Twin Cities on Two Wheels

The bicycle has long been a primary mode of transportation in countries around the world, but in the U.S., we’ve tended to view this vehicle as a child’s toy (one destined to gather dust in the garage once the child receives a driver’s license) or a specialized implement meant only for aerobic sport junkies. But all kinds of signs indicate that the humble two-wheeler is poised for something much bigger on our shores. Three-dollar gas, relentless traffic congestion, climate change, Lance Armstrong, and even the fickle winds of fashion: The reasons for taking up bicycling are as varied as the people who do it. All these factors have combined to place biking at the fore of a burgeoning revolution—one that has the potential to outgrow (and outlast) other, more youth-oriented trends like snowboarding and skateboarding. 

In the Twin Cities, a vibrant and notably diverse bike culture is already well established. Riders here are hearty, commuting in the highest numbers of any cold-weather metropolitan area, and their ranks are growing. The wealth of places to ride—trails and lanes and cycle-friendly streets—attracts everyone from speedsters with grit in their teeth to leisurely summertime cruisers. Last year, the Twin Cities Bicycling Club, the state’s largest riding group, enjoyed its highest participation rates ever. A host of other clubs caters to distinct niches, taking inspiration from everything from the highest level of competitive racing to the cheapest brand of beer. There are film events for cyclists, and cycling events at film festivals. There are art exhibitions devoted to bikes and cycling, and shops where you can get your bike repaired while you sip cappuccino.

If this doesn’t all sound sunny enough, Minneapolis is set to receive an infusion of $21.5 million in federal funds with the goal of making a thriving bike scene even better. Congress chose Minneapolis and three other U.S. communities to conduct pilot projects designed to get people out of their cars and onto bikes (or their own two feet). With that funding, the Bike/Walk Twin Cities Initiative aims to improve bike connections between neighborhoods and create bike lanes to attract even novice cyclists; more immediately, it will beef up bike parking in downtown Minneapolis and other high-traffic areas.

So what’s holding you back? A couple of local psychologists are studying exactly that question. Christie Manning and Elise Amel, faculty members at St. Thomas University, aim to identify the barriers to biking and, they hope, knock them down. Their findings thus far? While physical, real-world factors (no trails, dangerous streets) do keep people from riding, there are also psychological hurdles (“I don’t have time,” “I’m not motivated”). They also theorize that one sure way to entice other people to pedal is to pedal yourself. “One of the most powerful things psychologically,” said Manning, “is to flip a person’s internal switch. If, instead of seeing bikers on weekends in spandex racing gear, you saw lots of everyday people biking to work, picking up their kids, going to the grocery store, then you’d start to identify with biking as commonplace, as functional transportation.”

Just how many bikers are necessary to create that critical mass, to flip that switch, is yet to be determined. But one more is sure to help—so get on your bike and ride, already.

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