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Cycle Minneapolis, Minnesota

At the end of May I went on my now yearly trip to America for the American College of Sports Medicine Conference. This year it was held in Minneapolis and, as per usual, I sought out and booked some good road bikes in advance so myself and Luana could check out the sights in the best possible way: atop a couple of two-wheeled steeds. I had reserved the bikes from Friday to the Monday, but a great conference and adverse weather meant it wasn’t until 5 pm on Saturday afternoon, after the rain had stopped bucketing down, that we finally picked up our bikes. Luckily the sun came out to play and dried our path as we set off to discover the sights. Having discovered only days previously that the Mississippi river flowed through Minneapolis, that was our first port of call before we headed over the water to the University of Minnesota. As would be expected from an American university, the campus was enormous with an incredible football stadium, dozens of frat houses which, in addition to giving us a much needed Greek lesson, made me run through scenes of Old School, the world’s greatest film never to win an Oscar. We were even lucky enough to witness America’s new generation tossing their academic caps into the air as we passed a graduation ceremony. In retaliation, I decided to toss my bicycle in the air before we headed home to rest for the next day’s endeavours.

On the Sunday we headed out early from downtown Minneapolis despite the overcast weather to ride the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway, a cycle pathway that goes around the entire city and, most importantly, would take us past some of the thirteen lakes that Minneapolis is famous for. We headed North from our hotel until we reached the cycle path, and then headed East along the Mississippi and started making our way South. I was enjoying great place names such as Minnehaha Creek Park as we approached our first lake, Lake Hiawatha, and then looped around Lake Nokomis before continuing West where we failed to completely loop Lake Harriet due to my poor navigational skills, meaning I will never know whether Beard’s Plaisance on the other side is the beard heaven I presume it is, where beards can frolic freely without stigma. We did manage to fully loop Lake Calhoun before again getting lost and heading too far West meaning we missed Lake of the Isles. Cedar Lake was also woefully missed as we headed back into the city accidentally, cycling underneath Target Field baseball home to the of the Minnesota Twins, arriving back at our starting point before we realised our error. We retraced our steps before getting lost again. By this point, a father and son had seen an orange beard cycle past on several occasions, and correctly presumed it was lost. He helped us to find our bearings although we missed the deliciously named Brownie Lake by mere metres as we headed North past Wirth Lake and into suburban America. Enormous wooden houses and huge porches made me feel like we were in an American film as Vitoria Memorial Drive took us East and over the water to an old deserted railway line. By this point we were tired and hungry, so we headed down University Avenue before cutting back into downtown Minneapolis to finish our ride. We rewarded ourselves with some high-calorie food (doesn’t seem to be anything else in the USA) and rest for the final day’s adventure.

Our final day of cycling was set to be a quick one; we had to be out of our hotel by 11 am to get to the airport on time. A carbo-loaded breakfast was the scientific choice to fuel our cycle towards Saint Paul, Minneapolis’ twin city. We retraced the route from the last two days to the Mississippi, took the bridge over and headed straight down Marshall Avenue which would take us all the way to our destination. It was still early so we got to see plenty of the classic American school buses picking up kids to take them to school. We arrived at our first stop, the beautiful and impressively big Cathedral of St Paul, before heading down Kellogg Boulevard and over the Mississippi once more to our destination, Harriet Island Regional Park. We had opted to head there the previous evening after weighing up our best options. We weren’t disappointed as we were treated to a fantastic view of the city. We would have loved to have stayed to explore the beautiful looking city properly, particularly since St Paul has been named America’s most livable city, even if it the title seems to be self-ordained. However, we had to start making our way back to drop the bikes off to make our flights, which we managed to do in a timely fashion as I paced Luana back to Minneapolis and the bike shop. Another cycle abroad ticked off the list. Some great rides, solid bikes, lovely company and friendly staff at the One on One Bicycle Studio where we rented our bikes.

A final word on the cycling infrastructure of Minneapolis, and I have to admit that I was blown away by its quality. On-road cycle lanes were provided on every downtown street that I saw, providing a safe environment for those who prefer to commute to work on two wheels. What impressed me most is that these cycle lanes run along all the main roads, suggesting Minneapolis treats cycling just as importantly as driving, and not just as an afterthought. As can be seen in some of the photos, these lanes are wide enough for any used to feel safe and sufficiently segregated. Additionally, the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway path around the city provides a fantastic scenic route for trained and recreational cyclists alike. Its approximate 80 km length provides a solid distance for any training session, while providing both technical sections with weaving and winding paths, and open straights where you can pick up some top speeds. These cycle lanes make you want to ride every day of the year, although I don’t know how realistic that is with winter temperatures easily hitting -10◦C, so for now, I’ll keep sticking to the potholes and second-rate cycle lanes of São Paulo.

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