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Tips for Utilitarian Cycling, Part 2

Episode summary

00:00 | Intro
01:20 | Looking presentable
09:37 | The weather
10:22 | Heat
12:00 | Cold
15:13 | Snow and ice
16:37 | Rain
20:33 | Far-flung destinations
25:51 | Bike touring
41:01 | Unsolved challenges
46:39 | Outro

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Our theme song is Tanz den Dobberstein, and our interstitial song is Puck’s Blues. Both tracks used by permission of their creator, Erik Brandt. Find out more about his band The Urban Hillbilly Quartet on their website.

This episode originally appeared on The Extra Dimension, a show Ian actively produced from 2015 to 2020 about the social and ethical implications of technology.

This episode was hosted and edited by Ian R Buck, with transcript by the indominable Mike Allen. Christy Marsden is our awesome guest booker, and technical assistance is provided by the super professional Brian Mitchell. If you’re able to help make sure this team gets paid for the hard work they do, please consider donating. We really appreciate it!


Melody: [00:00:00] I think the whole thing about bike touring is it’s not as whatever you think it’s going to be, you know, like it’s not as scary. It’s not as nerve wracking. It kind of works out.

Ian: [00:00:12] Welcome to the Streets.mn Podcast, the show where we shape transportation and land use to make our world a better place. Coming to you from beautiful Frogtown Saint Paul, Minnesota. I’m your host, Ian R. Buck. Today’s episode is part two of a guide for people who want to bike more for transportation. I have a conversation with fellow bike commuter Melody Hoffmann about the challenges we have encountered with utilitarian biking and the solutions we have come up with. If you haven’t listened to Part one, I’d recommend checking it out to hear our thoughts on feeling safe on a bike, avoiding unbearable expenses, handling mechanical issues, security and hauling cargo. This conversation originally appeared on The Extra Dimension, a podcast I actively produced from 2015 to 2020 about the social and ethical implications of technology. Find show notes and a transcript of the episode at [https://streets.mn]. And with that, let’s hop back in time to a conversation from summer 2019.

[00:01:19] [Wayne’s World Time Traveling Doodly-Doo Sounds]

Ian: [00:01:20] Here is a fun challenge. I’ll be sweaty and gross and looking like a conspicuous cyclist when I get to places. This is. Yeah, I had I had I really had to grapple with this when I was figuring out like what my process was for bike commuting specifically. Right? Because, you know, I get to work and I don’t want to be in a classroom in front of all these kids in my like grungy, sweaty, like running clothes basically is what I bike in usually. So…

Melody: [00:01:52] So how do you deal with it? How would you deal with it?

Ian: [00:01:54] So, so yeah, for one thing, like once you’ve been biking for a little while, you like, you know, your body gets used to it and you’re probably not going to be sweating as much, you know, at like a moderate pace than than when you first start off. But even so, like, it’s always useful to carry an extra set of clothes with you. I have kind of separated my wardrobe into, like my grunge outfits that I can wear while riding and then my nicer outfits that I will change into when I get to a place. So quite often, like especially when I get to school, but also like, you know, if a lot of places where I go, I’ll just like pop into the bathroom right when I get there and just like kind of take a wet paper towel, wipe myself down. That’s enough for me to feel a little bit more fresh, you know? And then I just go into like a toilet stall and change. If you don’t want to be carrying like panniers with you while you’re walking around and look super conspicuous, you can get baskets for your bike instead of panniers, and then you can just stick your normal like backpack into the basket and then carry that with you when you get off of your bike. 

Melody: [00:03:07] So wait, time out. Why do people not want to be seen as a bicyclist when they’re out and about?

Ian: [00:03:11] I know I know…

Melody: [00:03:12]  What is up with that?!

Ian: [00:03:13] …You and I are definitely not of that mindset, but I understand…

Melody: [00:03:18] No, but tell me, like, because I honestly don’t understand like what is the are people being discriminated against or like there’s the attitude.

Ian: [00:03:25] I think a lot of it is about like the the bicyclist aesthetic is not like it’s not a it’s not appropriate for all situations, right? So like, yeah, all the bags that I have that can clip on to my bike, they look like I’m going on a camping trip. Right? They’re super like waterproof and and shiny black and also like, like carrying around a conventional backpack can be a lot more comfortable because a lot of times, like panniers are not really built well.

Melody: [00:03:55] You can’t like take them off and then go like do an activity with a friend or something. Like they’re hard to haul around.

Ian: [00:04:01] Yeah, yeah.

Melody: [00:04:02] I would say. Okay, so back to the conspicuous cyclist issue. I’m going to move beyond that. I understand that some people want to look cute and I just I’m sorry. Like, I’m just it’s hard for me to subscribe to that because I fought for so long to unsubscribe from that. I guess because it’s and I’m it’s good to hear in that you are concerned with how you look because I think sometimes men are socialized to think that they can just show up sweaty and like, you know, their shirts just full of sweat and it’s just like, fine. And women were just pressured in all these weird ways to not look like that, you know? And so we have extra pressure to not look like we just came off of a bike ride when we get somewhere. I it’s not like I look like crap when I show up. I just care less. I don’t wear makeup when I’m biking. My hair has to look fine in a ponytail. And if I take it out, it’s got to look like I’m not. My hair is not fancy. I know people who have natural hair that are African American. They often have to braid their hair down or wear their hair in a way that like fits underneath the helmet. But also like with the clothing thing, as a woman, you cannot be thinking that you can wear like a business suit on a bike. Some people will argue that you can. That’s fine. But when I started biking, I changed my wardrobe a lot. Like, I just wear elastic everything like jackets have to have a lot of shoulder room because I have my arms out more. 

