Why am I doing this?!
Every morning as I huff my way up the St. Clair Avenue hill in St. Paul, the “why” question runs through my head. Is it to save money? Yes. Is it to stay healthy? Yes. Is it to help the environment? Yes. But when I run into a sudden rain shower and arrive at work soaked to the skin, or I have to fix a flat half-way to work, or when it is 25 degrees with a stiff breeze and my tears freeze in my beard, the obvious question to ask is whether it is worth the hassle. For me, and nearly 4% of the commuters in the Twin Cities, the answer is a resounding yes.
So what is it about Minneapolis and St. Paul that makes bicycle commuting so popular? In the latest surveys taken, we rank number 2 (behind Portland) among US cities for percentage of people commuting by pedal-power. By most other surveys, we rank somewhere in the top 10 for being “bicycle-friendly”.
With 43 miles of dedicated bike lanes and 84 miles of off-street bike trails in Minneapolis alone, the Twin Cities are clearly committed to encouraging the two-wheeled commuters. There are also bike racks on all city buses and bike lockers at many of the major park-and-ride lots. Move.com recently listed the Twin Cities as one of the “The Top 10 Greenest Cities” for among other things, our bike paths on which “commuters thread their way among scores of lakes and parks and ponds and greenbelts and more than 200,000 trees.” An increasing number of riders are going year-round now too, lending credence to the adage that there is no bad weather, just bad clothes.
If you are thinking about giving it a try, do some research first to set yourself up for success. Proper equipment is a must, and think about your route and where you will park your bike while at work. Can you ride in work clothes, or are you able to change when you get to work? Will you be a “fair-weather-only” rider, or a “year-rounder”? How far are you willing to go? My 11-mile ride to downtown Minneapolis takes about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on which way the wind is blowing and how hard I push. Some days, that is actually faster than if I were driving.
For me though, it is really the pure pleasure of riding, listening to the tweeting birds, smelling the spring, summer, and fall, and the wonderful onslaught of scents drifting down eat-street, and feeling my legs get stronger and my blood pressure drop that drives me not to drive. Cruising home in the evening, as I coast down the St. Clair hill grinning like a dog with his head out the car window I say to myself, “This is why I do it!”