Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Minneapolis: A metropolis of cycling wonderment

As mentioned in a previous post, Minneapolis was recently ranked as the most bike-friendly city in America by Bicycling magazine. The city has more than 120 off-and on-road trails, a bike share program and repair facilities scattered throughout the metro.

I also mentioned that I was going to have to see this "thriving biking community" for myself at one point. A cycling magazine might say those types of things about a city, but how do we know for sure? After all, most of my memories of the Twin Cities involved bad traffic, worse street organization (at least in St. Paul) and God-awful parking around the Metrodome. Could Minneapolis really be THAT accommodating to cyclists?

Well, with a day off on Sunday and printed bike trail maps in tow, I finally decided to make my long-awaited pilgrimage to this cycling-crazed metropolis. I packed a lunch, circled interest points on the maps and got an old college friend to come along for the trip.

At the risk of offending my Mankato-based readership, I'm going to refrain from slobbering over Minneapolis' bike trails. But I will say this: The city's national ranking is well deserved.

My friend and I parked on the west side of Cedar Lake in Minneapolis. From there, we planned on taking the Cedar Lake Trail to Target Field (another Minneapolis landmark I had not experienced yet, double bonus!), where we would then take the bike lanes of streets to West River Parkway, head south, cross the historic stone arch bridge and swing by the East bank of the U of M to pick up my step brother, a student at the U and our unofficial tour guide of the bike trails. We were also hoping to see Minnehaha Falls, bike on the Midtown Greenway Trail and possibly grab a drink in the uptown area of town.

The trip stated off wonderfully. The weather was perfect and the Cedar Lake Trail took us right up to the entrance of Target Field, where my friend and I were absolutely shocked by the number of bikes parked along the stadium's walls for the Twins game that day (side note: the Twins won 6-0). There were bike racks at every corner of the stadium, all of which were packed to the limit with two-wheeled commuters. Considering how accessible the stadium is via biking (every trail in the city links up at some point), I'd imagine this to be a regular occurrence on good-weather days.

We'd both been to countless Twins games at the Metrodome in our time, but we could never remember it being THAT accommodating to cyclists. The sea of bike racks alone was enough to make me fall in love with Target Field, never mind the stadium's overall awesomeness (not a journalistic term, but that's the best way I can describe it). We literally could have spent an entire day walking around Target Field. However, we lacked Twins tickets and had other sights to see. Though we did have time for the giant glove, as the second photo would indicate.

We navigated the city bike lanes with ease to West River Parkway and crossed the stone arch bridge with no issues. However, once we got to the U of M, an all-too-familiar bike problem reared its ugly head: I had a flat tire. Even worse, It was a flat caused by a valve issue rather than a standard leak. So instead of being able to patch it and repair it, I was forced to pump up the tire every 5-10 minutes. We managed to get to Minnehaha Falls before the valve broke off (or rather, exploded off like a gun shot) completely and rendered my bike useless.

Thankfully, my step brother was aware enough of the area to know that a Minneapolis Light Rail station was nearby, where we then took it back to his place near campus and attempted to find a bike shop for quick repairs. We managed to find one, but since my bike was an older model, the shop didn't have the right sized tube in stock and our biking trip was prematurely over. Dejected, we hitched a ride back to our cars from my step brother and called it quits for the day.

For the most part, we got to travel on pretty much every trail we set out to see, with the exception of the Midtown Greenway. However, we did get to take an unexpected trip on the Light Rail instead. So our attempt at non-vehicle commuter routes in the Twin Cities kind of evened out in that regard.

Overall, the bike trails in Minneapolis were everything I hoped they would be in more. They were easy to navigate, well maintained and offered plenty of appealing destinations. Any cycling enthusiast could have a field day (or weekend) exploring the various landmarks, checking out historical sites and hitting a few bars and restaurants along the way. At the same time, the trails are direct enough where any cost-conscious commuter looking to save money could easily get around on two wheels and a set of pedals.

The city has really done a commendable job building a distinct cycling culture. Hopefully next time my bike will cooperate better.

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