Ian: [00:05:28] Ah. Yeah.

Melody: [00:05:28] Women’s clothing are is made. I don’t know if you know this, Ian, and I don’t say that sarcastically, but it’s made like it’s not made for us to be athletic and mobile and it’s really annoying…

Ian: [00:05:37] Right.

Melody: [00:05:37] …Especially with clothes that we might wear to the office. And so something that I would do when I was biking to the U, for example, is I would wear let’s say it’s the winter time. I would wear like jeans and like tights as like my second layer, but I would take the jeans off when I got to work and I’d put a skirt on over the tights.

Ian: [00:05:58] Ah. Okay!

Melody: [00:05:59] So I wasn’t like fully changing or I would get these really cool… They have these arm warmers that just go up on your arm so you can actually pull them out. Like, so I’d wear a cardigan and the sleeves and then I would just pull the sleeves out when I got to school. But I also get places earlier, which is good. Because you always want to be on time in America. But I would also get places early. So if, you know, with our work, if we’re supposed to be on the clock at 8:00 a.m., I’m at my office by 7:30…

Ian: [00:06:30] Yeah. Yeah.

Melody: [00:06:31] …Kind of disrobing and, you know, just getting my stuff together. But I do that if I’m biking or not. Like I just kind of like to get to my place early in, you know, discombobble and do my thing. But with biking, you always kind of get if especially if you need to kind of clean up a little bit, you just get there a little bit early.

Ian: [00:06:48] Yeah. Yeah. I forgot to mention that that I budget like an extra 15 minutes on either side of my rides for exactly those reasons.

Melody: [00:06:56] And if people think that that is impossible or just like, “Oh, I don’t want to spend that time,” it’s actually really nice to get somewhere and have some time to like because as you’re getting ready, you’re also just kind of processing what you’re about to do and think, and it kind of sets you up instead of just like getting out of your car and entering into that space. You know, I like that buffer time that I get so and I love we haven’t been we’ve been talking a lot about the challenges, but also the time that we spend biking to these places is like really nice mental clarity time and thinking time, you know, I know we’ve been talking a lot about the traffic and lights and stuff, but it is it’s a very enjoyable thing. Otherwise, we want to be taking the time right now to explain all of these things for you because like then, goals, we want you to be biking more and we’re trying to help you kind of get through these challenges so you can enjoy it as much as possible.

Ian: [00:07:43] Yeah. When you when you were talking about like different clothes that aren’t built to be for you to be athletically like, you know, moving and stuff. I definitely have not yet taken a ride to a place where I want to like wear my full suit because like, yeah, I don’t, I don’t feel like I would be able to wear it well biking without messing it up, you know, like that suit was hundreds of dollars. And I don’t want to like, you know, get the pants scuffed up on like the chain and then, oh, it’s got oil on it. And, you know, but also like, you know, like for for most times when I’m like taking a button up shirt and some nice pants, right? I fold them up and I put them in my panniers. You can’t do that with a full suit. Right?

Melody: [00:08:26] Right.

Ian: [00:08:26] You know, even when you’re transporting it in a car, you’re supposed to hang it up like back there in the back seat with the little hooky thing. I don’t have one of those on my bike.

Melody: [00:08:35] That’s weird. I don’t either.

Ian: [00:08:37] So I have I have not figured out a solution for for that particular aspect yet.

Melody: [00:08:42] I mean, one solution is that if you want to spend some money they are making… They… Fashion clothing companies are making more mobile looking suits like dress outfits, but it costs money. It’s like..

Ian: [00:08:58] Right.

Melody: [00:08:58] …So you can get dress pants that you can also bike in. But no, I don’t think I’m going to be able to replicate my business suit just as much as you are. I did wear a business suit once, an interview, and I had to fully change and I had to very loosely fold the suit into a pannier like you could do it, you could do it, but you couldn’t pack it tight. You’d have to just very loosely place it in your. I would just take the bus. That’s what I would do. [Laughing]

Ian: [00:09:24] Yeah. Exactly. That’s that’s what I have done.

Melody: [00:09:27] It’s just not worth it. Like, just take the bus. We have the ability to to have options, so we’re lucky that way. 

[00:09:32] [Music]

Ian: [00:09:37] So let’s talk about everybody’s favorite topic. The weather.

Robot Voice: [00:09:42] The weather.

Ian: [00:09:43] So, yeah, when you’re on a bike, you are much, much more exposed to the weather than if you are in a car. So no matter what the weather is going to be… Right? You’re definitely going to need to plan ahead much more than you would otherwise. So you’re going to be checking the forecast every morning or more often, right? The more often, the better to make sure that you’ve got everything with you that you’re going to to need for any of the weather that you expect to encounter. So let’s go through those different types of weather.

[00:10:22] [Music]

Ian: [00:10:22] First hot weather.

Melody: [00:10:23] I hate hot weather. I hate it.

Ian: [00:10:25] So basically, I just dress like I’m going to go out for a run, right? So like some nice light, quick dry clothes, probably some sunscreen because it’s probably going to be sunny. Got my sunglasses on, of course. By the way, I’m really proud of myself. This summer, I have developed a tan line from my riding gloves.

Melody: [00:10:44] Nice. Congratulations.

Ian: [00:10:47] Thank you.

Melody: [00:10:48] It’s a great accomplishment.

Ian: [00:10:49] And then, of course, water. Lots of water. Definitely. Definitely. Need to have enough water with you for yourself. I used to be a big dum dum, and I just had, like, my Nalgene in my pannier and then, like.

Melody: [00:11:06] Ooh.

