The conventional wisdom is that if you bike to work, you end up with sweaty clothes, helmet hair and a longer commute.

The clothes, the hair? Maybe. The time? Maybe not.

It can take about the same amount of time to ride to work as to drive, especially if you live and work in close proximity, drive city streets and are in good shape.

Alex Geisendorfer, 25, bikes 6 miles on the Midtown Greenway from his home in Uptown to his job at Fraser Child and Family Center on University Avenue in Minneapolis. The ride takes about 25 minutes. So, he discovered, does the drive.

"I did race a co-worker of mine one time," Geisendorfer said. "We both left Fraser at the same time and stayed on the streets, no highways. We both reached my place at pretty much the same time."

Of course, as the distance of the commute increases, so does the time disparity between biking and driving. But biking also offers other benefits.

As a professor at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Greg Lindsey has researched pedestrian and bicycle traffic in the Twin Cities. He also bikes to work eight months out of the year. The 5-mile commute from his home in St. Paul to his office at the University of Minnesota takes 25 minutes on a bike, compared with about 15 minutes by car. For Lindsey, the slightly extra time is worth it.

"I'm adding 20 to 30 minutes a day to my commute, but if I were going to try and exercise to meet the general guidelines for exercise, I'm getting that exercise in only 20 marginal minutes a day," he said.

Minneapolis has the nation's second-highest bike commuter rate (behind Portland), with 4.1 percent of commuters biking to work, according to the 2012 Benchmarking Report from the Alliance for Biking and Walking.

That's partly thanks to an array of programs that promote bike commuting, bikeways such as the Cedar Lake Trail and the Midtown Greenway and Nice Ride Minnesota, a nonprofit bike-sharing program.

"The Twin Cities do as good a job as any place in the United States," said Lindsey. "I've lived in Chicago, Baltimore and Indianapolis and the facilities here, both separate bike lanes and on-street facilities, are superior."

State officials view biking as a viable mode for commuters, said Lisa Austin, a transportation planner for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

"Overall, as an organization, we see bicycling as part of the transportation system," she said.

If you're tempted to give riding to work a try, check out area bike routes at www.minneapolismn.gov/bicycles/maps/index.htm.

Peter Funk is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.