More people are riding bikes in the Twin Cities. Bike traffic increased 53 percent in Minneapolis between 2007 and 2015, and 33 percent in St. Paul between 2007 and 2014, city bike counts show. This week was Minneapolis Bike Week (and it’s National Bike Month, too). If you felt the urge to join the people on bikes but didn’t get a chance or feel too out of practice or uncomfortable riding on city streets, consider this a useful primer on getting back in the saddle. It’s all here, from getting the bike rolling well, to riding with confidence, to knowing the rights of cyclists and motorists.
Before stressing about traffic laws or how to signal turns, you should focus on your basic tool: the bike. If you haven’t ridden your bike for a while, take 30 seconds to make sure all systems are go. It’s as easy as A, B, C: air, brakes and chain.
• Air — Do tires need pumping up?
• Brakes — Do they work?
• Chain — Does it spin freely? It shouldn’t be too loose or rusty.
If your bike’s basic functions are compromised, go to a bike shop.
Resource: If you are interested in learning the basics of bike maintenance, check out an open shop night where mechanics make space, tools and time available to those who seek to learn. In the metro, Cycles for Change, The Hub Bike Co-op and Recovery Bike Shop are examples of shops that offer open shop nights.
If sitting on your bike seat is painful or you are straining to reach the handlebars, it’s not going to be comfortable biking anywhere. “Many parts of the bike can be adjusted for better comfort, which is different for everybody and will depend on each rider’s body geometry, flexibility, riding style and fitness level,” said Casey Wollschlaeger, a service technician at the The Hub Bike Co-op.
• Remember that the following can all be adjusted: saddle height, handlebars, brakes and shifting tension.
• It’s also possible to improve comfort by replacing any of the following: saddle, stem or seat post, handlebar grips, tires or bar tape.
Resources: For more about bike fit and function, check out the related sidebar with tips from Wollschlaeger.
Controlling the bike
Knowing how to control the bike — start, stop, turn left and right — is essential and not as elementary as it may sound. “Lots of people don’t know how to start or stop properly,” said Nick Mason, deputy director of the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota (of which the author is a member), which provides bicycle education.
• So what’s the proper way to start? Mason recommended the power pedal position. If you are right-footed, place that foot on the pedal and position the pedal at the 2 p.m. position — left-footed people do the same except at the 10 p.m. position — so you can get off to a strong start simply by putting all you weight into your dominant leg and pushing down.
• The simplest way to signal turns is by extending the arm perpendicular to your body, left arm when turning left, right arm when turning right. Minnesota law requires cyclists to signal, except when they need hands on handlebars to steer.
• After you’ve gotten your cycling legs back, you can gain confidence in your ability to switch gears and stop smoothly by practicing on a hill. Smooth stopping? Stop pedaling in advance and apply equal pressure to both brakes.
Resources: For more practical cycling tips, see the League of American Bicyclists website: bikeleague.org/ridesmartvideos.
When working to gain confidence, cyclists should use eyes and ears and be present so you can hear the motor of an approaching car behind you or the yells of children who might dart out into the street. Here are some places to practice.
• Off-street facilities, like trails in the parks and along the river, are free of motorized traffic. Trying for off-peak times is better for out-of-practice cyclists.
• Neighborhood streets or abandoned parking lots can be good practice spaces for those who don’t live close to an off-street trail or park or feel uncomfortable in natural areas where there are fewer eyes on the streets.
• Open Streets (openstreetsmpls.org) are coming to Minneapolis this summer. During an Open Street event, a section of a busy corridor, like Lyndale Avenue or Lake Street, is closed to cars, and people on foot or bike, vendors and entertainers come out to play.
The more you ride, the more important it is to be aware of what is expected from you as a bicyclist and what you should expect from other road users. “Do not sacrifice your safety for someone else’s convenience,” Mason said. Here are the laws related to bike use in Minnesota:
• Cyclists have the right to be on all roads in Minnesota, except where specifically restricted, such as freeways.
• Cars are required to give cyclists three feet of space when passing.
• On streets where cars and bikes are mixed without any bike-specific infrastructure, the law requires cyclists to ride as far right as is “practicable.” There are exceptions to this rule, such as when making a left turn. Bottom line in these conditions: It is almost always the case that a cyclist should be in the middle third of the lane or about where the right wheels of a car would be.
• Cyclists are required to ride with traffic, not against it.
• Cyclists must stop at stoplights and stop signs.
• Cyclists must use lights in the dark.
• Cyclists may ride on the sidewalks, except in business districts. On sidewalks, cyclists must yield to pedestrians and at driveways.
Resource: Review all of Minnesota’s bicycle-related laws on the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota website: bikemn.org/education/minnesota-bicycle-laws
Minneapolis has 225 miles of bikeways, St. Paul has 170 miles, and more bike facilities are getting built for people who want to ride bikes more but don’t feel comfortable on streets with lots of traffic. “Between the trails included in our parks system, the growing number of on-street protected bike lanes and bike boulevards on low-volume residential streets, we have a pretty good network of low-stress bikeways,” said Matthew Dyrdahl, bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for the city of Minneapolis. If you haven’t been out biking lately, here’s an update on what you’ll find.
• Bike boulevards are identified by a bicycle symbol painted on the pavement and included on the street sign. These low-volume, residential streets offer alternatives to major arterials allowing people on bikes to travel farther without having to compete with motorized traffic.
• Bike boxes are green painted boxes at intersections placed after the stop line for cars and before the pedestrian crosswalk. They offer a safe space where people on bikes can wait and are visible to cars.
• Green painted stripes are being used to guide cyclists from the painted bike lane through the intersection and remind drivers they are likely to encounter cyclists in this space.
• Protected bike lanes are beginning to show up in streets across Minneapolis and more are coming — the city has a plan to add another 30 miles by 2020. The most common iteration features painted stripes dotted with white plastic poles and more substantial approaches. After reconstruction, Washington Avenue will feature raised — above street level — protected bikeways between Hennepin and 5th avenues.
Resources: Check out this video: bit.ly/mplsbikevid
There is power in numbers and it’s more fun to ride with others. Even the law acknowledges that cycling is social — two cyclists may ride side by side in a lane, as long as they aren’t impeding traffic. Here are a few examples of fun, free rides:
• Slow Roll Twin Cities is aimed at people of all ages and abilities and will switch off between Minneapolis and St. Paul. The first ride of 2016 is planned for May 28 at Macalester College in St. Paul. It’s part of the Youth Bike Summit. Check out http://tinyurl.com/zymzyy6 .
• Spinning Stories Book Club meets monthly to discuss a book focused on the history of gentrification in our cities and ends discussion with a ride through the neighborhood that was discussed. (facebook.com/spinningstoriesmn).
• Grease Rag Ride & Wrench organizes a monthly “Full Moon Ride” and is a group aimed at women, transgender and femme-identifying people (facebook.com/groups/greaserag).
Resources: Visit your local bike shop or go on Facebook to find a club that interests you.
Half of all bicycle crashes are just people falling off their bikes, Mason said. If you are an out-of-practice cyclist, you can structure for success by making sure your bike fits and is functional, improving your ability to control your bike, knowing your rights and taking advantage of low-stress bikeways. Making sure the route back to confidence is fun is also important and probably best achieved through riding with other people.
Annie Van Cleve is a freelance writer from Minneapolis. Van Cleve was one of the organizers of the Winter Cycling Congress that met in February in Minneapolis.