Ian: [00:11:06] Yeah, like. And then if I stopped at, like, a red light and I knew that I had a couple of minutes, I would, like, unzip, grab my water bottle, unscrew it, take a drink, screw it back on, put it back in.

Melody: [00:11:17] [Laughing]

Ian: [00:11:18] I and I was really strapped for time quite a few times. Like I would barely get the water bottle back into the pan here and then I’d like couldn’t even zip it back up by the time it was time to go. I finally bit the bullet and got a water bottle cage for my for my frame. And now I can just, like, grab the water bottle from down below me, lift it up, squeeze some water into my mouth and put it back onto the onto the frame. And it has changed my life.

Melody: [00:11:44] You can even do it while you’re biking. Like…

Ian: [00:11:47] Yeah! Uh-huh!

Melody: [00:11:47] …If you stop, like, you can get really good at biking and drink. I need that. I don’t. Yeah. When I don’t have a bike or a water holder on my bike, it’s a problem. 

[00:11:55] [Music]

Ian: [00:12:00] Cold weather, so…

Melody: [00:12:01] Ooh I like doing this.

Ian: [00:12:02] Yeah. And it’s one that a lot of people are, like, nervous about. So layers are very important. Dress like you’re going to go downhill skiing, basically.

Melody: [00:12:12] But that means I have not gone downhill skiing. Probably the same with skiing. You dress lighter than you think you’re going to need to because you get warm when you bike and people are like, “No way!” Yes way. Like I used to bike with a winter coat and I would get so hot like so hot like within a couple of minutes. So it’s more about getting a windbreaker, type of coat and layers than it is about getting a big fluffy coat on because you’re going to start sweating because you’re doing physical activity. For me, it’s about… Everybody’s different, but for me it was about always about getting my extremities really well covered. So getting really, really warm mittens or gloves and really warm boots and wearing wool socks is very important because your extremities don’t warm up the same way that your core does in the winter. So just be prepared to be warmer than you think you’re going to be.

Ian: [00:13:04] Yeah, yeah.

Melody: [00:13:05] And dress in layers just in case you need to shed one.

Ian: [00:13:08] Yeah. I was like amazed when I discovered that OC sweatshirt kind of warm wearing a rain jacket over my t shirt kind of warm. But if I put a sweatshirt and then the rain jacket on at the same time, that’s like five times as warm as either of them by themselves. Yeah. So yeah, like most of the winter, I don’t even own a proper, like, winter jacket anymore because most of the winter I’m just doing like, yeah, sweatshirt, rain jacket, boom. And then like when it gets down to like -30 degrees, I did go and buy a like down-filled shell that I can stick in between those two layers for for added extra warmth.

Melody: [00:13:54] What about your face, though, when it’s -30?

Ian: [00:13:57] Balaclava Yeah. And I also have like a scarf that I wrap around to to get my neck and my lower chin.

Melody: [00:14:05] Yeah, I’m a big fan of the square scarves because you can turn them into triangles and they cover a lot more of your neck and your face then like a long, skinny scarf does. So people could try those out too. And goggles. If you wear goggles, I swear you can bike in any temperature.

Ian: [00:14:21] Yeah, yeah, yeah. Last winter I was rocking my sunglasses for most of the time, but I did encounter quite a few times where, like, the, my, my glasses were fogging up in the freezing. 

Melody: [00:14:35] Mhmm. Mhmm.

Ian: [00:14:35] …And, you know, so then I would have to like, like at every red light, I would have to like take them off, rub them to get all of the frost off and then like put them back on real quick. So I think I’m going to invest in some ski goggles.

Melody: [00:14:45] Ugh. So frustrating when that happens. Yeah, you need goggles because it’s like constant. You have to. Oh, winter, winter. It’s so fun.

Ian: [00:14:54] I’ve also seen people with Bar Mitts which are like, you know, it’s a glove that goes on top of your glove, but it’s always attached to your handlebars, so…

Melody: [00:15:01] Yeah, those are cool.

Ian: [00:15:03] Yeah, I’ve never tried them, but I hear great things about them.

[00:15:14] [Music]

Ian: [00:15:15] For snow and ice, which goes along with cold weather studded tires. That’s basically all that you need in…

Melody: [00:15:21] Mm hmm.

Ian: [00:15:21] …You know, above and beyond what you already have is just have some studied tires that you put on for the for the winter season. And then also, I would say, like lowering the pressure in your tires a little bit will give you extra traction.

Melody: [00:15:34] Mm hmm.

Ian: [00:15:35] Yeah. And like I, throughout the winter, there were many days where I saw, like, cars having trouble, like getting through the snow, or, like, they would get to a stop sign and they’d, like, try to stop, but then they’d slide into the intersection because they got too much momentum. And here I am on my studied tires. Just [sing-songy] doop doo-doo doo-doo. Having a good time. I’m in complete control because I’ve got so much traction. Yeah, wonderful.

Melody: [00:15:59] And I will say, if you can’t afford studded tires, you could get one. Just in the front, I hear is better than…

Ian: [00:16:06] Oh!

Melody: [00:16:06] …if you need to get just one. Check my math on that one. But then also you can get knobby tires like they’re often called cross tires. So people who do cross racing ask somebody else about that. But there’s like knobby tires. So in between the slick tires with a little bit of tread, these are like extra tready. That’s what I have because I’ve just never invested in studded tires. But if you can, if you have the money and you want to invest in them, I hear they’re great. 

[00:16:33] [Music]

Ian: [00:16:37] And then rain. So… 

Melody: [00:16:40] Ugh. 

[00:16:40] [Laughing] Yeah. I agree.

Melody: [00:16:41] This is my worst. This is the worst rain and wind. Wind might be the worst because like there’s you can’t wear any equipment. I mean, you just got to, like, fight through it.

