Wild city // A biking miscellany

I was training for a long bike ride this past summer, so I spent a lot of time on trails in this city. Here are some observations:

Biking and ease

Our trails are gems. You can bike for hours near water: around the city lakes, or along Minnehaha Creek and the Mississippi River. The trails are convenient to get to and safe to ride on. The Greenway, a converted railroad bed that crosses the city east to west at 28th Street, is like a freeway for bikes. You get on it and just cruise because so many of the streets that cross the trail do so on bridges overhead.

The Freewheel Bike shop and café on the Greenway has showers (and towels), bike repair and parts, food and drinks. If your bike breaks down on the trail, you can summon their van to come out and assist you.

Biking and economics

I ride a bike that cost $400 10 years ago. It serves me well. Even this year when I needed new tires, and wanted and got a new seat, pedals, and shoes, maintaining my bike and bankrolling my new interest in distance biking was laughably cheaper than maintaining my car.

Biking and aging

I am 57. Many people I see on the bike trails are younger than I am, but there are plenty of us middle-aged people out there, and there are even some seniors. I regularly see a group of riders who appear to be in their seventies. They inspire me. I think, “I hope I’m still able to do this when I’m their age.”

When my friends exclaimed at the length of my bike rides this summer, I said, “We (women in our fifties) still have muscles, and when we use them they get stronger.” Often it is the joints that give us fits as we age, but strengthening the muscles around the joints can, if you are lucky, set you free.

Biking and women

I saw data somewhere about bike commuters. Men who ride to work outnumber women by quite a bit. Of course there is more pressure on us not to present ourselves at our destination all sweaty and with messy hair. From conversations I’ve had, I know it is hard for women to imagine that biking and looking nice don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

I keep my hair short, and when I ride to work I bring a change of clothes and shoes in my panniers, and a washcloth to freshen up with. It works for me.

Biking and women’s rights

That contemporary women can’t bicycle because of issues related to beauty is cultural backsliding. A favorite reference work of mine, The Book of Symbols, published by The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism, has a section entitled, “Movement and Expression.” About bicycling there is this: ‘Susan B. Anthony — reflecting on its role in the disappearance of the bustle and corset — pronounced that “the bicycle had done more for the emancipation of women than anything else in the world.”’

Biking and memorable experiences

One of my memorable experiences this season was biking on the Minnehaha Parkway trail just east of Cedar Avenue in the spring when the ornamental crab trees lining and overarching the trail were covered with pink, sweet-smelling blossoms.

Another was riding over the Mississippi on the Ford Parkway Bridge, just soaring high up over that big river.

And then there was this

On Summit Avenue, on a sunny September day, I saw a young woman on a bicycle, her man trailing behind her. She was winding a wide, white scarf around and around her neck as she rode. She did it with a flourish. She looked lovely — as if she were an actress and the movie cameras were rolling — but I couldn’t help thinking about the safety issues raised by a scarf around a neck on a biker.

Biking and controversy

This summer Minneapolis fire fighters were laid off, and shortly thereafter the city advertised an opening for a bicycle safety coordinator. This enraged many. How could we hire someone for a fluff job when we had just laid off essential employees?

I followed the conflict in the local media. Though nobody wants to see fire fighters laid off, it seemed to me this juxtaposition, fire fighters vs. a bicycle safety coordinator, presented an opportunity to have an important discussion.

We are at a crossroads. The economy is wobbly, and money is tight. But we have a huge undertaking before us. How are we going to make the transition from a fossil fuels based economy to something else? What sacrifices are we willing to make? How will we use the money we do have in the service of this long-term good?

Mary Jean Port writes at home, near Minnehaha Creek and Lake Harriet, and teaches at The Loft Literary Center.