rides that show new bike commuters the ins and outs of routes and equipment.
The center is hoping for recreational riders as well. Daily bike rentals are available, and in the next month, a shipment of GPS devices will allow users to take satellite-guided tours of Twin Cities bike paths.
Jim Foti • 612-673-4491