Ian: [00:16:50] Yep.

Melody: [00:16:51] But rain, I think, is, like, my second least favorite thing to ride in.

Ian: [00:16:54] Yeah. I wrote down here dress like you’re going to go hiking near Vancouver. So, yeah, rain jacket, rain pants, waterproof boots. I am very, very, very happy. Like when I say rain jacket, I’m not talking like go to Target…

[00:17:10] No! Nope. 

[00:17:11] …go, you know, peruse, right? No, no, go to go to somewhere like rye where they will really be able to tell you like what’s what and find a good rain jacket. They even they make rain jackets now that have like hoods that are large enough to go over your helmet.

Melody: [00:17:28] Oh, that’s cool.

Ian: [00:17:28] But I don’t think that’s necessary. I just put my hood on and then put my helmet on over the hood.

Melody: [00:17:32] Well, there you go.

Ian: [00:17:33] I don’t care. I don’t care that the helmets getting wet because, like, my head is underneath the hood.

Melody: [00:17:37] So whatever. Yeah. The department store windbreakers, too, or like they say, they’re water resistant. They’re not like you actually do have to invest in a good rain jacket and rain pants and with boots, they also make booties like that. You can put over your shoes, which are really cool.

Ian: [00:17:54] Ohh!

Melody: [00:17:55] They’re they’re made from neoprene and they work good in the winter and for rain. If I had to go somewhere and it was raining out, I probably would like at this point where some boots and then have some canvas shoes in my bag, you know, something that isn’t too heavy to change into when I get there because you don’t want to be wearing what shoes? That’s very uncomfortable.

Ian: [00:18:15] I’ve also I’ve had days where it’s raining, but like it’s warm. And so I just go, I’m just going to get wet. It’s fine.

Melody: [00:18:23] Yeah.

Ian: [00:18:24] And that only really works if you’re on your way..

Melody: [00:18:27] Home!

Ian: [00:18:27] Home or somewhere where it’s like you can just be wet and then yeah, because.

Melody: [00:18:31] It is fun. It is fun if it’s not too cold out to ride in the rain.

Ian: [00:18:34] Yeah. Um. Fenders are something…

Melody: [00:18:37] Oh yeah.

Ian: [00:18:37] That I did not realize how important they are until I had them. I used to get to work, like, even on date. So here’s the thing about fenders, right? They don’t just protect you on, like, super rainy days. They also protect you on days when, like, when there’s not rain coming down, but the ground is wet, right? If the ground is wet at all, your tires are going to be kicking up a lot of like little droplets of water that have grit and grime in them. And so, like I used to have days where I would get to work and I looked like I just had a bunch of freckles on my face because, like, just…

Ian: [00:19:11] Oh, all the dirt?

Melody: [00:19:11] I just had so much dirt. Yeah, but with fenders, it’s no longer a problem. They also help to not get as much like water into your panniers because it’s not all being kicked up there.

Melody: [00:19:25] And fenders you can do… Either you can get them attached to your, like, really nice ones that like almost run the full gamut of your wheel or at least half of your wheel. Or you can get ones that attached to your bike that are like very affordable, both front and back. They don’t work as well, but they, they really do the job. I mean, they do the job.

Ian: [00:19:46] Yeah. They’re basically like splash guards at that point.

Melody: [00:19:49] Oh, yeah. Yes. That’s all I have. No, I think one of my bikes came with fenders. Otherwise they’re a… God. Good luck installing those things. Those are hard.

Ian: [00:19:56] Yeah, yeah. I just. I just had the bike shop install those and then also. Yeah. Like speaking of panniers, you should definitely have ones that are like nice and waterproof or what I did before I had like really nice waterproof ones was I just had like plastic bags with me all the time that were just, I just rolled them up and put them in the bottom of my panniers. And then if it was getting a little wet out, then I would just like take those out, wrap everything in plastic bags and put them back into my panniers. And that worked pretty well.

[00:20:33] [Music]

Ian: [00:20:33] So the last thing that I hear from people is that they don’t have time to bike somewhere or it’s too far. That kind of thing. And yeah, that’s that’s definitely a legitimate concern sometimes, but not as often, I would say as as what people initially think it’s going to be like. For example, with my daily commute, I feel like I’m actually saving a little bit of time because if I was commuting by car, then in order to get like some nice cardio into my day, I would be going running for like an hour for fitness and, and, you know, and that would be more time than it takes for me to bike back and forth. Yeah. The Twin Cities, though, can be a very large area. And sometimes there’s like, you know, people who live way over in the west metro who invite me to things and I’m like, I can’t I don’t really have time to get out there. So it like it does shrink my circle of like what I’m willing to go to. But that’s that’s definitely a tradeoff that I’m willing to make. And that’s a tradeoff that’s going to exist no matter what you do. Like, you know, if I own a car, I can’t go as far as if I owned a private jet.

Melody: [00:21:49] I love that analogy. Excellent.

Ian: [00:21:52] Like, there’s there’s always something better, right?

Melody: [00:21:55] Right. And I. And I echo what you’re saying, like, to my commute out to my job in Coon Rapids, which is like a 30 minute car drive. It would take me an hour and a half to bike there to school. And I’m just going to tell you, when I teach at 8 a.m., I’m not I just am not going to leave at 6 a.m. to like bike there. I could take the bus. And the reason why I would take the buses that I have time to do some grading or some work on the bus, but it’s not always feasible. But I think I don’t I haven’t done a scientific experiment on this, but I swear that when I was biking, more like to my job and stuff, I was on time more and I felt like I had more time. Time is just different when you’re biking and I feel like when you have a car, when you’re using a car a lot, you’re always trying to beat the clock because it’s the quote unquote fastest way to get somewhere, you know? So it’s like, well, it only takes me 20 minutes to get there. But you’re not factoring in, packing up your car or getting your stuff together. But when you’re biking, you’re always thinking about all that stuff. So it’s actually a way more stress. I’m sorry. It is very stressful to drive. I know people have some fears about biking, but once you’re comfortable with biking, there’s there’s nothing more relaxing than biking until somebody tries to pull out in front of you and then for like, ugh.

