Some time in the next few months, moving trucks will arrive at the loading dock behind 117 Washington Av. N. in Minneapolis and begin loading up the bicycles, tools and espresso machines inside.
One on One Bicycle Studio, a venerable pioneer in both the bike shop business and the grittier history of the city’s North Loop, is moving out of a neighborhood that has apparently left it behind.
“We just don’t fit in any more,” said Gene Oberpriller, who with his wife, Jennifer, moved into the neighborhood 29 years ago. “Mountain bikes are cool, but they aren’t riding them downtown.”
One on One’s move, probably in February, is a moment worth marking, for the three-decade arc it represents for both the city and its cycling culture and history. The late 1980s were decidedly pre-bike lane. And how dicey was Washington Avenue back then?
“In 1989 you couldn’t get a pizza delivered around here,” Gene Oberpriller said the other day, sitting in the back of his shop. “Nobody’d come.”
The Oberprillers, veterans of Quality Bicycle Products, former bike couriers and mountain bike racers, first lived above Yoshiko’s Massage and Sauna at 117 Washington before opening a bike shop of sorts in the building’s basement; some of the merchandise was pulled from alleys and dumpsters. When the city closed Yoshiko’s as a public menace (“It was full-on red light,” Oberpriller said), they were invited by the owner to move upstairs.
What developed — after tearing out a maze of small rooms and a formidable sauna — became a crossroads for emerging crowds of off-road bikers, bike messengers and musicians (Grant Young of Soul Asylum, among others, moved in upstairs). When the coffee shop went in, what also emerged was an early prototype of the bike shop as regular destination. The Warehouse District, as it was then known, got its neighborhood community room.
“We created a unique little place. It worked,” said Oberpriller, 56. He added, slyly, “We’re kind of punk. We’ve been accused of being hipster, but that’s not true.”
The Oberprillers also accumulated and curated one of the city’s singular cycling resources — a vast storehouse of used components and whole bikes in their basement, a place Oberpriller calls “a true junkyard.” Countless bike-builders and scroungers have over the years descended the stairs at the back of the shop, to emerge minutes or hours later, smiling, with an obscure shifter or cantilever brake.
Over the decades, the bike business, bike culture and the neighborhood boomed around One on One. The Twin Cities has developed one of the country’s highest concentrations of people on bikes, and a reputation for an extensive network of bike paths and lanes. Oberpriller said, for example, that most weeks in the summer he gets flight crews from KLM and Air France in to rent bikes for off-day rides around the city or on the trails in Theodore Wirth Park.
“They travel all over the place and they want to come to Minneapolis to ride bikes,” he said. “They say they can’t find this anywhere else.”
Let’s see: booming bike city, bustling neighborhood, with pizza — what’s the problem? “It’s complicated,” Oberpriller replied. His new neighbors are apparently more interested in bike-share rides than bike-buying and tuneups. A couple of years ago he got his first complaints about parking. Property taxes spiked. And the vibe changed. Word on the street says a Walgreens is on the way.
The shop’s new location, Oberpriller said, will probably be up near the Plymouth Avenue Bridge, or around the Sabo Bridge on the Midtown Greenway, or maybe near Wirth.
It’s a calculation that must match a bike market in transition. The Twin Cities is in many ways unusual, with sheer volume (Trek and Specialized bikes’ biggest markets are here), a big bike industry (QBP and Park Tool, for starters), and a year-round season (“very, very unusual,” Oberpriller said).
But, like the rest of the country, bike sales in the Twin Cities have been flat for years. And by Oberpriller’s count, the metro has more than 60 bike shops — a number, he said, that’s “probably headed for a shakeout.”
In the meantime, Oberpriller and his wife will be analyzing final options for a new location.
“One of them doesn’t have a basement,” he said. “That could be a problem.”
When Minneapolis in 2016 hosted the International Winter Cycling Congress, it offered its guests from around the world hospitality, snow and the luxury of plowed bike paths. This winter, the city is being one-upped by Banff, Alberta, which with Calgary is co-hosting the upcoming congress in February. To encourage participation in its event, the Banff City Council last week authorized $50 rebates on the purchase of studded bike tires in that city. Mr. Mayor?
Tony Brown is a freelance writer from Minneapolis. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears twice a month. Read archived columns at startribune.com/bikeguy.