Patrick Stephenson is a copywriter at Minnesota Public Radio and the director of 30 Days of Biking. Follow him on Twitter, @patiomensch, where he tweets like 5,000 times a day.

The Bicycling Bodhisattva

Posted by: Patrick Stephenson under Biking Updated: April 28, 2014 - 2:39 PM

Introduction: A few years ago, I wrote a profile of my friend Mario Macaruso, the manager at Freewheel Bike's Midtown Bike Center, a.k.a., the LBS that introduced me to Minneapolis' bicycling scene, and that fed me for many years on my commutes between Minneapolis and St. Paul. (They have good waffles, great coffee, amazing oat bars.) Today, Mario announced that he's moving on from Freewheel, and I'm at once ecstatic for him and sad. I love the life and warmth he's always brought to the Bike Center, and I'll miss seeing him there! At the same time, I can't wait to hang out with him at his new destination.

Anyway, enjoy this profile!

 

“It takes a bold person to wanna ride their bicycle every day, especially in a city environment,” says Mario Macaruso, a.k.a. Puzo Superelli, the Café Manager and Head Philosopher at Freewheel Bike’s Midtown Bike Center, a one-stop shop for Minneapolitan cyclists—casuals, commuters and weekend warriors alike—on the Greenway. No question, says Macaruso, the boldness is worth it: “I never feel bad when I get on the bike. I’ve never had a bad day on the bike—even when I’ve crashed.” More than ever, in Minneapolis and around the world, people are choosing the life Macaruso embodies: To ride every day and turn bicycling into their primary transportation. (Full disclosure: Mario Macaruso leads rides for 30 Days of Biking and is my friend of two or so years.)

Macaruso’s shop, accessible only via foot or pedal and secreted on the Greenway a few hundred yards from Lake’s Midtown Global Market, is a cyclist enclave, a fortress of Lycra and handlebar-mounted bike lights, vegan treats and fruit smoothies, friendly salesmen and expert mechanics with grease-stained hands. Macaruso’s broad-shouldered, ginger-bearded mien is often the first sight Freewheel customers see. He’s highly devoted to the shop, his employer of almost a half-decade, rolling in at 6 a.m. most days to ensure work-ward pedalers get a Clif Bar and a soup bowl-sized mug of Peace Coffee, fuel enough to start their Mondays right.

Macaruso is the antithesis of the surly bike shop stereotype. Where the cliché is a smirking judgmental type, he is friendly, smiling, ready to answer your questions about fixies, road bikes, cyclocross. Macaruso’s not without edge, but he’s accessible, and his voice is not so much dripping with subcultural contempt as redolent of a California surfer. The words “dude” and “stoked” are never far away in conversation with him. Let’s put it this way: Macaruso sometimes sounds like a Ninja Turtle, Michelangelo especially. “Hang 10, brah.” That’s the attitude he brings to bike shop management: openness, ease, acceptance. Ride a bike like you’d surf a wave.

Macaruso came to Minneapolis in the late ’90s, before the Greenway even existed, from Holcombe, Wisc., a town of 200 where bicycling a three-mile circuit seemed like a big feat and made Macaruso a “a big fish in a small pond.” Settling in Northeast Minneapolis, and riding to philosophy classes at Augsburg, transformed Macaruso’s perception of a long distance. Suddenly, he was riding four miles each way. “I was doing it by myself. I felt very much alone. I continued on that pattern … But I never identified with bike culture until I had a bike stolen and had to buy a new bike.” That led him to local bike shop (LBS) Penn Cycle. Within a year, his new bike was stolen, and he bought another. (He currently owns 10 complete bikes.)

Learning about Minneapolis’ LBS scene, Penn Cycle in particular, was Macaruso’s “foray into the culture.” He got a job at Penn Cycle, learned to race bikes while commuting to work every day, and joined the city’s road bike racer clique. After an expensive wreck (“I crashed pretty hard”), Macaruso’s road fixation transformed into a love for mountain biking. He pedaled his Surly 1×1 with a Tuesday night ride on Theodore Wirth’s Renegade Trails and was shocked when he realized a friend’s water bottle contained beer. “Yeah,” the guy responded. “That’s how we do it on the Tuesday night ride,” verboten for roadies.

Macaruso loved that riding with his MTB buddies was “all about fun.” He attended bike festivals, he made more friends, he “penetrated the culture,” layer by layer, without even trying. One year at Penn turned into five. He joined the Flanders Bros, first as a racer, then as an employee, and moved on to Freewheel in 2009.

The way Macaruso talks about bicycling is bewitching. I’ve nicknamed him Minneapolis’ Bicycling Bodhisattva for his philosophical leanings. He talks about the body-bike connection of centrifugal motion. He talks about the way bicycling enhances your awareness of your body, makes you better at moving through the world, at dancing, at having sex. He talks about the healthy attitude bicycling has given him, the independence and self-reliance it bestows. On a bike, you get yourself around. On the rides that brought Macaruso into the Minneapolis fold, those dudes are still “riding the same old single-speed mountain bikes,” he says. “The bikes that got them stoked to begin with.” Ergo, you don’t need a $10,000 pedaler to fit in. 

Macaruso recognizes that people find Minneapolis’ bicycling culture intimidating, especially the hipster and road crowds, but he doesn’t want that to hold them back. His strategy for ensuring new customers at Freewheel feel comfortable is to shut up and listen. “I have one mouth and two ears,” says Macaruso. “My ears outnumber my mouth. The lesson is to listen to what people say.” He helps newbies understand what their needs as cyclists are—mountain biking, long road rides, commuting—and then figure out which bike will fit ‘em best. His go-to starter is the Surly Cross-Check, a versatile cyclocross velocipede—made by Minnesota’s own Surly Bikes—that does just about everything well.

On a Tuesday evening, after Macaruso had closed Freewheel and ridden to meet me, I interviewed him at Stadium Pizza in downtown Minneapolis. We scarfed a huge Triple Play pizza (hot sauce, chicken, bleu cheese) then went for a ride, he on his Surly, me on a Nice Ride from the Washington Avenue station in North Loop. I had asked Macaruso a bevy of questions; he wanted to ask me some: “What’s up with you? How’s your job going? How’s your lady friend?” I struggled to keep up with Macaruso’s Surly as we exited downtown. Realizing my Nice Ride couldn’t match him, he slowed his pedaling and let me determine our pace. We took River Road to the Stone Arch Bridge. We rode through the University of Minnesota and hung out by the Kitty Cat Klub in Dinkytown, then coasted through campus.

Sweaty in the Tuesday-night heat, Macaruso and I both agreed that life was really good. “Let’s go on an adventure,” he said.

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