Richard Stodieck’s first job was flipping burgers at McDonald’s. But the 24-year-old likes to consider his first real job the one he loved the most: fixing bikes as an apprentice at Full Cycle, a bike shop in Minneapolis.
“I was getting paid to do something so cool,” said Stodieck, nicknamed Tank.
Then COVID-19 hit three months into the four-month program. A few months later, George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police three blocks from the store, and Full Cycle decided to donate bikes to protesters. Stodieck relapsed into a depression that had begun to dissipate during his apprenticeship.
During a full-cycle apprenticeship, open to young people without a stable home, staff mechanics teach a group of approximately four young people per apprenticeship cycle how to straighten wheels and repair punctures, adjust brakes and clean derailleurs. They also help build general job skills.
“I had my resume on point,” Stodieck said of his apprenticeship.
Stodieck grew up with his mother in Atlanta, Georgia. He was not allowed to go out alone in his neighborhood, except when he learned to ride a bicycle at the age of 12. He fell in love with the freedom of being outdoors. In high school, he moved to Minneapolis, where his father lives, but mostly stayed with friends.
After leaving South High School at age 17, Stodieck was “going about my own business” and not working. One day, at the age of 21, he was randomly stabbed in the arm while helping a friend in north Minneapolis. Physically, he has suffered nerve damage that prevents him from moving his thumb. Far worse, he said, was the depression he fell into. He had lost his trust in people and had withdrawn from his family and friends.
That’s when his girlfriend told him about the apprenticeships.
He filled out a request, hoping to “just go out and do something.” Also, working on bikes seemed like fun even though he wasn’t a cycling expert. He couldn’t tell a fixed-gear, or fixie, bike from a road bike.
He spent the first week in a repair room learning how to repair an apartment and relearning how to be around people.
“After such a traumatic event, it helped me remember that people are people and not everyone is bad,” Stodieck said.
Full Cycle is one of the few Twin Cities bike shops that offers apprenticeships or other hands-on learning experiences for young people. Express Bike Shop in St. Paul also offers apprenticeships, and the Minneapolis Community and Technical College offers a program to earn a bicycle assembly and repair technician certificate that prepares students for jobs in bike shops. (It’s one of two in the country.)
The need for trained bike mechanics is expected to increase as demand for bikes still outstrips supply and because interest in cycling of all types has skyrocketed during the pandemic, according to Singletracks, a mountain bike publication.
“The best way to understand what you want to do in the future is to get a part-time job and be part of a work culture and interact with colleagues, adults, teenagers, to understand what it takes to run a small business,” said Chris Ohland, director of youth services for Keystone Community Services, which operates Express Bike Shop. “Work experiences help you see your own strengths and particular weaknesses that classroom teaching cannot reveal to you.This gives young people a clear idea of what they want to do in the future.
Awareness of young people on bikes
Matt Tennant worked at a youth shelter in St. Paul about 20 years ago. To kill downtime during his night shifts, the avid cyclist worked on his bike.
“So many kids would be sucked in, wanting to know what I was doing,” Tennant said.
He was also handing out bus tokens to young people staying at the shelter, so he started asking them, “If you had a bike, would you ride a bike?” So many people said yes that he started looking for old bikes and saving them from dumpsters.
“I started fixing them and loaning them out and then doing free bike rides as part of my outreach,” he said.
The whole experience turned out to be the perfect way to talk to teenagers while doing something productive, he said.
“Owning a bike shop was not my passion; I started out as a youth worker,” Tennant said. “It was a way of doing work with young people in an interesting way.”
In 2008, about six years after he began informally incorporating bicycles into his work, he hired three interns and founded Full Cycle to continue associating awareness with bicycles.
Tennant wasn’t alone in the Twin Cities with the idea of connecting low-income youth, bikes and jobs.
Express Bike Shop was started by a group of teenagers who couldn’t find jobs. They decided to start their own jobs in 1995. They found low-rent office space by working with the city of St. Paul and local banks, asked the police for donated bikes, and opened a bike shop.
“They hired young people to work there and learn all aspects of running the business, including fixing bikes,” Ohland said.
Over 400 young people, mostly between the ages of 14 and 18, completed a three to six month apprenticeship at Express Bike Shop. Most come from low-income households and communities of color. The majority of those who complete the program graduate from high school and go on to post-secondary education or training programs, Ohland said.
“We have also been fortunate to have a small number of young people who remain employed at the workshop for years and take on management responsibilities,” he said.
At Full Cycle, now part of Pillsbury United Communities, more than 200 young people have completed their apprenticeships since 2008. Last year the store, in conjunction with StreetWorks, added a time-long peer outreach apprenticeship a year of 20 hours per week which provides health benefits.
“Once they’re done, they’re fully qualified to go into any youth outreach” or other professional job, Tennant said.
When Full Cycle resumed operations after the pandemic, Stodieck quickly signed up for another apprenticeship, this time as an outreach worker. Again, the experience caused profound changes in his thinking. This time it helped him understand homelessness, he said.
“I used to think everyone wanted to steal your stuff, but I realized how wrong I was,” he said.
As Stodieck completes his final days of apprenticeship, he’s not sure what to expect in the short term. But he knows what his long-term goals are: “I want to continue outreach work.”
In the meantime, he is convinced that he can find a job. “I could definitely work on bikes,” he said.