Bike the Cities: A tale of two wheels

Article by: Christy DeSmith | May 5, 2011 - 11:26 AM

Jeb Shookman waits as his bike is worked on at Freewheel Bike Shop / Photo by Tom Wallace

Ask people why the Twin Cities area is so big on bikes, and you'll hear no shortage of smart answers. "It has to do with the off-street paths," says Shaun Murphy, a City of Minneapolis employee who oversees federally funded biking and walking initiatives. Murphy notes that most bike-friendly cities, like Portland, Ore., have a higher proportion of bike lanes and bike boulevards, which simply route cyclists alongside auto traffic. With bikeways like the Midtown Greenway, however, a casual rider feels cloistered and safe. "In Minneapolis, it's easier to get your mom, your kids, even your grandmother onto bicycles," observes Murphy.

"It has to do with the connectiveness of bike trails and bike routes," argues Gary Sjoquist, a bike evangelist and lobbyist for Bloomington-based Quality Bicycle Products, the largest distributor of parts and accessories in the industry and maker of the Surly and Salsa bike brands. Though Minneapolis has the state's highest concentration of riders, Minnesota as a whole "leads the nation in miles of paved trails," Sjoquist says. Meanwhile, our local and state governments have done a fine job of linking those trails, and providing bridges where rivers and freeways are concerned. This clears the way for bikes to function as transportation.

What's more, Sjoquist suspects the local cycling community is friendlier than most. He travels the country in his work to promote bicycling. "In other cities I see sharp divisions between the road-bike enthusiasts and recreational riders. But here," he brags, "we don't have those lines between what kind of cyclist you are, and the expense of equipment you ride."

The theories don't stop there. There's the flat terrain, the comparatively wide streets, and even our temporary insanity come summertime (when the parks are so packed they resemble Mediterranean plazas). Whatever our cities' virtues, their sum equals one happy outcome: accolades from bicycling groups and lifestyle publications. Minneapolis famously unseated Portland as the No. 1 city in Bicycling Magazine last year, and this week the League of American Bicyclists named Minneapolis a gold-level "Bicycle-Friendly Community." Finally the rest of the world sees what we have long known: The Twin Cities is tops for people on bikes.

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