A week from today, I’m bussing up to Duluth, from Century College in White Bear Lake, Minn., to the starting point of the MS 150. I’ll camp out overnight, then begin my journey from the City on the Hill to the City of the Mill. It's 150 miles of biking split between Saturday and Sunday — all to support the Upper Midwest MS Society and its brawl with multiple sclerosis. I’ve never biked for a better purpose.
How do I feel, a week out from this undertaking? Pretty great, my column-reading friends. Though I only just signed up, I feel like I’ve been training for the MS 150 since November, when, for this new job of mine, I first began commuting between Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul on my bike. I’ve biked somewhere every day, at least a little bit, since April 1, with a mix of gigantic rides and shortie jaunts. My butt’s well accustomed to my saddle. My body is conditioned to biking long distances. I’ve done centuries before, including during the Powderhorn 24 and the Ironman Ride, so the distance isn’t too daunting. But it’ll still be a challenge.
What I’m mostly looking forward to, is two unfettered days of bicycling. Out there on the roads, freed from the worries of my daily life. With my girlfri-ancee and the MS 150 team I’ve joined, the BAOBs (Badasses on Bikes). Know for sure that I will give you my post-ride report, including the lessons I learned.
On a rainy evening in late March, I rode away from Uptown Minneapolis’ Calhoun Cycle on a borrowed Brompton folding bike.
The tiny beast was mine to ride, as much as I wanted, throughout 30 Days of Biking; in return, I’d be tweeting, Facebook posting, and photographing my rides for Calhoun Cycle, for a promotion/fun time titled Meet Brompton. Full disclosure: I wasn’t paid for this promotion, and it was arranged, based purely on my questionable Social Influencer abilities, before I began columnizing for the Star Tribune.
To be honest, because there’s no other way to be, I didn’t believe I'd put many miles on the Brompton, a bike manufactured and designed in England by a family-owned company with limited but growing penetration in the U.S. market. In mid March, I’d just purchased a badass, quasi fat–tired Surly Krampus, and I own a beautiful Trek road bike, plus two other nice single-speeds. Why would I need a Brompton? That was strike one.
Strike two: My first impression of the Brompton was that it was dinky, small, and delicate. How could a bike so tiny brave Minnneapolis’ mean, er, streets, and get me from my apartment in the North Loop to my workplace in downtown St. Paul? How could it handle all of the obstacles I encounter every day?
Strike three: I was intimidated by the folding and unfolding process, which Calhoun Cycle employee Martha Garcés had demonstrated several times. It didn’t stick in my brain, despite a bunch of practice. So, I assumed this bike would be a novelty, that I’d try the Brompton out a few times in April and then leave it to gather dust while I rode bigger and more powerful bikes.
Boy was I wrong, gentle reader. As soon as I made sense of the folding and unfolding, and realized how well the Brompton fit into my life, I fell in love with it. Like, LOVE LOVE, so much so that I waited until the very last minute to return my borrowed beauty to Calhoun Cycle, and joked about tears falling onto it as I returned it, and imagined myself giving it a kiss goodbye.
Presenting the four highlights of my Brompton experience:
1. Riding around on a Brompton gets you a LOT of attention. I’m sort of an attention whore. Every time I took the Brompton out, somebody would always ask me about it, and I’d deliver my sales pitch. Look at how pretty and small it is, see how light it is, now watch me fold it and unfold it. Amazing! At one point, on a day that saw me out bicycling between 9 a.m. and 1 a.m., I’d given so many rapt listeners my Brompton spiel that I began to dread any more questions about it.
2. It truly does work for my life. I like the Brompton for the same reason I like the Nice Ride. It’s low maintenance, folding up at every destination, then becoming as portable as a tiny (albeit awkward and occasionally pedal-sharp) suitcase. Once you’ve folded it up, it fits just about everywhere. I put it under my work desk. I lugged it through craft breweries and supermarkets and department stores and restaurants. I sat it on my lap on the bus. And as soon as I was done, and back outside, I snapped it back open and I was off. Folding up means never having to lock. On top of that, the Brompton includes built-in lights, powered by your pedaling, so you needn't worry about carrying lights around either.
3. I became a master folder. Once I got a hang of the process, my early intimidation seemed foolish, and having to learn how to fold and unfold the bike seemed like something ESPECIALLY cool about the bike. A “look at this skill I’ve learned” benefit. The next step means folding and unfolding with panache, with just enough showmanship to make people go “OOOHHHH!” when you bust out the Brompton’s final snap into full bicycle mode.
4. I began to enjoy the way the Brompton was — to a certain manly men set, the sort who drive around in gigantic trucks and jeer at things out of their windows — threatening. I got a few cat calls while I was out on the Brompton. More than a few times, I made accidental eye contact with a pedestrian or driver and found myself face-to-face with a sneer. There’s a certain personality type that’s threatened by conveyances that are tiny and delicate, and the Brompton provokes that personality type. I’m proud to be on the Brompton’s side now.
I put many, many miles on the Brompton. Of the 500+ I rode in April, more than half were on the folding bike’s comfortable Brooks saddle, atop its robin’s egg blue frame. I took it on group rides. I rode it to work. I rode it on pavement. I rode it on limestone gravel. I rode fast. I rode slow. I folded it and carried it like a pro. And the Brompton handled it all, with English elegance. Will I own a Brompton of my own someday? Absolutely.
