Other than rain, there is perhaps nothing that can derail a perfect bike ride more than when nature calls and there is nowhere to go.
Researchers and students at the University of Minnesota this month launched a website to point bicyclists — and other trail users — to the nearest open public bathroom, and even allows users to rate them on everything from how many stalls are available to how clean they are.
"I've been in that spot where I need to go and wondered where can that be," said project leader Donna Bliss, a bicyclist who is a professor in the U's School of Nursing. "Parks and trails are overseen by different agencies. There is no central list. We hope this map will be the central list."
Believed to be the first resource of its kind in the state, the bathroom finder, called MN Bike and Go, relies primarily on crowdsourcing to create a web-based interactive map directing cyclists to bathrooms.
Bliss, who specializes in bowel and bladder health research, was aware of similar maps in Australia and the United Kingdom. With Minnesota annually named as one of the top states for bicycling, she thought the project would be a good amenity, especially because many public restrooms shut down last year due to COVID-19 and might not have reopened yet this spring.
The project is a collaboration at the U between the School of Nursing and U-Spatial, which specializes in geographic information science.
The website currently lists more than 70 places where cyclists can find a bathroom, including places that might not immediately come to mind.
"In southwest Minneapolis, trails go by a public library, and that would be a public restroom," Bliss said.
Other listings include portable toilets along walking and cycling trails, restrooms in city parks and recreation centers, nature centers and places such as the Hub Bike Co-op in Minneapolis. Each entry comes with information about the type of restroom, whether it has sinks and running water, if doors latch, hours of operation and a link allowing users to use their phone to route a path to the bathroom.
So far, most entries are in the metro area, but MN Bike and Go is designed for the entire state, Bliss said.
"We hope people will upload data," said Len Kne, director of U-Spatial. To guard against fraudulent entries and ensure accuracy, "we do have a member of the team looking at entries on a regular basis to review and remove the invalid submissions," he said.
Rob Jackson, past president of the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota, called MN Bike and Go "a good idea" and said the website could be useful for the group he rides with in the east metro area.
"We are all retired," he said. "We are over 65 and looking for routes with bathrooms."
Others, such as bicyclist Scott Eggert, a Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota board member, said he will likely stick with Google Maps to locate nearby restrooms. He offered one suggestion for the MN Bike and Go website: Let people know if drinking water is available.
Jonathan Popko, a registered nurse and a student in the U's Doctor of Nursing Practice program, is compiling data and helping promote MN Bike and Go as part of his final project. He said the goal is to make fitness and exercise more accessible, and restroom equity is a big part of that. He's taken to social media and is collaborating with resorts, bicycle clubs and organizations to spread the word.
"We are hoping this creates a resource that allows bicyclists to engage in rides more easily," Popko said. "This could be a valuable resource."
Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768