Wheeling and dealing: Two SJU students create bike service for campus communities

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May 1, 2018

By Mike Killeen

Students on bikes

From left: Zach Kennedy and Friedrich Odermann 

Photos by: Tommy O'Laughlin '13

Zach Kennedy and Friedrich Odermann are very headstrong individuals. Put simply, they’re go-getters.

When the two Saint John’s University sophomores arrived on campus in the fall of 2016, they began thinking about bringing a different kind of bike service to the College of Saint Benedict and SJU.

They saw that bikes are sometimes difficult to bring to campus – never mind for out-of-state or out-of-country students. You have to keep a bike locked, and it sits out in the elements.

The two students from Wayzata (Minnesota) High School overcame both funding and logistical problems — and then a late spring this semester. Now, Johnnie Bennie Bikes are back on campus and ready to roll with riders.

Johnnie Bennie Bikes made a brief debut in November 2017, and is back to full speed this spring. Twelve bikes are available on both campuses for six-hour stretches.

“When we started out, we thought it would be super easy, all we have to do is 1-2-3 and get this done,” said Kennedy, a finance major. “We found there was a lot more thinking and planning that was needed to go into it. We took a step back and thought, ‘We need to flesh this out a little bit more.’”

“Honestly, I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is patience and perseverance goes a long way,” said Odermann, an economics major. “I’ve learned that from Boy Scouts. I’m an Eagle Scout. That helped a lot with seeing the future for the bikes, just because (becoming) an Eagle Scout is a 10-year process.

“They (Kennedy and Odermann) definitely were the ones who initiated this thing,” said Kyle Rauch, supervisor of the Outdoor Leadership Center (OLC) and assistant director of environmental education at Saint John’s Outdoor University. “Basically, they came to me and said, ‘We need a department to support us.’

“I said, ‘Yeah, you guys are doing the hard work. I’m happy to support your effort and give you some help,’” Rauch said.

Bikes are available 24/7

Both the OLC and CSB Campus Recreation have offered bikes in the past, Rauch noted.

“You had to go there, you had to check them out during open hours and return them during open hours. This (Johnnie Bennie Bikes) gives you the option of picking it up 24/7,” Rauch said.

He added with Johnnie Bennie Bike, you could get a bike on one campus, ride it to the other and drop it off. “It’s a little more versatile and is more convenient,” Rauch said.

Bikes in racksPerhaps the biggest hurdle Kennedy and Odermann had to overcome was paying for everything. After a mix-up prevented them from receiving funding from the Saint John’s Student Senate, they applied for grant money from the Stearns County Department of Health, with an able assist from Matt Lindstrom, professor of political science and director of the Eugene J. McCarthy Center for Public Policy and Civic Engagement.

“Stearns County contacted me directly to inform me of an (available) grant,” Lindstrom said. “Friedrich and I met with an employee from Stearns County, and after learning about the grant, Friedrich and I co-authored the grant.

“After Stearns County received the first version of the grant (for $8,000), they were impressed with the project and told us to resubmit another proposal seeking twice the amount of money ($16,000). We did that and were successful,” Lindstrom said.

“The grant was focused on health in the community,” Odermann said.

That money was used to pay for the bikes, the bike racks and purchasing the system.

‘Comfortable and zippy’ bikes

The unisex bikes have a basket over the rear wheel, great for carrying books, laptops or groceries. It features seven speeds with an internal gear, which means there is no derailleur.

 “The gear shift is on the handlebar, so it’s very smooth,” Rauch said. “I call them comfortable and zippy.”

Kennedy says it’s an entrepreneurial opportunity.

“From the start, we had to find funding, figure out the logistics, put together feasibility analyses and surveys, all of this just to make sure this was something that was needed on campus – not just an addition that wouldn’t bring much to Saint John’s or Saint Ben’s.”

Rauch agrees (the OLC is currently in charge of the bikes).

“They’ve done a real entrepreneurial undertaking. It was really a grass roots thing. They just said, this is what we think and they went the whole way with it. They’re creative guys, and they designed the stickers you see on the bikes,” Rauch said. “It’s their brainchild.”