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Roll Call: Meet Camden Cycles!

As the owner of Minneapolis’ Camden Cycles, Amanda Dobbs is trying to change the very idea of what a bike shop can be. Dobbs started Camden Cycles in 2021 and “is working to foster inclusivity and kindness in cycling.”

In March 2021, the effects of the pandemic were felt throughout the Minneapolis northside community. Venture North had just announced that they would be closing. Dobbs made the decision to start Camden Cycles, “the Northside would have no bike shop while there are 30+ shops across the river. I knew that this area was underserved and I also knew that there was money to be made by repairing and selling bicycles. So, I LLC’d Camden Cycles and thought, “well, if I have a bike shop, I suppose I should learn how to fix bikes.”

Dobbs, a Minneapolis College alumni, knew the Minneapolis College’s Bicycle Assembly and Repair Technician Certificate program would be a perfect fit to hone her technical skills. Minneapolis College offers one of the only bike mechanic training programs in the nation, removing some of the gatekeeping seen in the bike industry. The course, Dobbs, said, emphasized the importance of creating a safe and welcoming space, “at one point in bike college, I wanted to quit. The curriculum was intense and passing lab exams was no easy task, but my classmates cheered me through and I passed! If the environment was competitive instead of space and supportive, I don’t think I would have made it through. When we create safe spaces, it’s much easier to thrive.”

Camden Cycles encourages people to thrive, offering a welcoming environment through a variety of classes and amenities, including American Sign Language nights, open shops, and community events with free food. “Our dedication to community programming helps make this space accessible,” Dobbs added, “we provide childcare during events, we offer free wifi and seating, and we encourage people to use Camden Cycles as a community meeting space.” Always looking for ways to improve, Dobbs is eager to make improvements to the shop space, “I would like to put in a ramp for the front door and ideally an electric door.”

Helena and a participant fixing up bikes at an Open Shop over the summer!

Over the summer, BikeMN was able to partner with Camden Cycles to further the reach of our Adult Learn to Ride programming through regular open shop opportunities. Open Shops are free, do-it-yourself repair clinics in which community members have access to tools, bike stands, and assistance from a mechanic. Open Shops are ongoing, taking place every 2nd and 4th Monday from 6 pm – 8 pm. Dobbs said after opening the shop, they “immediately began looking for community partners. We sent an RFP to the city of Minneapolis looking for funding for providing bicycles to those in need and to teach others how to maintain their bicycles.” After sending the RFP, a leader in the city recommended partnering with BikeMN to expand our programming in the Northside community.

There is a stigma attached to adults not knowing how to ride a bicycle but we know that there are many barriers to cycling for people. BikeMN’s programming ensures that people of differing skill levels can bike and maintain their bicycle. There are many programs out there for the youth and having the opportunity to evangelize to the community about adult programming is very gratifying.

Amanda Dobbs, Camden Cycles

Reflecting on the summer of Open Shop opportunities, Dobbs said the most common issue people brought their bikes in for was flat tires, tube, tire, and wheel compatibility, but that people are eager to learn more. At one point, Dobbs shared, the demand for the Open Shop grew so large that BikeMN staff “Helena, me, my shop manager, and two volunteers helped participants one evening.” Of the partnership with BikeMN, Dobbs shared, “the partnership has gone better than I could have imagined. Not only were they there to provide the open shop staffing, but they were also more than happy to come help wrench at the local Northside summer events.”

I know of people that have personally benefited from the Learn to Ride classes and I am excited to see how these opportunities shape the community.

Amanda Dobbs, Camden Cycles
A flyer from late September advertising Open Shop services

BikeMN has been proud to partner with Camden Cycles, their efforts to diversify the cycling industry have ripple effects beyond the Northside neighborhood. Dobbs emphasizes that community-centered services are at the heart of the shop, “there are not enough places in the industry that uplift marginalized people. This notion is not surprising but the extent of how many underserved cyclists there are out there in the community is startlingly disheartening. We have had the pleasure of making space for our elders. They are served coffee and are encouraged to share their knowledge and experience. We also have the pleasure of serving our unhoused neighbors, these cyclists have different needs that can be met at our shop. We don’t turn people away with unsafe bicycles, we have sliding fee services or open shop services for those in need. Everyone deserves the freedom that bikes bring.”

The turnout for Open Shop really proved to me that there is a very real need for bicycle repair services and classes in this neighborhood. The shop has been busy since the day we opened, curious neighbors coming by, friends dusting off their bikes and bringing them in for a tuneup, and people coming in from other parts of the city and state to experience the shop.

Amanda Dobbs, Camden Cycles

When asked to share a significant memory from the summer, Dobbs fondly recalled a community event where she offered bike tune-up services, “she had previously come to an open shop event where I showed her how to clean and grease her chain. We grabbed her the tool she needed and she flipped her bike upside down and got right to work. I had to turn away because I started to cry, all weepy-eyed. It was inspiring to see this #BlackGirlMagic, a little mechanic in training, she is maybe all of 8 or 9 years old. The [bicycling] industry has a well-known reputation for gatekeeping and I hope all of us in the industry kick the door wide open for her.”

Camden Cycles has been warmly welcomed in the Northside neighborhood. Dobbs said the shop would not be as successful as it is without the support from leaders, advocates, and regular folks eager to get on the bike. “It’s been wild. I’m incredibly grateful for all the support. I wouldn’t be here without my community. There were people all along the way that have given their time and resources to make this shop happen. I am grateful to local leaders who believed in me and helped pave my way.” The positive environment cultivated at Camden Cycles, Dobbs says, is a direct result of searching for community during the pandemic. “The pandemic showed us that yes, the bicycle industry provides an essential service. Thanks to our repair services, we can get people rolling with transportation so they can get to their jobs, school, etc. We foster a learning environment where through programming people can have access to knowledge and tools. A local bike shop should be a gathering place for the community.”

Looking to the future, Amanda shared Camden Cycles is eager to continue Open Shop opportunities through the winter and is seeking volunteers and mechanics at events. For volunteers who aren’t so comfortable working on a bike, Dobbs says the shop is always looking for a volunteer to bring food to the community. The mission to diversify the cycling industry continues all season, too, “We will have apprentices here at Camden Cycles, we are working with local high schools to help students learn trades. We also encourage others to attend bicycle maintenance and repair classes that are offered locally.”

Amanda also offered advice to those struggling to find a space in the biking scene across the Twin Cities, and beyond.

Keep pedaling. Keep getting out there. Finding the right cycling group is like finding the right therapist. There are so many amazing groups out there that are excited to foster the love of cycling, eventually you’ll find something right for you because the cycling community in Minnesota continues to grow.

Amanda Dobbs, Camden Cycles

BikeMN encourages everyone to stop by Camden Cycles, lend their time as a volunteer or mechanic, and help share bike joy with others. You might see Amanda pedaling along the Mississippi, with a kid in tow, as they plan their bike tour across the state.