Building a Better Bike Community

Bike Culture Image 1

June marks my eighth month biking in the Twin Cities. 30 Days of Biking made it part of my daily routine.  I work at the University and my daily commute involves a portion of the Greenway and Riverside.  There are beautiful days and gross days, days when I scream into the wind, days when I scream at cars, and then there are days like today: Where I scream at another biker.

I love the Greenway. It is the relaxing beginning before the stressful battle with Riverside traffic and it is the cool-down ending on the way home.  When it’s vacant, I like going fast or riding with my arms outstretched.  When it’s crowded, I like seeing all the different bikes and riding styles. A well-kept bike path is where you can re-center and refocus.  A bike path is a place for everyone to practice and learn, sweat and breathe.  A bike path is for everyone; a bike path is not your personal Tour de France biking drag strip.
Bike Culture 2
Recently the maxim “biking is a lifestyle” keeps cropping up. Biking is not a lifestyle, but biking can be an important part of your life. When biking becomes a lifestyle we lose sight of the thousands of ways one can bike: from the commuter, to the sports enthusiast, to the parent, to the weekend rider.  All of these and more are ways to be a biker.  That’s the beauty of it – bikers and their motivations are as innumerable as there are bikes. Therefore, expecting everyone on a bike path to get out of your way because you are wrapped in logos and your bike weighs 11 pounds is a way to live your life as a jerk.
I am writing this article/mini-rant because in the past few weeks as the weather has turned lovely, the paths and lanes are more crowded.  It’s a beautiful sight but I am urging the bikers who are treating these lanes and combined paths as their place to bike at racing speeds during peak commute hours to slow down, be considerate of novice bikers, and to in general be polite and let people merge.  I am no saint, I have lost my cool to fits of bike rage, but in those moments I realize how dangerous bike rage is.  Not only are you in more personal contact with those around you but you fracture any semblance of a biking community and it becomes intimidating to those wanting to bike for fun. Instead of accepting another biker’s riding style as different from your own, you expect everyone to conform to your own beliefs about biking.  This is alienating and dangerous.
Please be patient, please be considerate, if you antagonize me or harass someone on the path for going too slow or for merging thirty feet in front of you, I will use my thick thighs to burn you on the uphill.  Just because I am a female biker does not give you the right to whip around me or yell at me to get out of your way, just because I am riding a step through does not mean you can cut me off.  Use a bell, shout “on your left”, apologize for being a jerk. Don’t make other bikers feel like they don’t belong on a path by condescendingly shaking your head and slowing down after you’ve passed. Be patient and respectful.  Be aware of your surroundings. Hold others accountable for their poor and rude behaviors. Biking will become a more inclusive community when we watch out for each other on the path.

27 thoughts on “Building a Better Bike Community

  1. Eric SaathoffEric S

    This is interesting. In St. Paul I think there are few enough bikers that we still acknowledge each other sometimes with a nod in camaraderie. When the volume of cyclists increases this sense starts to dissipate. When there are large number of cyclists that consider it normal you are back to the situation that people accept with car drivers – some are polite and some are just jerks.

    I’m not saying this mini-rant isn’t necessary at all. Just interesting how when the critical mass is achieved the sense of brotherhood or sisterhood may be abandoned.

    1. Lincoln Trafalgar

      Do you think increased proliferation of bikeways in St. Paul will encourage dangerous or threatening biking? From this article, it certainly seems to suggest it.

      1. Eric SaathoffEric S

        It’s expected that as safe cycling infrastructure becomes available and successful a wider population will decide to take up cycling – people who are more casual, less informed. There will also be a wider variation of people from serious speedsters to grandmothers out for a shorter ride. Many of the people who are out on the streets now are by necessity much more defensive riders because there are fewer of them. As the broader population takes part there will be a lower proportion of “enthusiasts” and I believe less of a “we’re all in this together” attitude.

        This article seems to be directed at experienced cyclists who are rude rather than novice riders who are rude.

        It’s interesting to consider whether “one size fits all” for bikeways. Are bike boulevards meant for slower speed cars AND cyclists? MUPs are clearly marked for slower speed cycling.
        Can good design accommodate speeding cyclists and children learning? Phalen Blvd in St. Paul has an in-street bike lane as well as a MUP. I commute on the MUP at high speed because so few people use it, but the lane is available should the path get congested.

