Biking boom sparking new cycling-centric businesses
Even if they never get on a bike themselves, most people in Minneapolis are aware of the city’s reputation as one of the top cycling cities in the world. Much of that reputation stems from biking infrastructure like bike lanes and paths, as well as the city’s many bike-friendly events and programs like Nice Ride. But there is more to Minneapolis’ biking scene than what you see on the trails. Over the last several years, Minneapolis has developed a robust bicycle gear manufacturing industry. Here is a look at a few of the companies behind Minneapolis’ pedal-powered revolution.
One of the younger bicycle gear companies in Minneapolis, Groucho Sports was founded by David Urbaniak and Jeff Tietz in 2010. The apparel company launched its first line in spring 2011 with the goal of making gear that is affordable and appropriate for all types of riders.
“We started out with the idea of creating a clean, accessible line at a solid price point with the ability to make cycling more accessible,” Urbaniak saud. “We wanted something that would lend itself well to someone who is just getting into biking.”
Groucho Sports produces bike-themed T-shirts and cycling jerseys, as well as accessories like socks, hats and water bottles. The company’s jersey styles reflect its Minneapolis roots, with names like “The Nordeast” and “The Greenway Flyer.” Groucho Sports also collaborates with local artist for many of its products, such as a jersey designed by Northeast-based MettleVelo, a design shop focused on bicycle culture.
Groucho Sports merchandise is currently only available online, which Urbaniak said is a major reason the company can offer lower price points on typically expensive items like cycling jerseys. However, the company is exploring ways to bring its gear to local bike shops.
Along with the online shop, grouchosports.com has another unique attraction: bloggers who write about anything and everything bike related. Groucho Sports sponsors a series of cyclists of various skill levels to talk about their biking experiences. It’s a great resource for novice riders, as Groucho’s bloggers discuss everything from bike maintenance to their gear choices to planning a perfect ride.
Like many companies, Bicycle bag company Banjo Brothers began when its founders lost their jobs at a previous employer. Founders Eric Leugers and Mike Vanderscheuren worked together in the bag and tool belt division of a larger company and learned their division would soon be sold off. Rather than take jobs in another division, they both accepted severance packages and decided to go into business together.
“You hear don’t do this, but we started a business out of necessity because we needed to pay the mortgage and buy beer,” said Vanderscheuren. “But If you passionately feel like you want to do this, then you owe it to yourself to jump. You will regret it if you don’t take that leap.”
Both avid cyclists, Leugers and Vanderscheuren decided to use their bag manufacturing experience to launch their own line of cycling bags, focused on function and durability over aesthetics. The company launched in 2004 with its products in seven Twin Cities bicycle shop. Now, Banjo Brothers bags can be found in over 500 shops around the world.
With sales of its backpacks, bags and accessories happening around the world, Minneapolis has gone from Banjo Brothers’ only market to a small percentage of its overall sales. But the company often cites Minneapolis in its marketing and stays active in the local cycling community by sponsoring events such as the Tiny Bikeshop concert series, which are often co-sponsored by another local biking company. These events bring a musician to a bike shop for intimate performances that brings together the audiences for the gear, the musician and the shop. Leugers and Vanderscheuren said that collaboration between local bike companies is a big part of how they like to do business and is good for everyone involved.
As for the name of the company, Leugers summed it up simply: “It was silly and not trademarked.”
One of the brands Banjo Brothers has collaborated with is Twin Six, the cycling apparel found by graphic designers Brent Gale and Ryan Carlson. The two men met while working at a local design firm and launched the company out of Gale’s house in 2004. The problem they sought to solve was a natural one for designers to tackle: A lot of bicycle wear is really ugly.
“We wanted to create jerseys that were following fashion and graphic trends as opposed to cycling trends,” said Gale.
Twin Six makes bicycling jerseys, T-shirts and accessories that are cleaner, sleeker and more stylish than the often garish clothes made by other companies. “It’s on-trend, but it’s not trendy,” said Carlson. “It doesn’t go out of style.” A good portion of its offerings include biking-inspired T-shirts, which Gale said were rare when Twin Six started. Bike shops might carry logo shirts for specific brands, but they weren’t carrying stylish shirts that promote cycling in general. “These are shirts that you can wear out to the bar,” said Carlson.
Unlike Groucho Sports and Banjo Brothers, Twin Six got its start nationally before catching on in its home city. Gale and Carlson took their first six jerseys to trade show Interbike in 2005 and were picked up by national retailers like REI. Gale and Carlson said Minneapolis bikers started getting into Twin Six gears a couple years after they launched.
“Now it’s hard to go on a bike ride and not see our stuff somewhere,” said Gale.
“Even our mailman is wearing our socks,” said Carlson.
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