What is a great ride? There are as many answers to that question as there are bicyclists in the Twin Cities.
Some prefer a leisurely cruise around Lake Calhoun, while others want to test their endurance on a century ride. A smooth ribbon of asphalt and rutted dirt trail are two different definitions of perfection.
This spring, four Twin Cities riders talked to the Southwest Journal about their personal “great rides.”
Patrick Stephenson said it was when he first rode through a Minnesota winter that he “really fell in love with bike commuting.”
Stephenson said the extra effort made it worthwhile: choosing the right clothing and dressing in layers, forcing himself to ride on cold mornings and making sure to clean the grit and ice off his bike after every ride.
In 2010, Stephenson founded 30 Days of Biking (30daysofbiking.com), the movement that challenges cyclists around the world to pledge to ride every day in April. About 7,000 people pledged this spring, and he said it feels good to know other people are finding joy in daily cycling.
These days, Stephenson’s commute takes him from his home in Minneapolis’ North Loop to his job at Minnesota Public Radio in downtown St. Paul. It usually takes a little over an hour, sometimes longer.
He treats the route like a “canvas,” he said, switching up the path to keep things interesting, or taking the long route on the evenings when it’s just too nice out to go straight home.
“I have fallen in love with biking again,” he said.
Pat Smith-Welles describes herself as a “late bloomer” when it comes to bicycles.
The 65-year-old used to ride a “cross bike,” a hybrid style with an upright seating position that’s ideal for short commutes and leisurely rides. But Smith-Welles found herself choosing the same routes near her home in St. Paul over and over again.
“I enjoyed getting out on my cross bike. I really liked it,” she said. “But I wanted to go further out.”
Three years ago Smith-Welles upgraded to a road bike, and now she rides regularly with the Hiawatha Bicycling Club (hiawathabike.org). Her favorite 25-mile loop — her “workout ride” — starts on East Lake Street, goes up and down trails on both sides of the Mississippi River and then dives into downtown St. Paul before circling back to the starting point.
Smith-Welles said she especially enjoys the river scenery and pedaling past the historic homes of St. Paul’s Summit Avenue.
Hopping on a road bike taught Smith-Welles “if you can ride 5 miles you can ride 25 miles,” and now she pedals with the Hiawatha Cycling Club all over the Twin Cities.
“I found all sorts of places in the Cities I’d never seen before,” she said.
Stephen Boyd moved to Golden Valley from Rochester about three years ago, and it wasn’t long before the lifelong cyclist discovered the mountain biking trails at nearby Theodore Wirth Park.
“I can be there in 10 minutes on my bike, and there’s places there you don’t have any idea you’re in a major metropolitan area,” Boyd said.
More than 5 miles of challenging single-track trails wind through Wirth’s woods, taking cyclists over logs and rocks and around banked turns. The first of the trails opened in 2005, developed by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board in collaboration with Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists and Minneapolis Off-Road Cycling Advocates, or MOCA, a local chapter of the nonprofit that helps maintain the dirt tracks.
“We took them from these rogue, non-official trails to trails that are sustainable,” said Boyd, who took over as president of MOCA (mocatrails.org) in January.
In addition to bike-commuting daily to Edina, Boyd rides mountain bike trails all around the metro. The accessibility of Wirth means he rides there about three times a week, and he spends Wednesday evenings with a MOCA crew working on the trails.
This spring, MOCA and the Park Board are mapping out a new section of trail to be built on the hill north of Quaking Bog, with views overlooking Wirth Lake.
“It’s going to be really pretty, especially in the spring and fall,” Boyd said.
Randall Huskamp is a ride leader with the Twin Cities Bicycling Club, and on Wednesdays he hosts the weekly Midtown Challenge, a 30- to 45-mile road ride for the club’s “A” cyclists.
The ride always starts at the Freewheel Midtown Bike Center on the Midtown Greenway, but the route varies depending on weather conditions. On a recent Wednesday, with steady breeze blowing out of the west, Huskamp led the spandex-clad pack to Wayzata over streets and paved trails.
“We go into the headwind first and then we have a tailwind coming back,” he said.
The Midtown Challenge is categorized on the club’s website (biketcbc.org) as “very strenuous.” This group bikes up hills, not around them, and averages a very quick 18 mph on rides.
“It discourages people that aren’t as strong, but it also encourages people who want to be stronger,” Huskamp said.
The 58-year-old is year-round recreational cyclist and bike commuter. Huskamp rides every day to stay fit and to survive the winter, and because he enjoys the camaraderie and fellowship he finds out on the road.
“I’m the kind of person [who is] not motivated on my own,” he said. “Having a group to ride with, it makes all the difference.”