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Shifting Gears bike shop celebrates 20 years in business

As Pittman and “her hobby that got out of control” is coming up on 20 years in business, she’s excited to share new goals for the future of Shifting Gears.

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Diane Pittman works on a bike on Monday, Aug. 29, 2022, at Shifting Gears bike shop in Bemidji.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI — As a lifelong cycling enthusiast, Dr. Diane Pittman always dreamed of opening her own bike shop.

In 2002, her dreams became a reality when her husband, Larry Krantz, decided to build a 30-by-50-foot shed and offered to set up a small shop for her in the corner.

Pittman originally thought the shed would be too big, but she finally had a space to start the practice she’d always wanted to try – fixing bikes.

“I'd always wanted to learn how to fix bikes, so I just picked them up at garage sales, but you can only keep so many,” Pittman said. “I started giving them away and I realized there is such a real need (for bikes).”

Pittman’s small corner in her husband’s shed slowly started to expand, as did her passion for recovering old, broken-down bicycles and giving them to people who need them most.

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“The bikes took over the space and I had to eat my words about the shed being too big,” Pittman said with a laugh.

A certified family medicine doctor, Pittman worked at Indian Health Services in Cass Lake for almost 30 years before retiring to start her own practice, True North Health Care, in 2014.

All while working as a full-time physician, she relocated her bike shop, calling it Shifting Gears, to a space near the Rail River Folk School about 10 years ago and continued to repair and re-gift old bikes.

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Diane Pittman fixes a bike on Monday, Aug. 29, 2022, at Shifting Gears bike shop in Bemidji.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

As Pittman and “her hobby that got out of control” is coming up on 20 years in business, she’s excited to share new goals for the future of Shifting Gears.

“When I originally started working, I was repairing things at my home and I was trying to figure out how to get bikes to people. I ended up making a partnership with People’s Church and I would bring the completed bikes there for people to take,” Pittman said.

She also held mobile bike clinics with portable stands containing boxes of parts and tools.

“People would come and I would teach the kids about things they really want to know about – how to fix their bikes,” she said. “It's a really fun way to connect with people of all generations.”

With the help of volunteers and her partnership with People’s Church, she fixed, donated and distributed an average of 50 to 100 bikes per year.

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“Bicycling has always been about health for me, mental health and physical health. It's also all about community, people really come together about bikes,” Pittman said. “It's good for the planet as well, when we eliminate shorter trips by taking a bike instead of a car, we decrease the number of greenhouse emissions. Biking just ticks all these boxes for the health of the community and the health of the planet.”

It’s not all about bikes

Besides fixing up old, donated bikes and giving them out to people who need them, she admits that she doesn’t do this just for the bikes.

“It's really fun to connect with people in all walks of life. Think back to when you were a kid and you got your first bike,” she said. “Bikes are such a source of independence and empowerment we sometimes forget that once we get our driver's license and cars.”

Pittman spent a lot of time alone in her shop during the coronavirus pandemic, and one day a young boy from the neighborhood walked into her shop with his bike.

“One day a kid who lived in the neighborhood came in with a $10 bill and he was riding this awful bike that was way too big for him,” she explained. “We had a really nice bike in the shop that was just right, but it needed some work.”

Pittman and the boy spent the whole afternoon working and fixing up his new bike together. He walked out with a new bike and a few new tips on the mechanics. Pittman said she had a great afternoon doing what she loves the most in the midst of the isolating pandemic.

“Watching a kid learn how to fix their bike, there's that ‘new bike smile’ and I have hundreds of pictures of kids smiling with their new bikes.” She added. Pittman still has the $10 bill pinned on a wall in her bike shop.

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A $10 bill given to her after a memorable bike repair encounter hangs on a wall of Diane Pittman's Shifting Gears bike shop.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

More recently, Pittman was scrolling through Facebook and came across a story of a child who was playing by Paul Bunyan Park and riding his bike.

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“Literally two other kids stole his bike right from his hands, just ripped it off,” Pittman said. “I was trying to get him over here and he came with some friends with their bikes too, so we ended up giving him a new bike and fixing up his friend’s bikes.”

According to Pittman, that day wasn’t just about replacing the boy’s bike that had been stolen. She realized he had been through a terrible experience and she wanted him to realize there were kind people in the world, too.

“It was way more than just replacing his bike, it was about giving him a better experience with humans, like a total stranger taking care of you and doing something good to make up for the traumatic experience he had,” Pittman said. “People can be nasty but people can also be wonderful.”

