Wellness on Wheels: Lunch Ride Minnesota?

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I often ride my bike to Paninos, Taste of Scandinavia, or other places along Hiway 96 in Shoreview for lunch. Good food, nice outdoor seating, and I often see a neighbor or two. Besides neighbors, the tables around me are usually filled with people from businesses along Lexington Ave such as Land O’ Lakes, Boston Scientific, Allina Healthcare and others. 

Most or all of my lunch compatriots come in cars (secret: I’ve talked to them, several have told me that as they drive by all of Shoreview’s bike paths they’re wishing they had bikes to ride to lunch but they live too far away to ride to work). There could be a better alternative.

These cafes in North Oaks Village Center are less than three miles from the businesses along Lexington Ave. That’s a 15-minute bike ride each way—or put another way, 200 – 500 calories round trip.

Closer to the offices, within an easier 5 or 10 minute bike ride, are a wealth of places to eat as well as considerable shopping. Walking from Land O’ Lakes to Target might be a stretch for some, but riding a bike is a cinch. If they only had a bike. 

For trips of less than a mile each way, riding a bike is usually faster and more convenient than driving. For two or three mile trips, a bike might take a bit more time but ,then, numerous benefits accrue—from improved health to simple enjoyment.

No need to explain enjoyment—riding bikes is fun. 

For health, forget the hour-long sweatfest at the gym. Numerous studies have been coming to a common conclusion. For our health, we need numerous moderate bits of exercise spread throughout the day. A 5-minute walkabout every 30 to 60 minutes and a few, more aerobic bits, each day, like a bike ride to lunch, are the ticket. Each of these activities provides some residual metabolic activity that benefits us for a while after we sit back down. So instead of getting this residual benefit once, we get it multiple times throughout the day.

Google is likely the national leader in corporate bike share.

DSC 1145Instead of point-to-point usage like Nice Ride’s current deal, this would primarily be a round-trip program—same bikes, same bike racks, slightly different program. Grab a bike from the rack in front of your office, ride to lunch or to pick up something at the pharmacy and ride the same bike back. As with anything, there are details to work through, like how best for people to lock their bikes up (perhaps a ring lock, like we have on our Dutch city bikes might work), though none that seem insurmountable.

At first glance, it doesn’t seem cost effective. The trips per bike will likely be lower than Nice Ride’s current program and each trip for a longer period of time. Then again, the ellipticals in the basement gym are even less cost effective—they won’t even get you out the parking lot, much less across the bridge to Target.

For these employers, though, the benefits of Lunch Ride bikes, wellness on wheels, will likely tip the cost/benefit scale to where it needs to be for them to want to invest in it.

  1. Companies are investing considerable sums in health and wellness programs encouraging their employees to live healthier lifestyles. Wellness programs are a win-win and lower healthcare costs for employers and employees. This bit of active transportation will improve employee health. Perhaps more important though, it will introduce employees to active transportation and encourage them to use it at home and elsewhere for local trips.
  2. Attracting good employees is critical for most companies’ success and this will help employers be more attractive to potential employees, particularly the Gen-Y crowd. This program will improve current and potential employees’ perception of the company and, for potentials, who they may be sharing a cube with.
  3. Riding to and from lunch, even just a half mile, has two very specific benefits. The ride to lunch suppresses our appetite (by increasing peptide YY, the satiety or satisfaction hormone) so bike riders eat healthier (smaller) portions than car folk. The ride back to the office then provides a bit of physical and mental rejuvenation. The combination results in employees feeling better and being more awake, alert and productive during the afternoon. No 5-Hour energy needed.
  4. And, decreased car traffic will make this area more appealing for employees and others.

I’ve suggested Lunch Ride for this area of Shoreview for a reason. It has a good mix of lunch and other destinations within close proximity of a few thousand employees and employers who would seem quite interested in supporting such a program. Shoreview also has a good segregated path network connecting everything together so that bike riders don’t need to mix with motorists. (Plus, a redo of Lexington Avenue along this corridor scheduled for 2014 provides an opportunity for Shoreview and Ramsey County to make pedestrian and bicycle usability even better.)

For those thinking that this could make for a smelly office in the afternoon, fear not. We’re not talking about a sweatfest, but riding a fairly leisurely pace. Most people are comfortable (MN nice way of saying sweat-free) up to about 80f and, for many,  even into the upper 80’s can be fairly comfortable on a bike.

Shoreview isn’t the only opportunity for a Lunch Ride program. 3M in Maplewood is a prime location given the the high employee traffic between the numerous buildings on its campus and to local off-campus places for food and daily errands. Medtronic, with employee traffic between its world headquarters and other nearby corporate locations such as their facility on Central Avenue, as well as local places for lunch and errands, is another.

For that matter, almost any concentration of employees can benefit from Lunch Ride. The key ingredients are; 1) folks who routinely travel a mile or three for meals, 2) have somewhat decent bicycling infrastructure, and 3) employers who are interested in the health and wellness of their employees. Employers who want to attract Gen Y’s or others who place a premium on health and active transportation is a plus.

While most companies in the U.S. have been seeing the costs of employee healthcare increase every year, Quality Bicycle Products in Bloomington, MN has reduced their costs, primarily through encouraging employees to ride bikes more often.

There’s a reason that Northern Europe, with its high level of transportation cycling, doesn’t have as much obesity or other costly health problems as we do. Our lack of activity appears to be a significant factor in why we cost twice as much for healthcare as our counterparts across the Atlantic. 

Walker Angell

About Walker Angell

Walker Angell is a writer who focuses mostly on social and cultural comparisons of the U.S. and Europe. He occasionally blogs at localmile.org, a blog focused on everyday bicycling and local infrastructure for people who don’t have a chamois in their shorts. And on twitter @LocalMileMN