BEMIDJI — A lifelong cycling enthusiast, Dr. Diane Pittman has always dreamed of opening her own bicycle shop.
In 2002, her dreams came true when her husband, Larry Krantz, decided to build a 30-by-50-foot shed and offered to set up a small shop for him nearby.
Initially, Pittman thought the shed would be too big, but she finally got a space to start the workout she’d always wanted to try: fixing bikes.
“I always wanted to learn how to fix bikes, so I just bought them at garage sales, but you can only keep so many,” Pittman said. “I started giving them away and realized there was a real need (for the bikes).”
Pittman’s little corner in her husband’s shed slowly began to grow, as did her passion for salvaging old broken down bikes and donating them to the people who need them most.
“The bikes took over the space and I had to swallow my words about the hangar being too big,” Pittman said with a laugh.
A board-certified family physician, Pittman worked at Indian Health Services in Cass Lake for nearly 30 years before retiring to open his own practice, True North Health Care, in 2014.
While working as a full-time doctor, she moved her bike shop, calling it Shifting Gears, to a space near the Rail River Folk School about 10 years ago and continued to repair and donate old bikes .
As Pittman and “her hobby spun out of control” approach 20 years in business, she’s excited to share new goals for the future of Shifting Gears.
“When I first started working, I was fixing things around my house and trying to figure out how to get the bikes to people. I ended up partnering with People’s Church and would bring the completed bikes there for the people take them,” Pittman said.
She also held mobile bike clinics with portable stands containing boxes of parts and tools.
“People would come and I would teach the kids things they really wanted to know – how to fix their bikes,” she said. “It’s a really fun way to connect with people of all generations.”
With the help of volunteers and its partnership with People’s Church, it repaired, donated and distributed an average of 50 to 100 bicycles per year.
“For me, cycling has always been about health, mental health and physical health. It’s also about community, people really come together about the bikes,” Pittman said. “It’s good for the planet too, when we eliminate shorter journeys by taking a bike instead of a car, we reduce the number of greenhouse gas emissions. The bike ticks all of these boxes for the health of the community and the health of the planet.
It’s not all about the bikes
Besides fixing up old donated bikes and donating them to people in need, she admits she doesn’t just do this for the bikes.
“It’s really fun to connect with people from all walks of life. Think back to when you were a kid and got your first bike,” she said. “Bikes are such a source of independence and empowerment that we sometimes forget that once we got our driver’s license and our cars.”
Pittman spent a lot of time alone in her shop during the coronavirus pandemic, and one day a young neighborhood boy walked into her shop with his bike.
“One day a kid who lived in the neighborhood came in with a $10 bill and he was riding this awful bike that was way too big for him,” she explained. “We had a very nice bike in the shop which was perfect, but it needed some work.”
Pittman and the boy spent the entire afternoon working and fixing his new bike together. He left with a new bike and some new advice on mechanics. Pittman said she had a great afternoon doing what she loves most amid the isolation pandemic.
“Watching a kid learn to fix their bike, there’s this ‘new bike smile’ and I have hundreds of photos of kids smiling with their new bikes.” She added. Pittman still has the $10 bill pinned to a wall in his bike shop.
More recently, Pittman was browsing Facebook and came across a story of a kid playing near Paul Bunyan Park and riding a bike.
“Literally two other kids stole his bike from his hands, just snatched it away,” Pittman said. “I was trying to get him here and he came with some friends with their bikes too, so we ended up giving him a new bike and fixing his friend’s bikes.”
According to Pittman, that day wasn’t just about replacing the boy’s bike that had been stolen. She realized that he had been through a terrible experience and she wanted him to realize that there were also kind people in the world.
“It was about more than just replacing his bike, it was about giving him a better experience with humans, like a complete stranger taking care of you and doing something nice to make up for the traumatic experience he had. lived,” Pittman said. “People can be mean but people can also be wonderful.”
Amid repairing and distributing bicycles, Pittman struggled to keep pace with the shop while managing his family practice and personal life.
But her wheels started turning when she received a voicemail from Laura Galaviz earlier this summer.
After recently moving from Minneapolis to the Cass Lake area, Galaviz was researching community bike shops in the area when she came across Shifting Gears. He liked it because of all the bike shops in the area, it was the only community bike shop that matched his visions.
In Minneapolis, Galaviz has dedicated his time to working for a number of bicycle nonprofits and other community bike shops.
“There are other bike shops, but they didn’t seem to do recycling or work similar to the work I do. I called (Shifting Gears) and left a message,” Galaviz said. weeks later Diane called me back and we chatted for a while, we both decided it was a perfect fit, I wanted to get back into tearing and riding with people in community settings and (Pittman ) was looking for a mechanic who could help run the shop.
Along with realizing her passion for bike repair through her previous work, she has also proven to be a strong female voice in the cycling community. It all started when she wanted to create a collective group or have some sort of community where people could ride bikes together.
“I’ve worked with a lot of bike shops and nonprofits and in those spaces I’ve been able to learn the mechanics (of bike repair),” Galaviz said. She said she had encountered challenges trying to create safe spaces for women and people of color within the organizations she worked with.
“I really intended to create these safe spaces for women, especially women of color, and these places weren’t ready for that,” she added.
As a woman of Mexican descent, Galaviz realized that there weren’t many cyclists who looked like her. So she started looking for more women of color to join and considered starting her own organization to do just that.
“(The places I’ve worked at) said they wouldn’t be able to give me the time or pay me for this kind of work, it wasn’t in their mission statements. One place said to me, “If you want to do this kind of work, you have to start your own thing,” Galaviz said. “So I thought, ‘OK, these places aren’t going to fit us that way,’ so I started in my garage and started asking people if they wanted to come and learn and get their bike repair with me or pay me to fix their bikes.
After Pittman realized that Galaviz’s phone call was “real life”, she immediately began planning ways to integrate it into the shop. The duo unmistakably share a common passion and mindset for shifting the focus of the cycling community, one new bike smile at a time.
“People have been so excited since I posted Laura’s presence on Facebook and it’s wonderful to see a young woman step into this role,” Pittman said. “I feel like we were meant to work together, she has the same philosophy and passion for this as I do. She ticks all the boxes and she’s really great.
Pittman wants to strive to be more open to the full-time public, as they’ve had to settle for shorter part-time hours since the pandemic. With help from Galaviz, that just might be a possibility.
“The dream would be to have a whole group of volunteers,” Pittman said. “I would like Laura’s position to be that of a coordinator and get grants to do more projects like women’s cycling lessons and more community bike rides.”
Galaviz also has a few additional goals, such as distributing resources to surrounding tribal nations, hosting pop-up events, and meeting other women in the community for a bike ride.
“I really believe that young women deserve to be more active,” Galaviz said. “They deserve to know they can fix things themselves. Part of the reason I love mechanics and cycling is because it’s empowering and I want to use it as a tool to empower more women in particular.
The pair encourage everyone to walk into the store with any bike requests they might have and not worry too much about the cost.
“We usually work on a pass-it-forward or free will basis,” Pittman said. “There are people that we just give a bike and tell them to pass it, I’m like, ‘You got something nice today, so you have to go be nice to someone today.
Galaviz added that she was looking to organize a bike ride and hoped to connect with more women of all races to introduce them to the cycling community. She created a Facebook page so people could follow her journey to bring people together through bikes.
“At the end of the day, biking is fun and shouldn’t feel heavy or like work to you, it should be something that makes you feel less stressed or a healthy thing that you do for yourself,” Galaviz said. .
For more information on Shifting Gears, visit their Facebook page or email them at [email protected]