We Twin Citians take pride in having been named the best bicycling city in the United States. Take a tour any day of the week between April and October and you’ll no doubt see cyclists on the roads and paths atop every conceivable type of bike. This is a good thing.
There is a downside, however.
All this civic cycling pride is clogging our main arteries and gumming up the pathways. For those of us who like to bike with a bit of pace now and then, this coagulation of cyclists creates a quandary for us. Go fast on the parkway paths and you’re twisted into a twitchy position on your bike, ever vigilant for the slow moving bicycles, tricycles, walkers and runners who, at any moment, might suddenly veer into the passing lane or otherwise force you to make evasive maneuvers.
Riding on the streets is no better. Unless you’re on a street with a designated bike lane, you’re forced to share the road with a caravan of heavier and faster vehicles, many of whose drivers are none too pleased that you’re slowing them down in your spandex racing shorts.
What recourse then, what course at all, do we Twin Cities cyclists have if we want to train without running somebody over or being run over ourselves?
My answer? Mornings.
This fine spring morning, I donned my cycling gear and lit out from the Longfellow neighborhood after dropping my daughter off at Hiawatha Elementary. I was pedaling away from her school and on the road in earnest by 8:40. From this starting point, traveling along River Road in St. Paul, down Shepherd Rd. and into downtown of the Capital City, I passed no one going in my direction (and no one passed me). In fact, I passed only one lone rider down in the river bottoms, tooling along in the opposite direction, and didn’t pass another pedaling soul until I was about to turn onto the Wabasha Street Bridge and, again, this mountain biker was just exiting the bridge and going the other direction.
On W. Water Street on the other side of the river, just past Harriet Island, I thought I might see a cyclist or two time trialing between that flat, straight stretch that turns into Lilydale Rd., to the Pool and Yacht Club, but, again, I saw no one. I didn’t have to slow down for pedalers or pedestrians of any stripe, so I took the opportunity to do a little time trialing of my own. Even with a steady headwind, I clipped along at a fairly respectable pace, and soon I had arrived at the Pool and Yacht Club and, therefore, at the foot of that slow but steady ascent of Big Rivers Regional Trail to Mendota.
I saw one cyclist, a lithe, rather serious-looking female in white racing kit zipping downhill toward me. I didn’t see another Twin Citian, cyclist or pedestrian, until I was halfway across the Mendota Bridge. I saw a couple of cyclists down side streets as I worked my way along S. Minnehaha Avenue, and that’s about it. What was it, six, maybe seven, cyclists along the entire twenty-mile loop?
This lovely tour through our Twin gems in this “cardinal throated spring,” as the poet Jim Moore put it, was delightful for being so empty. We know this cannot last. None of it can. Spring will not last. The cardinals will not sing forever. And the roads and paths will soon become clotted with cyclists even in the mornings, perhaps especially so, since it will be the coolest time of day.
So enjoy it while it lasts. As Moore’s poem states, “No one need tell me ever again what’s up ahead.”