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The wheels keep turning for this bike enthusiast

January 11, 2016
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Brent Fuqua

Owning a bicycle offered Brent Fuqua mobility when his self-admitted “foolishness” compromised his driving privileges. Tinkering with a bicycle gave him a chance to escape his thoughts during the challenges of newfound recovery. Seeing that diversion somehow grow into a thriving business gave Fuqua a sense of great responsibility and new direction in life.

Now the 53-year-old has decided it is time to walk away, with his partner in the Minneapolis-based Recovery Bike Shop buying out his interest in the sales and repair business. But Fuqua's love for bikes stays strong. He says confidently, “The legacy of this thing won't go away anytime soon.”

For the Recovery Bike Shop has always been greatly about being part of a community, even as it grew from an idea hatched in the garage of a sober home to an enterprise initially fueled by a recession and the emergence of online sales. Though its most community-focused endeavor was never blatantly advertised, people in Minneapolis came to learn that the Recovery Bike Shop was a place where a person of little means could go to receive a donated bike or free repairs.

The shop also became a vehicle for celebrating recovery, although Fuqua admits to being a reluctant symbol for that at the beginning.

“At first I kind of resented it,” he says. “In the recovery world, your junkie stories get pretty old pretty fast. But later I realized that if this was how we were having a positive impact on people, then fine.”

Coming home

The first steps toward what would become the Recovery Bike Shop were taken at Progress Valley Men's Center, the Minneapolis halfway house where Fuqua lived in the late 2000s after his second experience of primary treatment. He is now working toward building a career in the addiction treatment field, and at the time of an interview with Addiction Professional he was in discussions to join the Progress Valley staff.

“I can't think of any place I'd rather go but home,” he says of Progress Valley. “They are family.”

During his stay at the recovery residence, Fuqua began working on a classic Schwinn that he calls the bicycle equivalent of the '57 Chevy. Around half a dozen other bikes had been left in disrepair in a garage on the halfway house's property. A friend with a background as a mechanic started bringing tools to Fuqua, and soon neighbors were picking up on what was going on and were sending over their bikes as well.

The operators of the sober home encouraged Fuqua to take the activity further, and he decided to rent a nearby garage in 2009. Facebook friends soon would begin to urge him to start his own bike shop. “It's insane to think what it would look like some Saturdays in the back of my operation there,” he says.

Fuqua identified a business partner, and the Recovery Bike Shop would be established in 2011 to offer “Real Transportation for Real People.” A number of factors had allowed the concept to grow from its modest start: a recession that compelled some of its victims to seek out cheaper transportation options, an already thriving bicycling culture in Minneapolis, and, in the earliest days, the emergence of Craigslist as a place from which to sell the bikes that began arriving at his doorstep.

“Our marketing became community involvement,” he says. “We were appreciated by people here who work in median-income jobs intentionally because they prefer to live on less.”

Fuqua still marvels over how working on one bike so that he could get out of his own head ended up growing into a successful business and community presence. He and his business partner were able to buy a 15,000-square-foot building in 2013 to house the operation, which now earns more than $1 million a year in revenue.

“This was something trusted to me by the universe,” Fuqua says. “It was a big responsibility trusted to me by some source bigger than myself.”

New chapter

Fuqua doesn't seem overly stressed by the process of entering a new phase. Maybe that's because his life has been filled with rich experiences, from operating a successful photography business to playing in numerous bands (he now plays the mandolin in a bluegrass band). He says the partying culture of a musician contributed to both of his experiences with addiction and treatment, though he now believes, “I was probably suffering from major depression and anxiety.”

Fuqua wants to continue to have a positive impact on others, all the while making sure to surround himself with good people because “I do better with a little accountability around me.” And he does not intend to leave the bike world completely behind. In fact, he's once again contemplating others' advice. This time they're suggesting that he write the story of the Recovery Bike Shop.