Thursday, February 28, 2013

Minneapolis Bike Mecca

I have been thinking a lot about the bike culture in Minneapolis. Where I live in Nordeast, the “urban” cyclist projects a strong cultural identity. I was in a bike studio downtown the other day that even sells Levi's skinny jeans instead of spandex. You see bike messengers and artists mixing into a “bohemian” bicycle sub-culture around here. I like to check out these types of places because I like bikes, I like art, and I like the vibe when they mix. But I don’t fit in. I am the guy that these bohemian bicyclists never talk to because when I do stop by the elitist bike studios, I often stand out wearing a neck-tie and khakis (I would normally stop in during a break, and skinny jeans are not yet dress-code compliant at my job). But when I do get a listening ear, it is fun to swap stories. Homer, my brother-in-law, worked as a designer in Minneapolis across the street from One on One Bicycle Studio for several years, and I have heard him complain that they don’t have time for you there unless you are a Bike Messenger or the like.

You also see a bit of the Green movement claiming some serious turf in the Minneapolis bike scene. Mix reducing your carbon footprint, expanding green spaces, and limiting urban sprawl and you have some effective leveraging for bike legislation. Add in public health advocates and you bring in added weight to increasing the number who bike commute and ride for health. And it has paid off in the form of some nice bike lanes, trails, and bike share programs around town. So I thank them for that, and hope to contribute in a small way to the cause.
However, I am not one to say that the bicycle will solve our social ills, and I certainly don’t claim to bleed pedal grease when cut. As anyone reading this blog can see, I am a casual cyclist who just likes to get out and ride and talk about it on the side -- not that anyone is listening.

I suppose cycling takes me back to care-free summer as a kid, when biking was our primary mode of transportation. For my brothers and me and our neighborhood group of friends, an endurance race was riding our BMX bikes 3 miles to the Civic Center in Brooklyn Center and back on a sunny afternoon (probably not something I would allow my boys to do in those same neighborhoods these days; it is unfortunate how things have changed). I remember each summer, being one with my bike and riding all over the area for my baseball practices and games. I never owned a bike lock, and my bike was always there when I needed it.

I still have a scar and a small lump on my forehead, which I got popping a wheelie when the front tire of my older brother’s red Schwinn wasn’t correctly attached. I remember seeing the wheel rolling away while I was midair and then feeling the sting of my forehead as it hit the speedometer and handlebars when I came crashing to the ground. I shook it off, put the tire back on without the help of a wrench, and almost repeated the same blunder a block later (Riding wheelies was my favorite).

My point is, that I like to idolize the bike messengers for their grit, green folks for their passion, and competitive cyclists for their discipline and determination. But I really just wish I could pull out that old BMX and go for a sunny ride with my old buddies, ball gloves hanging from our handle bars and bats on our shoulders on our way to an empty lot. 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Crashed Ice

I have been biking up and down Cathedral Hill quite a bit lately, and
got the see the different stages of Red Bull Crashed Ice – St. Paul
that took place the last week of January this year, from building the
track to test runs to tare-down. My favorite was climbing the hill
during a sound check with Coldplay’s “Paradise” blaring in the
background. Coldplay should accompany those bitter cold rides more
often (it was for sure below zero on that day).

There were daredevils doing test runs of the ice course on their skates, which included a start ramp that dropped 4 stories at a 45 degree angle. As I was
riding by someone hollered out to me to try my luck on the course on my bike. I called back that it sounded like fun.

Well, I got a chance for my own version of crashed ice last Friday; it didn’t hold a candle to what those guys were doing on the track, and ended much more embarrassing for me. I took a nasty spill after hitting a patch of ice, cracked and bruised a few ribs, and spent part of the evening in urgent care assessing the damage and getting some meds to take the edge off the pain every time I breathed.

A friendly couple passing-by stopped to make sure I was okay while I lay collapsed in a snow bank. Through gritted teeth I thanked them for their thoughtfulness and assured them I was fine, just had the wind knocked out of me and some bruised pride. Few times have I felt more paint though… and I am sure I am a wimp compared to those crashed ice guys who love to slam into the boards at full speed. Riding the Red Bull Course doesn’t sound like so much fun anymore; I’ll remain content to watch from the sidelines.

I’m going to borrow and share some sage advice just received from
Freewheel Bike:

“This year the road ice has been playing peek-a-boo with our tires.
First you see the ice, then it's gone...then BAM! it's back again in a
place you never expected it!
Stay safe. Stay upright. Ride studded tires.”

I am taking this advice and am accepting pity from a friend who is donating some lightly used studded tires, telling me I should not be walking on, let alone riding on ice without that added safety measure. It is definitely not fun seeing the ice below your wheels, and then the wheels out from under you as you crash onto the ice.