Two Bikes, 118 S. Central Street, Knoxville, July 2022 (Photograph by Heather Ryerson)
(Ed. Note: Today’s article is the first written by new contributing author Heather Ryerson. She also contributed the photographs.)
You never forget your first bike. Mine was a white frame with pink handles, seat, and accessories I excitedly found next to the Christmas tree one Christmas morning. Maybe yours was a birthday present or a hand-me-down from an older sibling. How ever you received it, I bet you remember it fondly. I imagine many of you are like me. You learned to ride that bike as a kid and went on countless fun and sometimes risky bike rides with friends through your neighborhood. Bike riding was a form of play that got us outside and active and to our friends’ houses quickly and safely.
Two Bikes is a business operated by a group of individuals whose childhood bike riding days led to a passion for providing fun, camaraderie and a practical mode of transportation to underserved populations here in Knoxville through donating one bike for every one sold-hence the name Two Bikes. And one of their greatest joys is providing that ‘first bike’ experience to kids who have not had the opportunity to own their own bike.
They are also truly a Covid success story. Mitchell Connell was working at Dream Bikes where he had worked since graduating from UT, when in October 2020 he got word they would be shutting down at the end of the year. The model of Dream Bikes was one he felt was too good to let go of in the Knoxville community and from there, Two Bikes was birthed. They have not only survived the pandemic, but with gratefulness, have thrived.
Mitchell, his operations developer, Matt Zingg and service manager, Travis Jolley, opened the doors Two Bikes in April of 2021. They quickly grew to a staff of 5 adding Sofie Etienne and Moriah Schrieber to run programming and development to continue to meet the mission statement goals.
They host bike repair workshops throughout the year offering their equipment and bike stands for use by the public on a donation basis reducing the dependency on expensive bike repairs. The community rides are very popular and regularly attract 50+ riders. Amongst other programs, they host events where you can bring your old bike to be donated no matter the condition. If the bike is not able to be refurbished, they use the parts they can and send the rest to the scrap yard to be recycled-including the rubber tires.
Sustainability is one of their main priorities. They do this through both recycling to keep bikes out of landfills and refurbishing donated bikes and giving those back to the community through programs like Boys and Girls Club, Big Brother, Big Sister, Centro and others. To date, they have given away over 400 bikes!
In July, they officially began their youth service outreach in partnership with The Boys and Girls Club, called the Two Bikes Bike School. They have now added 2 more staff, a sales instructor and mechanic instructor, to run this program working with teens aged 14-18 through the Boys and Girls Club YouthForce Program to provide them paid internships to train and certify them as bike mechanics or sales associates.
When I asked what lessons they have learned over the last year, Mitchell had a few things to say. He believes they have learned to recognize and lean on their strengths as an organization and then collaborate with other nonprofit organizations for other assets such as social services. They also strive to surround themselves by smart people and learn from them. They also have learned to give themselves grace as they learn to stay flexible in their goals and strive for success.
If you are interested in getting involved or buying your own first bike (or second or third), but are intimidated by bike shop environments, you are not alone. Even as a seasoned cyclist, Mitchell has felt that way too. Another goal for them is to help everyone who walks through their doors whether to buy a bike, get a flat tire fixed or just see what they are about, to feel comfortable and welcomed. They have signs in the window and prominent in the shop touting their policy of friendliness. As I walked in myself and met some of the staff, I can tell you they have indeed created that culture.
What can you do to support this business? You can drop off your used bikes, purchase your bike or accessories from them, tell your friends about them, or donate financially. You can also get involved in their monthly all level friendly bike rides or other events they host by checking out their calendar here. Who knows, maybe I’ll see you out there!