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Brainerd Family YMCA gets rolling with bicycle commuter program

Brainerd Family YMCA CEO Shane Riffle advocates bicycling as a health and wellness activity and wants to make Brainerd bike-friendly through a community effort involving Crow Wing Energized, city officials and the Y. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch1 / 4
The Brainerd Family YMCA-managed Kids Bike Fleet consists of two trailers -- one large one with 36 bicycles and one smaller one with 24 bicycles -- that are available to rent in Crow Wing County and at no charge for local schools. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch2 / 4
Central Lakes College student Akhsa Malinskaya rides her bike Monday, Sept. 10, on the Buffalo Hills Trail. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch file photo 3 / 4
Priority to use the Kids Bike Fleet is given to groups, organizations and agencies that provide specific bicycle education, but the Brainerd Family YMCA-managed fleet is available to rent for general group rides and at no cost to local schools. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch4 / 4

The Brainerd Family YMCA would like more residents to bicycle to work with two new initiatives intended to encourage those wishing to commute by bike and exercise at the same time.

Starting this month, the Y will allow anyone who rides a bicycle to work shower access at the faith-based nonprofit, so they can freshen up and/or change clothes.

"This will be something free to bike commuters. This will hopefully remove a big barrier for some folks," CEO Shane Riffle said. "Cycling is healthy. It's good exercise. It's low impact. And nowadays, with fat tire bikes, too, you can bike all year-round."

Participants in the new bicycle commuter program at the Brainerd Family YMCA must complete a community member application and background check and sign a waiver to shower at the Y. They will be asked to sign in and out each visit, and YMCA use is solely for showering.

Towel service is available for 50 cents a day or $8 per month, and kit lockers are available $7 per month.

"We do have to do a background check. Anyone who comes into the Y, we do a background check because they're around children," Riffle said.

He also recently created a program allowing staff on his leadership team to earn paid time off when they reach various milestones for commuting to the Y to work or to local meetings.

"There are two apps that they can download onto their smartphone, and basically it just tracks when you're on your bike. It has a GPS in it, so it will track your mileage, and staff can use that as a tracker and come log it with me," Riffle said.

For every 100 miles a Brainerd Family YMCA staffer rides or commutes to and from work, or to meetings, the staffer will earn an hour of paid time off.

Bicycle friendly

The Y applied to The League of American Bicyclists to gain designation as a "Bicycle Friendly Business." The League of American Bicyclists is the nation's oldest bicycle advocacy organization, leading the movement to create a bicycle friendly America for everyone.

The businesses are recognized for their efforts through an award system based on four essential elements to being bicycle friendly: engineering, education, encouragement, and evaluation and planning.

"There's a real effort through the River to Rail initiative to connect Brainerd all the way out to Crosby and the Cuyuna Mountain Bike Trail System," Riffle said of a Brainerd-based initiative to receive Bicycle Friendly Community designation from the league.

The River to Rail initiative focuses on revitalizing the area between the Mississippi River and the Northern Pacific Center, and involves the Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corp., local government and the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce, just to name a few.

"In support of our effort to become a 'Bicycle Friendly Community,' I decided to apply for the business recognition. This generated a few ideas—the two key ones being the commuter/shower program and the staff bike commuter/PTO initiative," Riffle said.

Since the creation of the Bicycle Friendly Community program in 1995, more than 1,500 community applications processed by league staff, and there are 464 recognized Bicycle Friendly Communities and almost 100 honorable mention communities.

"What got the Y into supporting bicycling and the bicycling community at a deeper level was when Crow Wing Energized presented (us with) the Kids Bike Fleet," Riffle said.

Kids Bike Fleet

The Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee created The Legacy Fund, which awarded a $50,000 grant in 2017 to Crow Wing Energized, so the bicycles and the trailers could be purchased to create the Kids Bike Fleet with the goal of healthier children.

The YMCA-managed Kids Bike Fleet consists of two trailers—one large one with 36 bicycles and one smaller one with 24 bicycles—that are available to rent in Crow Wing County.

The fleets have a flat rate fee of $100 per fleet, per week, may be rented for up to two weeks at a time and are available for use June 5 to Aug. 25, according to Crow Wing Energized.

"We also are trying to make sure that all teachers in local schools are aware that the Kids Bike Fleet can be checked out along with the biking safety curriculum at no charge," Riffle said.

"The objective was to loan these out to schools, provide them the curriculum and support, so that they can do bike rides, bike rodeos, safety activities and really kind of teach kids how to ride safely and build a passion for cycling, so that they do it their entire lives."

Priority will be given to groups, organizations and agencies that are providing specific bicycle education (bike rodeos, classroom instruction, etc.), but the fleet is available for general group rides.

"During the summer, we are loaning them out in a similar manner to youth-serving organizations. This summer, though, the Y will be utilizing them for about half of the summer for our programming," he said.

Email Lindsey Riffle at kidsbikefleet@blymca.org or visit www.brainerdlakesymca.org for more information about the Kids Bike Fleet or to rent the bicycles.

"Another idea that we will test this summer is to take the fleets out to Garfield Elementary and have a staff member or volunteer check the bikes out to families or kids to ride around the neighborhood or go for a ride," Riffle said. "This is still being developed."

Frank Lee

Voted most likely in high school ... "not to be voted most likely for anything," my irreverent humor (and blatant disregard for the Oxford comma) is only surpassed by a flair for producing online videos to accompany unbiased articles about Crow Wing County about, say, how your taxes are being spent, by your elected officials, on issues or topics that matter to YOU.

Writing local feature stories about interesting people in the community, however, and watching and discussion movies are among my passions. ... Follow me on Twitter at either of these accounts: @DispatchFL (for news) or @BDfilmforum (for movies).

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