Above all, it’s just a pleasure to ride.
Calhoun Cycle – The shop that was kind enough to lend me the bike for the month of April.
Brompton Bicycle – The makers of my folding bike.
#meetbrompton – The tweets I posted about my Brompton adventure.
PHOTO CREDIT: All of the photos in this post are by Martha Garcés.
Last night, I was afflicted — as the gray day got grayer — with what I called “inexplicable melancholy.” But it was easily explicable.
I neglect the details of my life all week, from my kitchen to my laundry, and Sunday night always seems like my tiny, tiny space for getting everything done. I need to clean my whole apartment in two hours, and launder a month’s worth of clothes, and get all the dishes done, and then give my lonely cats some attention, or I feel REALLY bad about myself. It’s a cussload of unnecessary pressure that wouldn’t be so weighty if I’d just, you know, spread my chores throughout the week instead of relegating them all to a few sad hours of Sunday night.
So, as the melancholy settled upon me, I tweeted that I needed a bike ride.
My buddy Zach responded that he’d bike with me. “I don’t know,” I texted back, immediately reversing what I’d just tweeted. “I got a case of the Sunday sads, and I have a lot to get done.” “You’ll feel better if you bike!” he said. And so we agreed to ride together. Around 7 p.m., we met up (Zach on his vintage pink Schwinn, with its mind-jarringly loud brakes and its “you can hear it three blocks away” bell; and me on my Trek road bike) and aimlessly rode around our neighborhood. We pedaled up to the Lowry Avenue bridge (“I always forget it’s up there!” said Zach) and rolled past its beautiful but easily taken for granted view of downtown Minneapolis.
We rode up Marshall toward the Stone Arch Bridge, all the while talking about our jobs, and our relationships, and whatever else. I can’t really remember. “I always forget how much better biking makes me feel,” said Zach. “I think so much more clearly.”
At the Stone Arch, whose falls were roaring, I shouted at Zach, “Let’s bet on how many walkers'll block the bike path!” I looked ahead and saw three or four filling up the bike space on the Stone Arch. I’m often conflicted about riding on Stone Arch because it means dodging walkers who unthinkingly meander away from their zone without looking for bikes. But not this time. As the Sunday night walkers saw Zach and me rolling toward them, they cleared off the walkway and went to their lane of the shared space. They gave us our room. We gave them theirs. We shared. Lovely.
Zach and I stopped for coffee and tea, and drank our drinks outside the Depot off Washington Ave. We talked about watching Cosmos (I haven’t been, he has) and converting roads and highways into 24/7 solar panels that give energy to everything around them. We talked about how resistant people are to change, how stuck on the traditional idea of transport they are, how threatening bikes, transit, trains and car sharing are, for some reason, to convention. But all of that is so fascinating to us!
“I better go home and do my chores,” I said, and as the sunset neared, we pedaled through downtown Minneapolis toward our homes. With my “inexplicable melancholy” long gone, I spent the next three hours cleaning my apartment and went to bed exhausted.
On Friday night, around 10 p.m., Charles Lord, 65 years old, was about to rent a Nice Ride bike—for his commute into work as a part-time employee at the post office—when he was hit by a van. He died on Saturday morning, at North Memorial Medical Center.
To honor Lord, the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition has organized a memorial ride on May 10, at 2 p.m. The ride will convene across the street from where Lord was hit, Lord's brother will speak, and the MBC will set a positive, reflective tone. The memorial ride will be a three-mile, one-way trip to the downtown Minneapolis post office.
Hello, Star Tribune readers! Welcome to my new bicycling blog.
I’m Patrick Stephenson, the Co-Founder and Director of 30 Days of Biking. Founded in 2010, right here in the Twin Cities, 30 Days of Biking is a pledge to ride your bike every day in April, whether 100 miles or around the block, and share your adventures online. Basically, it's an excuse to pedal your bike a whole bunch in early spring. Hashtag #30daysofbiking.
30 Days of Biking is all about the happiness that bicycling brings, and we call ourselves a community of joyful cyclists. This year’s round signed up almost 7,000 participants from around the world and (shameless plug) our Finale Dance Party is on May 3, at Republic 7 Corners, with music from Highchair Kings and Power Mountain, plus a bike swag raffle that benefits Free Bikes 4 Kidz, a non-profit whose mission befits its name. It gives bikes to kids in need, a beautiful thing!
How else to use the first-day post? I tweet @patiomensch, very addictively. My day job is at MPR, as a copywriter. I was born in Rochester, Minn., and I grew up in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. I went to college at the University of Minnesota, and until last year, I worked in advertising, as a proofreader, at Fallon and then Olson. My girlfriend’s name is Nola; she’s beautiful.
My mission with this blog is similar to 30 Days of Biking’s. I want to share my bicycling adventures. The Twin Cities is a rockin’ place to ride your bike. From the Cedar Lake Trail to the Greenway to the bike paths on Park Ave. and Portland, to the side streets of St. Paul and the parkways, we have some truly, truly stunning infrastructure, and a crazy-vibrant bicycling community. I want to tell you about that, too. I’ll post about moments from my rides. I’ll write about events I’ve attended and people I’ve met (bike people are incredible people). So, let’s get this started. Thanks for checking in.
One more thing: Star Trek. I love Star Trek, and I’ll find a way to incorporate Star Trek talk, even though this is a bicycling blog.