Ian: [00:23:07] [Laughing]

Melody: [00:23:07] But in general, like, if you would watch our blood pressure and our heart rate and stuff, like we are calm as cucumbers, but like driving in traffic, forget it. Like it’s just not the trade off. The time trade off is not worth it sometimes to save, you know, “time”, quote unquote, time in a car. It’s like I’d rather take an hour to bike than sit in traffic for 30 minutes.

Ian: [00:23:28] And you also just made me think of something that like if I do make a miscalculation and realize like, oh, no, I don’t have enough time to bike to the place that I’m going, well, I still have time to, like, call a Lyft and get a ride, you know? Right.

Melody: [00:23:44] That’s a good point.

Ian: [00:23:44] Whereas if I make a miscalculation and I was assuming that I was going to be going in a car, there’s no there’s nothing I could do. There’s no faster way to get there. Yeah. And yeah, if you do find your that you’re regularly going to things that like take too long to bike too you know maybe you want to re-evaluate why it is that you live so far from them, right? Like when, when we were looking at houses to buy, you know, we were kind of looking at like places that had a good amount of transit available, but also like areas that weren’t too far away from my work to be able to bike to, but also weren’t too far away from like downtown Minneapolis, because as it turns out, there are a lot of things that go on in downtown Minneapolis that I wanted to go to. So yeah, I’ve let biking dictate a lot of things in my life.

Melody: [00:24:37] And that’s fine, I think, for the better.

Ian: [00:24:39] Yeah, yeah.

Melody: [00:24:40] And I, when I didn’t own a car for the first four or five years that I lived in Minneapolis, if people I don’t mean to sound like this is going to sound conceited, but like if I didn’t want to bike to a movie and people invited me to a movie, like, I’d get a ride, we’d carpool, you know? So sometimes, like, if you’re going out to your friend’s house on the West End, then you just ask somebody for a ride instead of you lose your independence that way. But you know, there’s ways to get out, out to these places and people will come grab you if they want to see you or they can come to you. Man, it’s fine. You’re just saving the planet and being healthy and [bleep]. They can… They can meet you halfway.

Ian: [00:25:16] And then yeah… As, as for like the things being too far away. I feel like once you’ve been biking on a regular basis for a while, you’ll be able to like, cruise at a comfortable pace for a really, really long time as long as you bring enough snacks. Right. Even even the most fit of us will lose a lot of energy if we if we don’t have some good granola bars to munch on during the ride.

Melody: [00:25:41] That should be in your bike first aid kit then too. It’s like a patch kit and some snacks.

[00:25:46] [Music]

Ian: [00:25:50] I’ve basically gotten to the point where like as long as I can budget enough time to bike on a particular trip, then that’s how I’m going to get there, no matter how far it is, right? Earlier, earlier this summer, you know, like, uh, my wife’s family was getting together out in Cadott, Wisconsin to go to Rock Fest, and, and we’re just, like, hanging out in a cabin. And so we wanted to go along, and I was like, you know, I think I’ll spend like five days biking to get out there. Which brings us nicely to bike touring.

Melody: [00:26:26] That sounds like a fun trip.

Ian: [00:26:27] Yeah, it was. It was. And that was like my first real serious, like, yeah. Bike tour. So a nice a nice little five day, five day trek.

Melody: [00:26:39] With camping? You camped?

Ian: [00:26:40] Yep. Yep. So. So first day was like, took the Gateway State trail out to Stillwater and then across the 36 bridge to get to Willow River State Park. Spent a whole day there. So two nights just to, you know, be able to experience the park and relax a little bit and then took some like county roads and state highways and stuff over to Menomonie. There’s there’s a little privately-owned campground just south of there. And then there’s some state trails, bike trails that go from there up to the Eau Claire area. 

Melody: [00:27:16] Mmhmm.

Ian: [00:27:16] And then, uh, and then stay the night there. And then I was on some county roads again just briefly for like an hour the next morning to get to, to get to the cabin. So that’s a nice trip!

Melody: [00:27:29] How were the bugs when you were camping?

Ian: [00:27:31] Surprisingly, not bad at all!

Melody: [00:27:33] I’m so happy.

Ian: [00:27:33] I had a lot I brought so much bug spray with me and I was like, yeah, will a river. It’s right next to like a creek. It’s they’re going to be terrible. But I don’t know. I think the state park must do a lot of spraying or something because did not get bitten hardly at all.

Melody: [00:27:47] Oh, man, I didn’t. Mosquitos weren’t a huge issue for me when I went bike on my bike trip last summer. So last summer I did a two week trip like through the driftless area of Wisconsin. So it’s like Viroqua, Spring Green, just kind of middle of Wisconsin, very beautiful. But the gnats were horrendous, which I guess is a bigger issue in Wisconsin…

Ian: [00:28:07] Oh! Yeah.

Melody: [00:28:07] …Than Minnesota. And my friend who lives in a in Viroqua, Wisconsin, which is a rural town, she told me about this medicine. Okay, so it’s like and it’s like minty-mentholy medicine for horses to keep gnats away from them. But it’s it’s not very strong. And so humans can use it too…

Ian: [00:28:28] Huh.