        I really don’t like riding around the lakes of Minneapolis and St. Paul because they’re one-way. This article explains well why they are and should be. Around lesser-used Lake Phalen I would often ride the wrong way around, using it more for direct transportation purposes than for recreation. As its use increases that will be more and more irresponsible and dangerous.

  2. Zack

    I’m guessing these are often the same types who will drive dangerously (pass at unsafe distances, park in bike lanes, etc.) and when you try to engage them about it, they respond with “I’m a cyclist, too”, as if that’s some sort of pass for bad behavior? No, that means you should know better and how obnoxious and unsafe your behavior is. Except to them being a “cyclist” too often doesn’t mean being a part of the cycling community, it’s just riding through it with their spandex and crabon. As you said, part of what makes cycling great is the variety of all walks you see, but it does make for some challenging interactions at times, too.

    1. Rosa

      Yeah, I assume those folks drive like that too, and most the time I just think “glad you’re not on your car”. Just like when I’m riding in the street and an SUV with a bunch of bikes on the back rack buzzes by real close.

      But it would be nice, especially in the few spots where the Greenway is narrow (like right around Nicollet) if people would slow down and not pass if there’s not room. And maybe stop chatting and ride single file for a minute? I totally wiped out last week because I was behind my kid and he swerved and slowed down because a grownup was riding right on the center line at him.

  3. Ben

    I saw someone trip and fall crossing the Hiawatha trail to get to the Franklin Station. Luckily I was riding with a group of cautious commuters, but if someone were racing along or in their aerobars they would have hit that pedestrian or lost control and gotten hurt themselves. I have a feeling a child or etc . will get hit and hurt by the racers. I like to ride fast, but I slow down when I come upon those who are slower than myself and ride at their speed until I’m able to safely pass them. I also wish those who wish to go really fast would stay off the crowded river trails and ride on the parkway.

  4. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    I’m super slow (like rarely faster than 12mph), and while I’ve gotten frustrated with people passing without warning (often as speeds well above path limits), I don’t think anyone has ever yelled or shaken their head at me. Wonder why?

    Oh, right, because you’re afraid their might be consequence of acting like a jerk to a man but think you can get away with it in dealing with women.

    I’ve tried to make a point lately of remembering to yield to pedestrians at trail crosswalks. They’re always shocked and I don’t think I’ve seen anyone else do it.

  5. Jeremy

    This brings up several thoughts.

    1) As someone who used to ride competitively and go on training rides in the City – because I live here – the trails used to be super easy to ride fast on. With the recent increase in the number of cyclists out on the trails, folks who want to ride fast have to either ride on the streets, which is hard, scary, and basically unworkable given the number of traffic controls, or go to the gross burbs. This is inconvenient for a number of reasons: far away, car heaven (bike hell), not always near amenities should you need them.

    2) Jerkiness on bikes is troubling. Not only are there jerks who shave people as they pass them, there are fixie riders who endanger pedestrians. E.g. I was recently walking through a crosswalk on the green, and a young dude on a fixie (who couldn’t stop, and maybe didn’t want to) blew through the red (he was coming from my right) and when I yelled, “Hey, dude!”, he flicked me off. Classy.

    3) Back in 1997, when I was riding around town and lamenting how few cyclists were out there, I also had a moment when I realized that once biking gets popular, all these awesome trails that I basically had to myself would be filled up. Well, we’re there now, and our city and environment are better for it, but there are still growing pains to suffer through.

    4) There’s no excuse for harassing people. Period.

    5) I still find fixie riders more odious than the lycra set.

    6) How is cycling not a lifestyle? Because one does not spend all day on a bicycle? Is vegetarianism then not a lifestyle? How does one define lifestyle here.

    1. Tessa CicakTessa

      I am completely aware that biking in traffic is not ideal, which is why I do not demand it as an alternative for those who want to bike fast. What I am advocating for is for those bikers who use their commute as their training time, to reconsider. For example my partner and I have noticed that during the work week the density of sports cyclists corresponds to 8-9 am and from 4:30-6 pm. Before after and between, those paths are fairly vacant.

      It’s a matter of using common sense and by not treating it like it is your lifestyle you might be able to gain a less myopic worldview. I use the plural ‘you’ here.

