Archive for November, 2011
Wednesday, November 9th, 2011
Four years ago, only 10 percent of the 35-person Northern Brewer staff biked to its headquarters in Roseville – that’s just three bicyclists. As the company grew, so did the biking culture. Today, the homebrewing retailer employs nearly 100 people, and the number of bike commuters is usually in the range of 20 to 30 percent of the staff.
“I used to know everyone’s bike,” says Autumn Amadou-Blegen, Northern Brewer’s human resources director and one of the original bike commuters. “Now, there’s so many I can’t keep track of whose is whose anymore.”
How did Northern Brewer foster a culture of biking?
Although the number of Northern Brewer bike commuters has grown organically in recent years, a few factors have helped fuel the growing bike culture. Some of the building blocks along the way include:
- A supportive leadership team – Chris Farley, the founder, president and CEO of Northern Brewer, was one of the original three bike commuters.
- The Bicycle Commuter Act, which was passed in 2008, allows Northern Brewer to reimburse its bike commuters up to $20 per month for bike-related purchases. “Employees here use it to buy things like nice saddles and light systems – things that show they’re into bike commuting for the long haul,” Autumn says.
- A few of the employees used to work at County Cycles and Sibley Bike Depot, which means there are plenty of in-house people who are handy with wrenches. In the spring, they perform bike check-overs for fellow employees.
- The company has sought out ways to be involved in the local bike community. In 2009, it started participating in events such as Bike Walk Week and Bike Month. It also volunteered at a Bike Safety Rodeo at the Hancock Recreation Center, where employees conducted bike safety checks and the company donated root beer and gift certificates.
- A year ago, Northern Brewer formed a five-person bike committee to discuss which events it should participate in and ideas for bike-related initiatives. “We’re taking baby steps,” Autumn says, “but the goal is to eventually do bigger things, such as sponsor a local racing team or have a team of employees do the MS 150.”
- As the number of bike commuters grew, storage for the bicycles needed to be addressed. The company invested in a bike rack and a repair stand, which occupy a corner of the warehouse. There’s also a map outlining routes that employees use, along with their home locations and cell phone numbers so that commuters can call someone nearby if they get a flat or need other assistance on their way to and from work.
- All these factors culminated in receiving a Bicycle Friendly Business designation this year from the League of American Bicyclists. “Employees were really proud and excited because it’s national recognition,” Autumn says.
Culture starts with people
The bike commuters at Northern Brewer come from a variety of neighborhoods in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Some have been lifelong bike commuters, and some are fairly new to it. A few employees that make up the company’s bike culture:
- Autumn Amadou-Blegen. In addition to being the company’s director of human resources, Autumn is also a long-time biking enthusiast. Her 7-mile commute takes 20 to 30 minutes, depending on traffic, and takes her from her home in the Hamline-Midway neighborhood down Snelling Avenue, through the State Fairgrounds, then north on Fairview Avenue. “My commute is one of the best parts of my day,” she says. “That’s not the case for most people who don’t bike.” She’s a year-round bike commuter (even using a combo of biking and the bus system when she had pneumonia last winter). For days with inclement weather, Autumn keeps a supply of extra clothing and socks at the office and isn’t stingy about sharing them with employees who may have gotten caught in the rain. Her advice for people interested in bike commuting: “Build up your comfort level. If you’re afraid of biking with traffic, ride your route on a Sunday morning when there’s not as much traffic and there’s no pressure to get to work on time. Or start by taking your bike on the bus and doing just part of your commute by bike.”
- Tom Phelan. A copy editor in the marketing department, Tom started bike commuting right before he started working at Northern Brewer four years ago. He makes heavy use of trails on his 9-mile commute from the Powderhorn neighborhood. “The community of support here is vital,” Tom says. “It’s everything from the big things like having a bike rack and repair stand here to the small thing like chatting with people while you fix a flat.” His advice for people interested in bike commuting: “Connect with other bike commuters. Sibley Bike Shop has free classes on things like maintenance, and Grease Rag in Minneapolis has women’s classes and relaxed rides.”
- Michelle Thomas. Michelle started at Northern Brewer as a fulfillment associate in February and has been bike commuting for six years. The fact that the company was bike friendly was definitely a draw, she says. “I knew it was bike-friendly before I started here, but I didn’t know how much so,” she remembers. “When I started here and saw how bike-friendly it was, it was nice to realize that I wouldn’t be the only person here without a car.” Her advice: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad layers. Do what it takes to get comfortable, wear a helmet and get lights.”
What about the business impact of biking?
As Northern Brewer experienced rapid growth in recent years, the bike culture at the company grew as well. “Overall, we’re prioritizing the creation of more infrastructure and programs that support all functions of the business, including wellness and engagement,” Autumn says. The bike support system at the company is appreciated by employees and is likely a factor in retention, she adds.
The company has started adding more ways employees can be active, too, such as a weekly “recess” (a paid 30-minute break) during the warm months where employees can play soccer outside or take a walk around a nearby lake. “I think managers have seen that folks come back feeling energized, connected to their co-workers and refreshed,” Autumn says.
Tuesday, November 1st, 2011
If you’re an online connoisseur of information, you know that infographics are fairly popular right now. The Web is full of them. Except, you don’t see too many infographics that focus on bicycling and walking.
Today, we wanted to share an infographic (created by Bike Walk Twin Cities) that focuses not only on bicycling and walking–but on bicycling and walking in the Twin Cities.
The infographic below highlights one of the best communities for bicycling and walking in the country: The Twin Cities. And with good reason. We’re consistently in the top 10 (mostly top 5) for places to bike. We bike through the winter (who else is crazy enough to do that?). And, we have more than 75 miles of new bikeways and sidewalks in the Cities to accomodate all that traffic. We’ve also been recognized as a great city for walking.
Bottom line: There aren’t many places in the U.S. better than the Twin Cities when it comes to bicycling/walking culture–and community. The infographic below tells the story…
Tags: bike walk move infographic, biking and walking infographic, biking infographic, infographics, twin cities bicycling infographic, twin cities biking infographic, walking infographic
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