Watt Cycleworks: Adventure Awaits

Editor’s note: A version of this story appeared in the March 2024 Longfellow Nokomis Messenger and is reprinted with permission. Want to highlight your own favorite bike shop? Email editor@streets.mn.

When I heard people talk about bikes, I used to think of fun commutes or quick after-work rides that provide short bursts of freedom on an otherwise humdrum day. I never thought about big adventures or using bikes as a form of inclusion before.

Bill Findling, the owner of Watt Cycleworks in southeast Minneapolis, changed that.

Established in November 2022, on 54th Street and 43rd Avenue, Watt Cycle Works is full of all kinds of e-bikes — from mountain bikes and cruisers to children’s bikes and tricycles for adults. The variety astounded me, a casual cyclist who had never pedaled a motorized bike before. 

E-bikes, or electric bicycles, have rechargeable batteries with electric motors attached to give the rider varying levels of assistance. The motors are there to boost momentum, if the rider chooses to use them.

Watt Cycleworks shop with a number of e-bikes and gear on display.
Over the past year and a half, Watt Cycleworks went from carrying just a few bikes to a wide selection. Photo: Jesse Peterson.

When I asked Bill to describe e-bikes’ potential for high speeds, he laughed and said that a rider needs to “obey the speed limits of the trail,” but the motors are useful because they can make the bike versatile and accessible to everybody. “You can easily find a campsite 20 to 30 minutes out of town and not exert yourself so much,” he said. Or you can use the e-bike to get to and from work without getting too sweaty.

Parents can put their children on the back or front of cargo e-bikes, depending on the design, and go somewhere as a family. The opportunities are endless. “Customers who came into my shop before would bike three to four times a year,” he said, but with an e-bike, “they bike every day now, and they are going on more adventures. It brings out the inner child.”

He also explained that not everybody is in a position to be able to take a fall. What if a person is older or has a disability? E-trikes, or electric tricycles, open up an entire world for people in these situations. He spoke about a friend who was shot in the leg and unable to ride a regular bike anymore. With an e-trike, he can still get out and enjoy a great ride.

Bill’s out-of-the-box thinking and knowledge of bikes impressed me and made me want to learn more.

About Bill Findling

A native of Chaska, Minnesota, Bill, 34, started his bike journey after high school. He disliked every job he ever worked and put away some money to buy a really nice $500 bike. He immediately fell in love. He quit his job and just rode his bike for five to six months. This gave him the time to think about “the space between being in high school and being an adult.”

He got a flat tire one day, and while he watched someone fix it, he thought, “I can do that!” The thought “kept me going,” said Bill, and he became “obsessed.” He took bike repair classes hosted by Freewheel Bike, where a mechanic would teach lessons about various bike repairs.  “At the time it was the only way I could see a way into the industry,” said Bill. After these classes, he pursued job possibilities at various bike shops until he was hired. Bill perfectly described that familiar feeling as a young adult of needing to find one’s place in the world. “I needed to find some peace of mind,” he said, and he found it in biking.

Bill later had his gallbladder removed, but a pin came loose and stabbed his appendix. Unfortunately, the effects of that didn’t become clear for two years. “I was always uncomfortable and didn’t feel well, and no one knew why,” Bill said. He was unable to ride a regular bike. “There [was] not much I could do. I had to live with it. Luckily, I got imaging,” and they found the pin. They removed it and he was able to bike again.

During that two-year period, the shop where he worked loaned him an e-bike. As a professional mechanic with over 10 years of experience, he needed to know how to fix the bike and take care of it properly. He got a job at Crazy Lenny’s eBikes in Madison, Wisconsin — the United States’ biggest single location store for e-bikes — to gain knowledge of motors, batteries and electronics specific to e-bikes.

Neatly organized workbench with wrenches, pliers, and other tools.
Equipped with a workbench and tools needed to start repairs, shop owner Bill Findling fixes all kinds of e-bikes. Photo: Watt Cycleworks

Most people can’t fix e-bikes — it’s a skill someone has to learn on the job, because the machines have so many intricate parts and something may go wrong during the repair. Typically, bike stores won’t fix bikes they don’t sell for this reason; many won’t even fix a flat tire for brands of bikes they don’t sell. Bill’s approach is different. Although he sells several brands of e-bikes such as Denago, Himiway, Bianchi and Rad Power, he will also fix bike brands that he doesn’t sell.

“I’m really trying to find dependable quality e-bikes that are more accessibly priced than most shops around,” Bill said. “I’m trying to find the bikes that are dependable and fixable that are also inexpensive, so people can get an e-bike if they want. What also sets me apart is I’m one of the few people who is repairing most of the e-bikes out there. Even if I can’t do it [initially], I can figure it out. I’m helping more of the people than most of the industry is willing to do.”

Adventure Awaits

Bill spent over 14 years working in various bike shops in the Twin Cities and Madison, including Erik’s Bike Shop, Angry Catfish, Machinery Row, Slow Roll Cycles and Crazy Lenny’s eBikes. He always thought about owning his own shop, but finally decided to make the leap when he realized most bike repair shops were turning people away because they didn’t want to be held liable for mechanical errors or were simply unable to fix e-bikes.

Owner Bill Findling stands inside Watt Cycleworks with one of the e-bikes.
Bill Findling, owner of Watt Cycleworks. Photo: Jesse Peterson.

The first year that Bill opened Watt Cycleworks, he didn’t pay himself and “kind of made it happen.” He had only five or six bikes on the floor. Now, he has all kinds of e-bikes and biking gear, and a part-time staffer named Dave Tendall. Dave used to be his manager at Erik’s Bike Shop. “He’s an incredible person, and I’m lucky to have him for one day a week,” Bill says.

What does he want people to know about his shop? “If neighbors just want to stop by and say ‘hi,’ they don’t have to buy anything from me. I’d just like to meet people from the neighborhood,” he said.

Bill’s passion for biking is contagious. I immediately told him I’d come by, because it’s high time I rode an e-bike. He let me try both his bike and a Himiway bike. Both had several kinds of pedal assist. Of course, the first pedal assist I tried was the strongest, called “turbo.” I went 20 miles per hour without even breaking a sweat! I was riding and giggling while zipping around like a madwoman. When I told Bill the people up the street were looking at me, he laughed and said they were probably used to it, as customers try out e-bikes all the time. I can’t wait to get on one of those again!

Watt Cycleworks is having a tent event with the brand Himiway this coming weekend (April 20 and 21) “with more models than I can carry at this time, so people can try them out,” says Bill. It will run 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday.