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.
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.
"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."