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Weekend edition July 07, 2023 | Tom Ballard

Two Bikes is helping Knoxville teens two bikes at a time

Whether it's donating bikes to community members, training teens to be bike mechanics, or hosting bike rides for people of all ages, Two Bikes wants everyone to have access to the benefits of bicycling.

How can you not like an organization that has a mission of building opportunity, sustainability, and community through bicycling? And, just for good measure, it gives away one bicycle to a worthy cause for every one it sells.

That’s the mission of Two Bikes, a unique business that repairs and resells used bikes that are donated while also training high school students for careers in mechanics and sales, donating bikes to other nonprofits, and promoting short-duration rides as well as longer journeys for biking enthusiasts.

The story of the organization is one that began with the local operations of a national nonprofit named DreamBikes. When that Wisconsin-based organization announced in late 2020 that it was closing its shops outside of Madison and Milwaukee, the two principals who managed the Knoxville-based operations decided that they would not let their mission waver. Instead, they moved to a nearby location and opened a smaller retail storefront under a new name, Two Bikes.

Two and a half years later, the business in the Old City is growing, rehabbing and selling bicycles of all types, generally in the $300 to $500 price range, while also fueling a robust menu of activities that support the community.

Two Bikes proudly notes that, for every bicycle it sells, a second one is donated to a worthy cause. That’s the driver behind the name, but there’s much more to the story as we learned during a recent interview with Sophia Etienne, Executive Director of Two Bikes.

“The sale of bikes funds all of our programs,” she says, although the nonprofit is diversifying its funding through grants and sponsorships. It has also announced a major fundraiser – the “Summer Cocktail Soiree” with an ambitious goal of $100,000. The event will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. on August 30 at the Mill & Mine, 227 West Depot Avenue, and tickets and sponsorship options are listed at this link.

As related by Etienne, the Two Bikes story begins with Mitchell Connell, who was the Manager, and Matt Zingg, who served as Assistant Manager of DreamBikes. When the decision was made by DreamBikes to retrench during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Knoxvillians wanted to keep alive the Wisconsin nonprofit’s dual mission of providing increased access to affordable bicycles while also promoting cycling in the city.

Initially, Connell, who now serves as President and Chief Executive Officer, and Zingg, who carries the title of Operations Director, were the only employees. Etienne joined Two Bikes as Program Coordinator in April 2022 and was named Executive Director a year later.

So, you might be asking, “What is it that Two Bikes actually does?”

“We have three focus areas,” Etienne says. One is The Bike School, the second is the Pedal It Forward program, and the third is promoting regular rides for the community during optimal times of the year.

The Bike School is the newest program, launched last August. It “teaches kids how to work on bikes,” Etienne explains, while also providing an easy-to-remember description. “It is six kids (at a time) for six weeks over 60 hours.”

The mission is to provide job training in basic bicycle mechanics, sales, inventory management, and amazing customer service to young people in Knoxville. Then, graduates are prepared for careers in managing a bicycle shop or repairing bikes. While The Bike School is open to any high school student in Knox County between 14 and 18 years of age, Etienne says about three-fourths of the students come from two schools – Austin-East or Fulton.

Equally important is the fact that these are not volunteer but paid internships. The students who are accepted earn $15 an hour.

Pedal It Forward seeks to ensure that individuals across all ethnicities, incomes, and demographics have access to the benefits of bicycling. That goal is achieved by providing half of the organization’s bikes to the community as affordable transportation and half back to the community for free through partnering nonprofits.

Finally, there is the area called Community Rides that occur mostly from March through November on a weekly basis. The last Friday of each month is one named Critical Mass, while the first Saturday of those months is one named Coffee Outside. Thursdays are devoted to longer opportunities such as Ramble Rides.

Thanks to PYA colleague Larsen Jay, Two Bikes had its biggest bike drive event, collecting nearly 100 bikes on June 3 with a roundup in Sequoyah Hills. Etienne said that Two Bikes depends on a steady influx of donations to keep all of its programs going.

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