Twin Cities on Two Wheels

Saddle Up
The Twin Cities have a scene to suit every rider—here are just a few.

By Dan Gilchrist and The Rake Staff

The Anglophiles
Embracing a 1930s-era British aesthetic, these dapper cyclists have a motto: “Walk the hills with honor.” That’s because they are loyal to bikes manufactured in the United Kingdom—sturdy (and heavy) brands like Dunelt, Raleigh, Royal Enfield, Phillips, and Hetchins. Their dress includes knee-high stockings, cotton twill shorts, tucked-in ties, Norfolk jackets that button to the neck, and tweed deerstalker hats. Their riding style harkens to a golden age of bicycle touring, when royal subjects would hop on their three-speed Raleighs and head to the meadows for a leisurely weekend. Local enthusiasts gather at the Barley John’s Brew Pub in New Brighton, for keg-tapping and bike swaps. They also enjoy an annual leisurely tour around Lake Pepin, where the lush rolling hills and valleys are reminiscent of the English countryside.

The Black Label Bike Club
This club was founded in Minneapolis in the early ’90s, and today there are chapters in San Francisco, Austin, Reno, and Stockholm. Its members are typically found in their West Bank habitat, but they travel around the city on homemade tall bikes, machines welded together from multiple, stacked frames that afford the kind of view normally reserved for cops on horseback and drivers of jacked-up trucks. For their annual extravaganza they migrate to Stillwater on their Chino’s run (named after Lee Marvin’s character in The Wild Ones), which features bike jousting, lots of beer drinking, and dozens of riders on a kamikaze run down Stillwater’s highest hill. Their look borrows liberally from punk rock: A typical bicyclist might sport dreadlocks, a few missing teeth (from bike jousting), black Dickies, Doc Martens, and a ragged denim jacket outfitted with shoulder pads (again, for jousting) and the club’s logo. When not rolling around the city, they can be found congregating in front of the Hard Times Café, or hoisting a cold beer at Palmer’s Bar.

The Spandex Set
These riders take inspiration from Lance Armstrong and his predecessor, Minnesota native Greg LeMond, racing around town in skintight, colorful gear sporting sponsors’ logos (theirs or their favorite Tour de France team’s), along with sleek sunglasses to shield them from UV-rays and errant insects. They are often spotted in large packs, hunched over their rams-horn handlebars and pumping their cranks on West River Road, the St. Paul High Bridge, the Velodrome in Blaine—or any suburban road where stop signs are few and far between. Membership in this club requires many sacrifices. Their willingness to spend thousands of dollars to buy anything made of carbon in their pursuit of ever lighter rides (the current gold standard is sub-twenty-pound bikes) has led to the term “weight weenie.” And many Spandex types, men included, regularly shave their legs to facilitate wound cleaning after the inevitable wipe-outs. When not working out, competing in the annual Nature Valley Grand Prix, or ogling gear catalogs, these folks enjoy watching DVDs of the big European races and talking shop at any number of high-performance shops around town.

The Recumbent Elite
For these thoughtful folks there is so much more to biking than meets the eye. Physics, for example, and the shared conviction that theirs is by far the most efficient form of transport ever devised by the human brain. The aerodynamic proficiency of the low-profile bike, combined with the ease of pedaling from a semi-lounging position, creates a power/drag coefficient beyond Sir Isaac Newton’s wildest fantasies. To avoid being run over by speeding SUVs, recumbent riders often fly fluorescent orange flags and mount an assortment of spindly rear-view mirrors on their handlebars. They can be seen pedaling to their jobs at various science departments at University of Minnesota, and congregating in flowing, friendly groups on the Midtown Greenway. No specific clothing style can be attributed to this group, but well-trimmed beards and pocket protectors are not uncommon among recumbent devotees.

The Easy Riders
These cyclists tend to dust off their Schwinns in spring and return them to the garage rafter hooks shortly after Labor Day. Once in a while these fair-weather types will do their bit for the environment by saddling up for the ride to work. In addition to decking out their bikes with horns, bells, and flowered baskets, they might also go in for the latest in automated technology: a “dyno-hub” that shifts gears with help from a computer chip rather than the rider. Easy riders, wearing sun hats and Lands’ End khaki shorts, enjoy the relatively flat trails built along railroad lines or the chain of lakes in Minneapolis, and would never turn down a sidewalk latté
after an evening jaunt around the neighborhood.

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