A female focus

In the midst of fixing and distributing bikes, Pittman was struggling to keep up with the shop while also managing her self-owned family medicine practice and personal life.

But her wheels started to turn when she received a voicemail from Laura Galaviz earlier this summer.

After recently moving to the Cass Lake area from Minneapolis, Galaviz was searching for community bike shops in the area when she discovered Shifting Gears. It stuck out to her because of all the bike shops in the area, this was the only community bike shop that aligned with her visions.

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Laura Galaviz fixes a bike on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022, at Shifting Gears bike shop in Bemidji.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

In Minneapolis, Galaviz dedicated her time to working for a number of bicycle nonprofit organizations and other community bike shops.

“There are other bike shops, but they didn't seem to be doing recycling or similar to the work that I'm doing. I called (Shifting Gears) and left a message,” Galaviz said. “Then, a few weeks later, Diane called me back and we talked for a while. We both decided it was a perfect fit, I wanted to get into wrenching again and riding with people in community settings and (Pittman) was looking for a mechanic who could help run the shop.”

In addition to realizing her passion for fixing bikes through her previous work, she also found herself to be a strong, female voice in the biking community. It all started when she wanted to create a collective group or have some kind of community where people could bike together.

“I worked with a lot of bike shops and nonprofits and in those spaces, I was able to learn the mechanics (of bike repair),” Galaviz said. She said she ran into some struggles though when trying to create safe spaces for women and people of color within the organizations she was working with.

“I was really intentional about creating these safe spaces for women, especially women of color and these places were not ready for it,” she added.

As a woman of Mexican descent, Galaviz came to the realization that there weren’t many in the biking community that looked like her. So she started searching for more women of color to join and looked into starting her own organization to do just that.

“(The places I worked at) said they wouldn’t be able to give me the time or pay me for that kind of work, it wasn’t in their mission statements. One place told me ‘If you want to do that kind of work you have to start your own thing,’” Galaviz said. “So then I thought, ‘OK, well these places aren't going to make a place for us in that way,’ so I started out in my garage and I started asking people if they wanted to come to learn and get their bike fixed with me or pay me to fix their bikes.”

Future plans

After Pittman realized that the phone call from Galaviz was “real life,” she immediately started planning ways to incorporate her into the shop. The pair unquestionably share a common passion and mindset for shifting the focus of the biking community, one new-bike smile at a time.

“People have been so excited ever since I posted on Facebook about Laura being here and it's wonderful to see a young woman step into this role,” Pittman said. “I feel like we were supposed to work together, she has the same philosophy and passion for this as I do. She ticks all the boxes and she's really great.”

Pittman wants to work toward being open more full-time to the public since they’ve had to settle for shorter, part-time hours since the pandemic. With the help of Galaviz, it just might be a possibility.

“The dream would be to have a whole cadre of volunteers,” Pittman said. “I'd like to see Laura’s position be that of a coordinator and get grants to do more projects like women's cycling classes and more community bike rides.”

Galaviz also has a few additional goals of her own, such as distributing resources to surrounding tribal nations, doing pop-up events and meeting other women in the community to do a bike ride.

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Laura Galaviz works on a bike on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022, at Shifting Gears bike shop in Bemidji.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

“I really believe that young women deserve to be more hands-on with things,” Galaviz said. “They deserve to know that they can fix things themselves. Part of why I like mechanics and biking is because it's empowering and I want to use it as a tool to empower more women especially.”

The pair encourages all to come into the shop with whatever bike inquiries they may have and not to worry so much about the cost.

“We usually work on a pass-it-forward or free-will basis,” Pittman said. “There are some people we just give a bike to and tell them to pass it forward I say, ‘you got something nice today so you have to go be nice to someone today.’”

Galaviz added that she’s looking to set up a bike ride and hoping to get in contact with more women of all races to introduce them to the biking community. She created a Facebook page so people can follow along on her journey to bring people together through bikes.

“At the end of the day biking is fun and it shouldn’t feel heavy or like work, it should be something that makes you feel less stressed or a healthy thing that you do for yourself,” Galaviz said.

For more information on Shifting Gears, visit their Facebook page or email them at shiftinggearsbemidji@gmail.com.

Maggi is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on outdoor and human interest stories. Raised in Aitkin, Minnesota, Maggi is a graduate of Bemidji State University's class of 2022 with a degree in Mass Communication.
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