Melody: [00:28:28] …But they only sell it in rural areas where like you would have horses and it’s like the only thing that keeps that gnats out of my face. Otherwise, I was like…

Ian: [00:28:38] That’s some serious insider baseball right there.

Melody: [00:28:40] That’s why I’m sharing it on the podcast.

Ian: [00:28:43] [Laughing]

Melody: [00:28:44] So, yeah, it’s because the bugs were, as you know about me, I don’t love mosquitos, but the gnats were like really frustrating when we were camping, such as life in the Midwest in the summer.

Ian: [00:28:54] Yeah

Melody: [00:28:55] But um, that was like, the point of me bringing that up is that that was the worst part of it. Like everything else went so well, I was so scared that I wasn’t going to be able to handle it. My body would fall apart. But, man, I did it. And you did it.

Ian: [00:29:09] Yep. Yeah.

Melody: [00:29:11] How many miles did you bike each day on that five day trip?

Ian: [00:29:15] Uh, it was between, like, I think the shortest day was, like, 50 kilometers, and then the longest was like 80.

Melody: [00:29:23] Your brain only works in kilometers.

Ian: [00:29:25] Yeah, since I. Since I set, like, Google Maps two kilometers and Strava two kilometers. Yeah, I just live in a metric world.

Melody: [00:29:31] I love that. I set my one of my thermostats to Celsius and I still don’t understand it. So good for you and America’s dumb.

Ian: [00:29:40] Yeah, that’s between, like, 30 miles and…

Melody: [00:29:43] Yeah! 

Ian: [00:29:44] 50 miles. Yeah.

Melody: [00:29:44] That’s a great. Yeah, that’s what we did. We did like 30. We kept it real easy, you know, like 30, 35. And that at that point, it seems like a lot, but your body really adapts. And did you get your bike fit before you went on your trip?

Ian: [00:29:58] What do you mean by fit? Like. Like make sure adjust it to my body?

Melody: [00:30:01] Yeah.

Ian: [00:30:01] No, because I felt like, you know, since I’m since I’ve been biking every day for basically the last year, like if, if something was off, I would have noticed it already.

Melody: [00:30:12] True. Yeah. Okay.

Ian: [00:30:13] Yeah, I did. At the at the end of it, I did notice that like my right knee was kind of twitching a little bit. Like there’s a, there was an area just above and to the right of my kneecap that was like kind of popping a little bit. So I’ve been I’ve been tending to that the way that I would to getting like runner’s knee back when I was in cross country. So…

Melody: [00:30:37] Yeah. Well, that’s good. Yeah, I was I have many more ailments because of my days riding fixed gear. My knees are a mess too. But…

[00:30:46] Oh!

[00:30:46] …They… It ended up being okay. And really it was more about just general, like keeping my core engaged, which is a new thing that I’m sharing with people is that like if my shoulders start to hurt or my knees, like usually I’m not using my core or my like hip strength enough that I’m relying on other parts of my body. And so if I would, like, engage my core, I probably have a weaker core than you because I’ve never been a runner. But if I would just engage my core while I was riding, I could actually like feel some of that pain get lifted. So, you know, knowing and I know this stuff because I’ve been going to yoga and I have a yoga teacher that kind of teaches me these weird things about my body. But, you know, that was the worst of it. You know, I thought, oh, I’m going to get you know, my knees are going to crank out and I won’t be able to. But we just kept it easy 30, 35 miles a day. Rested. And you have to be done by like, how late did you dri…bike during the day?

Ian: [00:31:39] The first day when we got we left the Twin Cities much, much later than we had planned on. We got there at like 5 or 6 p.m. and that was also like a pretty tough day because after we, after we left Stillwater and came across into Wisconsin, oh, turns out Western Wisconsin is a lot hillier…

Melody: [00:32:01] Mmhmm.

Ian: [00:32:01] …Than the Gateway State Trail. So like the tail end of our of our trek for that day was… yeah. Lots of hills.

Melody: [00:32:10] Yeah.

Ian: [00:32:10] And so we, we ended up, we ended up having to walk up a few of those.

Melody: [00:32:14] I’ve heard about those hills like right on the western edge, so…

Ian: [00:32:16] Yeah. Yeah. And I would like to say though, that like, hills look way, way worse when you’re far away from them.

Melody: [00:32:24] Yeah.

Ian: [00:32:25] Like, you know, you crest one hill and you look at the next hill and you’re like, “That’s super steep and super tall!” But then you get to the bottom of it and you’re like, “Oh, that’s actually a pretty reasonable grade. And not, not too far.”

Melody: [00:32:36] It is a weird optical illusion.

Ian: [00:32:38] Yeah.

Melody: [00:32:39] But it’s also okay, especially if you’re bike touring and you have a lot of stuff with you. If you need to walk up a couple of hills like nobody’s looking, you know?

Ian: [00:32:46] Yeah. Yeah it’s fine

Melody: [00:32:46] …And something that I ran into, which is an interesting problem if you’re biking with other people is my partner who was riding with his bike chain set up is like allows his bike to get spinny-er than mine if that makes sense, without using jargon, so he can like go into a lower gear…

Ian: [00:33:04] Okay.

Melody: [00:33:04] …or like my pedaling was staying a lot harder than his could go. And so because his was set up basically to carry more, he had like a Long Haul Trucker Surly. So it’s meant to carry a lot of weight, so they make it really spinny. He was like beating me up these hills and I would just get really frustrated because I was like at my lowest gear possible and I was still like, struggling.

Ian: [00:33:27] Yeah.