      1. Jeremy

        Okay, if you’re saying plural “you”, you are including me in this group of jerky, myopic cyclists, or did you intend that as “you” meaning ‘one’? If it’s the former, then I object, and I do none of the things you outlined. If it’s the latter, then I think that’s a fair point to make.

  6. Serafina ScheelSerafina

    Biking in a German city is SO different from biking in Minneapolis. Here, children under 8 are required by law to ride on the sidewalk, and adult bikers are not allowed on the sidewalk, which often means that as a parent, you are separated from your child by a row of parked cars. And your child is often stymied by cars parked on the sidewalk, or elderly people refusing to make way for a child ringing his bicycle bell.

    There are special bike signals that you are required to obey. Police on bikes are out ticketing daily (around 50 Euros) for adults riding on the sidewalk, bikers not following traffic signals, or speeding in the bike lanes. At rush hour it once took three cycles to get through the bike signal because of the backup in the bike lane.

    But there’s a beautiful dance that bikers, pedestrians, and cars do together at several intersections of the Promenade, a bike/pedestrian path built on the old city walls, with intersecting car, foot, and bike traffic. I feel less threatened there than at intersections on the Greenway.

    I look forward to the day when drivers of cars start recognizing the benefits they receive by so much of the traffic congestions removed from the roadways by their biking neighbors.

    1. Tessa CicakTessa

      I agree, when I spent a summer biking in Berlin, at first the rules were a bit intimidating, but it really made drivers aware of where you were in the street.

  7. David MarkleDavid Markle

    Tessa recognizes the problem with the traffic on Riverside Avenue. Ironically the problem became worse with the redesign of that street a few years ago, a plan that had the alleged purpose of making conditions better for pedestrians and cyclists. As a pedestrian I avoid taking Riverside.

    Deliberately impeding traffic flow seems to be an ongoing effort on the part of Minneapolis planners and some activists, with questionable results for nearby residents as well as those trying to get from place to place by whatever mode. I expect the anticipated modifications of the intersection at Franklin/Minnehaha/Cedar to similarly create more problems than it solves.

    Small modifications can improve safety for cyclists and pedestrians, but I feel that we can only achieve long-range alleviation of traffic problems through big improvements in public transit.

    1. Tessa CicakTessa

      This article isn’t about traffic on Riverside or street redesign. This article is about being more courteous to your fellow bikers specifically on the Green Way. This article is about the danger of group think. This article is about my experience as a female cyclist.

    2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      I occasionally ride on Riverside during rush hour (on my way to the co-op, usually, just to complete the stereotype), and while there is sometimes some back up, I don’t see a problem that needs solving. There’s no amount of car infrastructure that will result in zero-peak time congestion, and even if there was, we shouldn’t want to build that much.

      Even during rush hour, I find Riverside pretty pleasant to bike on.

  8. David MarkleDavid Markle

    Less than an hour after posting the above comment, I watched in horror as a college-age woman rode on the LRT right of way for a block, then for a hundred feet the wrong way on a one lane automobile traffic lane, and then proceeded riding along with traffic on a roadway where bikes are prohibited. Thing would go better for everyone if no one did thing like that!

    1. Rosa

      There are always going to be people who do that. If you watch cars, you see a small but significant number of drivers doing things like driving half a block in the oncoming traffic lane instead of waiting for the right-direction lane to get to their corner, or passing a city bus on the left and then turning right in front of it, or getting impatient on the highway and just driving on the shoulder.

      Expecting any group of people to be naturally more virtuous than any other group will just set you up for disappointment.

  9. NiMo


    I don’t know if this holds true in every case, but I think a difference in definition of what constitutes a “safe pass” could be playing a role in what is ultimately inconsiderate behavior by the “racing” sect. If all or most of the riding you do is training for racing/racing, one could perhaps lose sight of the fact that while passing within a couple inches of someone, squeezing into narrow gaps, and/or having someone quickly accelerate past you is normal within the confines of racing, it is not normal in any other circumstance. If that is all you are used to, the potential is there to behave anti-socially without a self-awareness of your offenses. If you take it a little bit further to slightly less extreme scenarios, it is possible that a “racer” considers a passing distance generous, while it would be considered close by the cycling public at large. There are many instances where the anti-social behavior is deliberate, I am simply trying to point out a lack of self-awareness plays a role here as well.

