Cycling to the Symphony: A Noteworthy Experience

The young man and woman locking up their bikes across from Orchestra Hall looked respectable enough on Friday, June 9, an evening of Mozart, Debussy — and a 50 percent off coupon for a subsequent concert in downtown Minneapolis provided cyclists were sporting a helmet or other gear.

The woman had thrown a jersey dress over her bike shorts; the young man wore a button-down shirt to offset his cut-off shorts. My husband and I, by contrast, were in full cycling regalia, sweaty jerseys and all, and we noticed — or I did — the disapproving glances, the quick up-and-down appraisals that women still inflict on one another.

This was the first time we had tried the Minnesota Orchestra’s Bike to Orchestra Hall program. Would I do it again? In an elevated heartbeat! And I would plan more thoroughly.

Let me share a few tips, so you can avoid our newbie mistakes.

1. Map your route. As a St. Paulite, I am loathe to concede any advantage to our shinier, more ambitious sister city. Hands down, Minneapolis has St. Paul beat on bike-ability. The cruise downhill from our home in Merriam Park to Mississippi River Boulevard was the only part of the 6.2-mile trip where we weren’t on off-street trails or on-street lanes, some of them protected. Planning the route made our trip both safer and more enjoyable.

This concert-goer had the foresight to wear a suit coat.

2. Dress for success. That term harks back to the early ’80s, when I was a young woman in a workforce still suspicious of  female professionals. In this case, it means getting to the concert early — as we failed to do — so you can catch your breath and dry your sweat. It means taking advantage of the lockers where I could have stashed my backpack and biking shoes, if only we had allowed the time.

It means gearing up to weather the stares of an upper-crust audience accustomed to viewing the orchestra as an elegant evening out. (Note to marketing department: Don’t sell this good idea only to young people and on the website. Put an eye-catching ad in the 52-page Playbill, the June edition of which carried not a word or a warning that a growing number of concert-goers may be showing up in shorts.)

3. Pack lightly but strategically. I remembered my glasses but forgot Kleenex to deal with the allergies that set in during the first few measures of Manuel de Falla’s Interlude and Dance from La Vida Breve. My husband, who perspires heavily, wishes he had packed a clean shirt. “I feared I might be offensive to my neighbors,” he said later.

Orchestra Hall sells coffee, tea, red wine and iced cocktails, but you can’t bring any of them inside the hall. Only unheated beverages, without ice or staining power, are allowed. Bring your own water, unless you want lukewarm soda pop or white wine.

4. Consider your safety. Biking to Orchestra Hall in the early evening sunlight was fun. Coming home in the dark was another matter. It was 10 p.m. by the time we hit the bathrooms and packed up. I was sleepy, and I didn’t feel safe navigating the eastern edge of downtown, even with my husband’s presence and my full-range bike light.

Having my Metro Transit Go-To Card on hand allowed us to cycle the six blocks north to Fifth Street and take a Green Line train to Fairview, after which we had about a 10-minute ride.

David Studer and Amy Gage: worth the ride

5. Enjoy the experience! Mozart’s Concerto No. 23 in A major for Piano and Orchestra was both fresh and familiar. The playing of pianist Xiayin Wang, a last-minute addition, was energetic and inspired under the direction of BBC Philharmonic conductor Juanjo Mena.

When we returned to our seats after intermission, the properly dressed couple to my left greeted us warmly. “We took your bikes out for a ride and put them back,” the man said, grinning. “It looks like fun,” added his wife, wearing a pearl bracelet and sparkly shoes. Once I got over my self-consciousness, it really was.

Amy Gage

About Amy Gage

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Amy Gage is managing editor of A former journalist, she writes a blog about women and aging ( and is executive director of Friends of the Parks and Trails of St. Paul and Ramsey County.

10 thoughts on “Cycling to the Symphony: A Noteworthy Experience

  1. Heidi SchallbergHeidi Schallberg

    Orchestra Hall has lockers for use?! Good to know!! I look forward to doing this sometime yet this year.

  2. Rosa

    This is great! I’m so glad you had a good time. Would you mind sharing your route or at least the part of it that doesn’t say exactly where you live?

    We’re not really orchestra people, but we bike to the Guthrie and other theaters pretty regularly, and having a minute to cool off and blow my nose is definitely important.

  3. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    We lean a bit more baroque so SPCO is our thing. We can ride there but coming back is a bit too dicey as it involves a couple of miles on a long straight Ramsey County road shoulder that is just too uncomfortable after dark and sadly there are no good transit alternatives.

    Glad you guys have a good option and are able to do it. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    The Bike To Orchestra Hall deal says that you have to have a helmet or gear (I assume lycra, jersey, shoes, gloves, etc?).

    What about those of us who ride Dutch city bikes in normal clothes? We don’t have helmets or gear or gloves or special shoes or anything. Not even helmet hair.

    1. Minnesota Orchesrta

      Hi Walker,

      Minnesota Orchestra here to answer your question! Asking guests to show their bike gear is a check-point for us, however it’s not required. Our friendly Box Office staff will trust you and anyone else who biked without gear (although we do hope that you wear a helmet for your own sake!).

      Please let us know if you have any other questions. We do hope you join us sometime at Orchestra Hall for a concert.

      1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

        Thank you for the reply (and for this program supporting bicycling). It might be a good idea to update your website and let people know that they don’t have to dress up in lycra and helmets.

Comments are closed.