Melody: [00:33:27] And so if you’re ever riding with other people and you’re like, “How are they speeding up this hill?” Like they might just have a whole different setup than you. It’s really not your. So I thought that was interesting, like biking with another person. Like, if you have a, if you have a different setup or a different kind of bike, that it can really impact getting up hills. But anyways, they’re worse than they seem and it’s really awesome to like get up a hill and be like, “I did it! Take that hill!”

Ian: [00:33:51] Yep, yep. How, how did you find the, like traffic out there? Because it is a very, very different experience than like, riding in the cities.

Melody: [00:34:02] Yeah, I was really worried about like trucks not seeing me or people going by too fast and clipping me because like they say, there’s this like, oh God, there’s this mass media theory called cultivation effect where like you think something is scary because that’s what you see on TV, right? So all the stories that I hear about people biking in the country or in rural areas, it’s them getting killed by getting hit by a car, right? So I’m like, “Oh my God, that’s that’s how I’m going to just going to die!” But like, it was fine. Like, those shoulders were a lot wider on the roads than I thought they were. And people were giving us lots of room. And I didn’t feel I didn’t feel as scared by the traffic as I like made it up in my mind that it was going to be. We only caught one trucker on their phone because we’d always try to get them to honk. You know, when you like you like pull your arm up and down?

Ian: [00:34:54] Ahh! Uh-huh, uh-huh.

Melody: [00:34:56] We we’re just being goofy. And most of them would honk or at least wave if they didn’t want to honk. But like the one the reason we knew he was on the phone, he was like, why isn’t he honking or doing anything? And then he passed us. I was like, Oh yeah, he’s on his phone, so that’s nice. It was fine. How was the traffic with you?

Ian: [00:35:11] Pretty good, yeah. So luckily, the literally the day before we left, I managed to meet Bill Lindeke in person for the first time, and, and he told me, like, “Oh, you’re going on a trip into Wisconsin. Hey, did you know that the Department of Transportation has, like a county by county bike maps of that that like collates all of these different county roads and state highways and stuff and like rates them by how large the shoulder is, how much traffic there is and stuff like that?” And so…

Melody: [00:35:44] Wow.

Ian: [00:35:44] …We used kind of a combination of that and Google Maps to kind of figure out like a. What what is going to be the best route for us. And so luckily, yeah, we were generally on lower traffic roads that had nice wide shoulders. So it wasn’t too harrowing. We did we did get like saw a lot of people who like saw us and just had like really wide eyes. Like what? There are cyclists out here?

Melody: [00:36:11] Yeah, right. I think it was more like people were waving at us because they’re like it’s like we’re a spectacle. So they really were like paying attention. We met some really cool Amish people on our, did you run into any Amish people?

Ian: [00:36:23] We did not. We definitely went through some towns where I was like, looking around, I’m like, this feels like an Amish town. The sign when we came in was in German and I feel like this is probably yeah and oh my gosh, there are some really cute farms out there… 

Melody: [00:36:38] Yes!

Ian: [00:36:39] …That you never get to see…

Melody: [00:36:40] Mmhmm.

Ian: [00:36:40] …When you’re on an interstate.

Melody: [00:36:41] It’s beautiful. Yeah, it’s beautiful. Like bike touring is so beautiful because you get to see parts of the country that you normally wouldn’t and it was cool… So the reason I asked about the Amish people is because because they don’t have cars or anything, they were biking.

Ian: [00:36:54] Yeah.

Melody: [00:36:55] So we ran into some people biking down to a river or to lake to go swimming, and they helped us find our campsite and they were like super sweet.

Ian: [00:37:02] Nice! 

Melody: [00:37:03] So yeah, like when do you get to hang out with Amish people if you’re not Amish? Like, they’re just chilling. And another reason why I just love biking is that the people that you meet on your journeys. But yeah, I’m glad I was going to ask you about the farms too, because the farms were like so cute and all the animals and…

Ian: [00:37:18] Mmhmm.

Melody: [00:37:18] …It’s just wonderful.

Ian: [00:37:19] Yeah. And like, I like my trip. We were, we were camping pretty much the whole time, you know, and like went into to like every once in a while stopped at an Aldi to buy more groceries or whatever. And, but you can definitely do it like, you know, you can stay at hotels and eat at restaurants if you want to like bike, bike touring can be whatever beast you want it to be. Yeah, I’m much more comfortable with the, with the camping side of things and I’m very price sensitive. So I was like, we’re going to we’re going to shop at grocery stores.

Melody: [00:37:49] Yeah, it’s fun, too. And I was really worried about camping as a city girl and somebody who grew up in the suburbs. Like there was no camping in my life when I was a child. So I was really nervous about camping too. But it’s chill. Like, thankfully my partner had the tents and like had like little sleep packs. But I think the whole thing about bike touring is it’s not as whatever you think it’s going to be, you know, like it’s not as scary, it’s not as nerve racking, it kind of works out. And yeah, we would go through these small towns. I loved stopping in small towns and just eating at their like little cafe, you know, where we’d stop at a food co-op or we just kind of planned it where we’re always going through these small towns. And so I was worried about food and water myself, but there’s just, you know, you have to kind of map some stuff out. As Ian was saying, and I think in the areas that we were bike touring, there’s not vast lands of like nothingness. Whereas like if you go into the south, there are some parts where like you will not you will not see people for a very, very long time. But we we were fine with water. Obviously. We had a lot more water bottles than I would have when I’m just commuting and always had snacks. So if, you know, we didn’t run into a grocery store or anything, we’d had food to survive on, but we did really well with that as well, getting food and.

Ian: [00:39:06] We overestimated how much we were going to eat. And I ended up like not grocery shopping the second time, the second stop that we were planning on because we, we still had so much food left over. So yeah, it was probably carrying more weight than was necessary, but you know, it worked out.