    Another factor that I think is at play here is the lack of redundancy in East-West bike connections in the city. There is a good deal of redundancy going North-South, but the East-West is pretty much the Greenway or bust, especially if you want to get from one side of 35W to the other. The other options are all far away, meh, or straight up awful. (with personal ranking):

    1. Franklin Ave (1/10 West of 35W, 4/10 East, one of my least favorite bike lanes)
    2. 24th Street (5/10, also involves walking over pedestrian bridge over 35W which is meh)
    3. 26th/28th St (1/10)
    4. 35th/36th (5/10 West of 35W, 1/10 East of, where they become one ways)
    5. 38th Street, (5/10, but very inconsistent some parts are like 8, others 2 or 3)
    6. 40th Street (8/10, the 35W part isnt my favorite)
    7. 46th St (6/10)
    8. 50th St (4/10)
    9. Minnehaha Pkwy (10/10)
    10. And almost forgot Lake St. because why wouldn’t you just take the Greenway? (2/10)

    You can see how there is going to be cause for conflict since every cyclist, regardless of type, in a large block North-South region is going to be drawn to the Greenway since it is far and away the best option for traversing Minneapolis going East-West. Contrast this with say

    1. Matt SteeleMatthew Steele

      Good points. Regarding your list… If only we had a pedestrian bridge at 44th St and I-35W, we could have a nice and flat east-west bicycle boulevard connecting Lake Harriet to Lake Hiawatha.

      1. NiMo

        That would be very, very awesome, especially if it was a deluxe one like at 24th st and Hiawatha and not a meh one like at 24th st and 35W.

    2. Rosa

      26th/28th are actually kind of awesome if you’re fast. And if people are so fast they have to be passing all the time, the Greenway loses a lot of it’s best option status, because during rush hours they are going to be stopping/slowing a lot because there’s traffic in all three lanes. 38th has really nicely timed lights, actually, too.

      What’s different is level of risk more than speed or how often you have to stop; most people (judging by driving/biking habits) are a lot more comfortable being a risk to other people than being at risk themselves.

    3. Daniel ChomaDaniel Choma

      re: TL;DR?

      One of the things I like about Streets.MN is that it is one of the few places on the internet where the comment section is really a useful discourse. It’s actually a *goal* of Streets.MN to be that, so comments are welcome!

      That said, To put a 400 word comment (on a total different topic) on an essay that is on 600 words? Friendly criticism: it comes off a bit rude and mansplainy.

      I DO think that East West Connections are really important and I really do think we need more of them, so your points are valid, albeit a little off topic.

      Maybe this would be a better Post than a Comment? (Writing for Streets.MN is fun! Doooo ittt!) You can clearly write 400 words, so I think you are more than able to read 600 words.

      1. NiMo

        I was trying to imply my comment was TL;DR. probably missed a colon in there ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        I don’t like riding on 26th and 28th because the sight lines are so bad at the intersections that i find it pretty terrifying. I’ve been cutoff both riding and driving there by people going north/south on the avenues but unlike in other places where I really feel like they did something intentional. From experience, they simply couldn’t see me. If they can barely see me in a car, how are they going to see me on a bike? People park so close to the corners that it ends up being nigh impossible to check for approaching vehicles while crossing 26th/28th at intersections with two-way stops.

        Also there is a decent subset of people who drive like 40 or 45 on 26th and 28th streets which I don’t particularly enjoy. I don’t mind riding with traffic on city streets and on shoulders of roads that are designed for high speeds, but on what are supposed to be 30mph streets, its very disconcerting to have drivers blow by you going 50% faster than expected.

        1. Rosa

          oh yeah, I used to commute on 26th/28th (and Park/Portland) before they were restriped & slowed down. Adrenaline makes you fast! They’re pretty scary in general, though much better these days. I feel like on the 2 lane parts the speed of traffic is down near the speed limit and since they’re not jockeying for position as much the drivers are paying more attention to non-cars.

          But then the price of the protected Greenway is all sorts of users and having to slow down for them.

          It’s kind of like how cars seem to really enjoy Bryant and 17th, what with them being prioritized for stop signs and 17th having a light at Lake Street. The price is having to slow down for cyclists more.

        2. Daniel ChomaDaniel Choma

          Ah, no worries then. Sorry to be a prude. Regardless, you should totally write a Streets.MN article about this, I share many of your same thoughts about riding on 26th and 28th.

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