Atop her bicycle, Emma Bellemare keeps her hand close to the brakes during her morning commute from Minneapolis to Richfield. She's not only bracing for squirrels darting into her path, she's also watching over her 8-year-old son, Camden, who weaves his bike alongside hers on his way to school.
Commuting by bike has more than doubled Bellemare's morning commute, to about a half hour, but she's much happier doing it, she said.
"When I would be in a car, I really wouldn't smile that much," she said. "On my bike, I'm smiling the whole way."
Bicycling has become a family affair as Bellemare, her husband, Brian, Camden and 5-year-old daughter, Vienna, regularly bike to work, school and almost everywhere else they need to go. After a year of biking as their primary mode of transportation, they want other families to know that it's not only realistic but also fun.
Traveling by bike has deepened their family bond and improved their health, Bellemare said. And it has saved on gas and vehicle expenses while reducing emissions.
"We were able to get rid of one vehicle, which saved a ton of money," she said. "With gas prices going up, I'm very happy that I'm biking."
Now, car trips are generally reserved for grocery runs and long-distance family visits.
The Bellemares didn't start out biking. They were mainly runners before they bought bikes on a whim at a farmers market in 2013. The couple were inspired by the bikers who would pass them on their runs.
"We started out biking the trails in Minneapolis and fell in love with it," she said. "We liked being near the trails, and the lakes and the parks."
Eventually, the couple moved from Burnsville to south Minneapolis, partly because Minneapolis had better trail access, she said. Brian, a structural engineer, started biking about 7 miles to work when his office moved to downtown Minneapolis in 2019.
"I had never biked downtown Minneapolis before," Brian said. "I remember the first day, I didn't really know where I was going. I ended up following a handful of other bikers that were already in front of me."
Emma Bellemare, a physician, also switched jobs in 2021 so that she could bike to work after noticing how much exercise her husband got on his half-hour commutes.
The couple figured out the logistics to make bike commuting work for their whole family. She usually accompanies Camden to school while Brian carts Vienna to daycare in a bike trailer because the route involves busy roads. He is able to shower at work; she uses towels to clean up before changing into her work clothes.
While Bellemare took a break from biking over the winter, she said she has only missed a few non-winter days since last year. Biking has allowed her to increase her daily exercise without even realizing it, she said. She sleeps better, too.
She said she hopes that more bikers will help reduce vehicle traffic. "It's nice to know that I'm helping out the environment," she said.
A most bikeable city
While some people may be biking to work more often because of gas prices, the practicality of it depends on distance and accessibility, said Greg Lindsey, an urban planning professor studying transportation at the University of Minnesota.
Minneapolis is the only U.S. city to make the top 20 in the Copenhagenize Index since 2015. Good bicycling infrastructure makes a big difference, Lindsey said.
"People who bicycle or walk to commute generally report higher satisfaction, higher subjective well-being, with their commute than those who do not," he said.
Ashwat Narayanan, executive director of the biking and walking advocacy group Our Streets Minneapolis, said that while the city can continue to improve bike safety, there are plenty of resources already available for anyone looking to start biking more regularly.
"Map out the route that you want to take and try and see if it has protected bike lanes using Google Street View," he said. "Make sure that you're not biking in places that have a lot of cars."
Narayanan said it is important to get a sturdy lock — he suggests iron locks — and to make sure bikes are outfitted with lights. Facebook is a good resource for finding information and learning from other bikers in your community, he said.
A good way to ease into biking is to practice taking the route before your first commute day, Bellemare said. She also recommends wearing bright clothes to stay visible to cars.
"We just have such a good city that is cut out to do this," she said.