Bike biz turns 10
July 10, 2020
While the Carlton and Jay Cooke State Park area is known for its recreational trails, many people who would like to experience the beauty of these trails by bicycle may not be aware of a great resource for getting out and enjoying them.
Carlton Bike Rental and Repair has been around for 10 years this summer, catering to the needs of those who would like to plan a group bicycle ride on the Willard Munger, Alex Laveau, or St. Louis River trails.
The shop features a fleet of rentals: hybrid bikes in adult and kid sizes, bicycle trailers for children and "tag along" bikes for young riders. Helmets, bike parts, accessories and apparel round out the shop's inventory, along with a full-service bicycle repair department.
The idea to open a bike rental shop emerged shortly after the city of Carlton began planning to build a bike trail through town in 2009. The plan was to link the newly constructed St. Louis River Trail from Scanlon to Carlton with the existing Willard Munger/Alex Laveau trail system.
Bike shop owner Joelene Steffens recalled, "Where the trail was going in, it would have had to go through the Four Seasons (Sports Complex) parking lot. The city asked me for an easement, which I was happy to grant."
This improvement to the trail route meant that her property (then a struggling art gallery) was now located at the crossroads of these two trail systems. "I saw a business opportunity and I took it," she said.
Steffens recalled the early days of the bike shop. It opened in July 2010, and U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, known for his support of bicycling in the state, was at the ribbon cutting ceremony.
"It was super-fantastic," Steffens said. "That year we had a Cub Scout bike rodeo ... for 150 Scouts and we ran support for the Young Survival Coalition (breast cancer survivors) Tour de Pink that fall," Steffens said.
The Scout rodeo started out as an event planned for 43 riders, but more young people kept showing up as the day progressed. "I ended up having to make more and more soup that morning to fill the pot so that we could feed everybody that signed up at the last minute. But we pulled it off," Steffens said.
Several years ago, when another bike shop canceled its involvement in a kids' ride through Jay Cooke, Steffens stepped in to provide the needed bikes. There weren't nearly enough bikes in the shop's rental fleet to do it, so she sent out a plea to Carlton County residents. Community members responded by lending their own bikes to make the ride possible.
And with the shop's 10th anniversary, an appreciative Steffens wanted to give something back to the community that has supported the shop: Carlton Bike Rental is now offering its rental bikes to residents of Carlton County free of charge every Sunday for the remainder of the summer. "Our goal is to provide bikes for residents who have a few bikes but not enough for the whole family to spend time together enjoying the great outdoors," Steffens said.
Every Thursday through the summer the shop is donating rental fees to community education programs. For a minimum donation of $15, people can check out a bike for an hour or two or even for the entire day.
Steffens said community ed programs in small school districts like Carlton have sustained losses from not being able to host fundraisers during the pandemic. Thursday rider donations will go directly to support community ed in Carlton and, if there is a groundswell, other community ed programs as well. Steffens encourages Thursday riders to give generously.
As with many other small businesses, the pandemic has presented challenges and opportunities to Carlton Bike Rental and Repair, too. "We're in such a transition state right now," Steffens said. "The social distancing with two employees - who I would have to say are my heroes right now."
Hunter Finnila and Henry Slater, both 17, are in their second summers working at the shop.
"The world is kind of a tumultuous place, so we're learning to adapt," Steffens said. "I hired Henry and Hunter last spring, and last year was really a training period for them. Ben Croft was a cornerstone of this bike shop for several years and he retired last year. But he spent time training the boys and he's just a phone call away, which is fantastic."
"They've learned, gotten more confidence in themselves, and they're fantastic bike mechanics today," she said. "I've been turning more and more of the responsibilities over to them."
Henry Slater said Croft "taught me and Hunter a lot. He got us ready for this year."
"It's a great summer job," Slater said. "It's perfect for high school, really flexible. I also love working with bikes, so it's perfect for me. I definitely plan on returning in future summers, hopefully throughout college."
Another fun part of the community engagement with the shop over the years has been the Monday night bike group, now in its ninth year.
"They ride every Monday at three o'clock and it has never stopped," Steffens said. "When it got too cold to hang on to your handlebars, it became a hiking group, and then snowshoeing or cross country skiing. So it's every Monday, all year round, and it's still going. Deb Croft is the leader and she does a really good job."
"This week they showed up here and they brought their coolers and their chairs. It was really, really nice to have them all show up."
An outdoor enthusiast, Steffens encourages families to get out and "enjoy a beautiful ride on our beautiful trails in our beautiful county."
If you go
To give back on the occasion of its 10th anniversary, Carlton Bike Rental and Repair at 106 Chestnut Ave. in Carlton is offering free bike rentals every Sunday to Carlton County residents, and on Thursdays for a minimum donation of $15 with proceeds going to the local Community Education department to make up for the loss of spring fundraisers.
Here's how it works:
Go online to carltonbikerental.com and click on "Book Now" to see what bikes and sizes are available. Decide what bikes work for your party, then call 218-384-4696 or email the store at [email protected] to make your free reservation.
For now, all checks (minimum $15 donation per bike) for Thursday checkouts should be made out to Carlton Community Ed. This summer, all Sunday rentals are free.
You'll want to give them an idea of how long you plan on riding so that they can possibly turn a bike around for another party after your ride is complete.