Minneapolis and Saint Paul have one of the highest bicycle-commuting populations in the country, which means that there is a wealth of bike shops to choose from. Which ones are the best or have the best selection? I frequent many of the area shops, and here are some highlights of where to go for what you’re looking for.
There are two large locally-owned chains in the greater Twin Cities area: Erik’s Bike Shop and Penn Cycle. Erik’s has more locations, about 10 in all to Penn Cycle’s six. Penn Cycle has been around longer, though, almost 50 years to Erik’s almost 30. These shops have a wide selection of bikes, apparel, and accessories, as well as full-service repair shops. On the other hand, neither shop has many specialty bikes, so if you’re looking for a track bike or cruiser, these are not the places to go. In the off-season, Erik’s carries snowboards and Penn carries fitness equipment.
If you’re not interested in one of the larger shops, there are 10 or 15 smaller shops in the area. The advantage to smaller shops is the staff. Their knowledge is generally better since they all seem to ride regularly, and they can offer more suggestions. The downside is that their prices are sometimes higher, simply because they cannot sell the quantity that the big guys can.
Freewheel Bike: This fairly large shop is located on the West Bank of the University of Minnesota campus, at 1812 S. 6th St. Freewheel acts like one of the bigger stores - they have a wide selection and their prices are reasonable. They have a wide selection of mountain, road, and comfort bikes, and several different brands. The great perk that they offer is renting out their repair shop. For a small fee, you can use all of their tools and a stand to fix your bike yourself.
Behind Bars: This smaller shop was opened just over a year ago and has already earned the distinction of "Best Bike Shop" by the City Pages. Behind Bars is run by Chuck and his wife, Stephanie, and is located at 208 13th Ave. NE, in northeast Minneapolis. They specialize in track bikes, single-speeds, and lower-priced, but high-quality, racing bikes. Chuck does most of the mechanical work by himself and has been in the bicycle business at different shops for over 10 years. Behind Bars is the only bike shop you will find in northeast Minneapolis.
Gateway Cycle: This log cabin-style shop is located just across the street from the Gateway Bike Trail, at 6028 Hwy, 36 Blvd, N in Oakdale. They carry a number of larger brands and everything from road to comfort to BMX. Gateway is smaller than it looks from the outside, but if they don't carry an item or don't have it in stock, just ask! The employees are more than willing to place special orders. Even though the selection here isn't huge, the location is great if your bike acts up along the trail.
Now Bikes and Fitness: Now has two locations, one at 75 N. Snelling Ave. in Saint Paul and one at 3673 Lexington Ave. N. in Arden Hills. Now carries a wide range of... well, everything! They offer riding groups in summer and training classes in winter, so there's always something to do there. A word of warning, though: they don't always have a mechanic on-site, so your bike may not get fixed for a few days.
Flanders Brothers: If you don’t have at least $3000 to spend on a racing bike, don’t patronize Flanders. They carry only high-end equipment and gear, and the staff is ridiculously stuck up. This is a good place to go for custom racing fittings and expensive form-fit jerseys, but other than that, it’s not worth the trip. You can find Flanders Brothers at 2707 Lyndale Ave. in Minneapolis.
Bicycle Chain: This is a small neighborhood shop located at 1712 Lexington Ave. N. in St. Paul, just down the road from Como Park. The staff is friendly and they know what they are doing, but Bicycle Chain is highly overpriced. I bought a chain there for $20 that would cost $15 at any other store. Bicycle Chain also carries Litespeed, which is a brand that very few other shops in the area stock.
Grand Performance: This shop is centered on one brand – Bianchi. Grand Performance carries most of their bicycles, but focuses on the higher-end road bikes. They are not snobs, though. If you bring in your beater Target bikes, they’ll still fix it with a smile. The owner is almost always there, and he has a very friendly greyhound dog that hangs out in the store. Grand Performance is located at 1938 Grand Ave. in St. Paul.
County Cycles: This is a small shop in Roseville, just outside of both Minneapolis and Saint Paul, located at 2700 Lexington Ave. N. County Cycles carries many brands of bicycle equipment that most other places do not, like Louis Garneau, but they also carry more popular brands, like Bianchi. You'll want to go here if you want personal attention and friendly staff the moment you walk in the door, and a shop that's willing to lend you their tools to make your own fix.
So, if you're not interested in buying a bike, where can you go to rent one? Penn Cycle does rentals out of their Bloomington location, but only road and high-end mountain bikes. Your best option is probably Calhoun Cycle. They are located at 3342 Hennepin Ave. S., which is right off of Lake Calhoun. They sell mostly recumbent and folding bikes, but also rent bikes, and there are several bike trails nearby. Enjoy the ride!