Melody: [00:39:26] Yeah. I mean, better than not having enough food.

Ian: [00:39:29] Definitely. Yeah. And here’s the thing about like having a lot of weight. I thought that it was going to slow me down a bunch, but like as long as we had flat terrain, I was cruising at like the same like 25, 30 kilometers an hour that I usually do. It just takes me longer to get up to speed, you know?

Melody: [00:39:45] Yeah. Yeah, I wasn’t… We weren’t going that much slower either. I mean, we weren’t trying to race each other, but I didn’t feel like the weight brought me down either.

Ian: [00:39:54] Yeah, it definitely changes the handling when you’ve got, especially when you’ve got like a lot of weight on the front.

Melody: [00:39:59] Yeah.

Ian: [00:40:00] Like it’s going to be feel super sluggish.

Melody: [00:40:03] Oh yeah. You feel like you can ride forever. It’s like when they do training in sports and they like have you wear weights like on your body and you take the weights off and then you can like run like a, I don’t know, like a super fast Olympic runner. I felt the same way when I got back from tour. I was like, Oh my gosh, how fast I can go now without all my weight. But it was. It was fine speed wise. Yeah. Just take it easy. Have fun. What Ian said, make touring what you want it to be. Don’t try to fit it into some kind of ideal.

Ian: [00:40:29] I have definitely got the bug now, like…

Melody: [00:40:31] Isn’t it fun?! I know!

Ian: [00:40:33] A friend of mine took me on a little car trip up to, like, the North Shore, and we went to Eagle Mountain and stuff. And immediately I was like, I’m going to bike all the way around Lake Superior. That’s what I want to do.

Melody: [00:40:45] Did you do it then or later?

Ian: [00:40:46] No, no, no, no, no. Because that’s that’s going to be like a whole 36 day…

Melody: [00:40:50] Okay.

Ian: [00:40:50] …You know, like Trip.

Melody: [00:40:53] I wasn’t sure. Maybe you’re like, “Peace out, friend. I’m out. I’m doing this.”

[00:40:56] [Music]

Ian: [00:41:01] Okay. So now let’s just finish off with a few things that, yes, are challenges that I haven’t figured out solutions to. So, first off, you can’t really just leave panniers with your bike and assume that everything will be in them when you get back. Which is very different than a car because a car is like its own little secure enclave and you can leave stuff in there and it probably won’t get broken into. Whereas like…

Melody: [00:41:30] I’ve had a pin here that’s been empty, and they’ve stolen it. People have stolen it.

Ian: [00:41:34] Wow. Okay, interesting.

Melody: [00:41:36] You know, I have so what I have now is I have my cheap panniers that if I do need to leave a pannier on my bike and it gets stolen, I’m not going to be upset about it. Like I wouldn’t have my Ortlieb panniers empty.

Ian: [00:41:49] Right.

Melody: [00:41:49] But yeah, that is a really annoying thing.

Ian: [00:41:51] I have thought about the fact that like I could, you know, similar to how I thread my lock through my helmet, I could also thread my lock through. Like the handle on the pannier.

Melody: [00:42:01] Yeah, I’ve, I’ve done that before too. If I…

Ian: [00:42:03] Yeah.

Melody: [00:42:03] …If I thought that it was going to get taken.

Ian: [00:42:05] Speaking of taking stuff in with me, I have encountered multiple occasions where like, the fact that I always carry water and snacks with me does not mesh well with like places like U of M sports stadiums where they like have contracts with the food vendors and they’re like, “You can’t bring any food or water or drinks or anything into this place.” And I’m like, “But I got nowhere to put this. What am I supposed to do? Stupid, exploitative capitalism?”

Melody: [00:42:40] Yeah, I think this is. And I think on top of that, it’s that our country, like the norms, just assume that everybody has a car, right? So let’s say I work downtown and then I want to go see the Timberwolves or the Lynx at Target Center when I’m off work. Right. Well, I have my backpack with my laptop in it. I can’t bring that in. Right? So what do you want me to do, put it in your car.

Ian: [00:43:04] Yeah, because they have a thing against backpacks in general?

Melody: [00:43:06] Yeah. And they’re like, “Put it in your car.” I don’t have a car. “Well, you can’t bring it in here,” but I but like there’s literally no place for me to put this, right? So everybody operates as if we have like our car to put things back in. And so for a while, I don’t I haven’t tested this theory yet at the new target center. But when they when it was the old Target center, they had a bag check. And they don’t they don’t have that. They didn’t have that anymore. The last time that I brought a backpack in and I had to leave it at an office and thankfully, because I was at a Lynx game, they were like way more chill because it’s the WNBA, but when it’s the NBA or like, God forsaken, going to like a Vikings game or something? Like forget it, you know? And so it’s really hard to be a commuter and like get around throughout the day on your bike and then have to go into like a hyper capitalistic building in which nothing is allowed. And it doesn’t work with being a bicyclist, right? Because you have all your stuff and they won’t let you bring it in.

Ian: [00:44:08] Or even a transit user.

Melody: [00:44:09] Right. Any anything that is in a car. Right. Being a pedestrian or a transit user like you go run an errand and then you’re going to go to the game. Well, no, you can’t because you can’t bring in that bag because it’s not see through. Like… I’m shopping like or like this is my life. Like this is what I’m doing. I don’t have a car to leave things in and that stuff just bothers me so, so much like at First Avenue, if you go see a show there, they have a bag check. So if you bring in something that you’re not supposed to have, they just check it for you. And oftentimes, like at some clubs that I’ve gone into, they have been nice enough to see that it’s just like my bike stuff, like I’m not being like obnoxious with what I’m trying to bring in. It’s just my stuff and they’ve let me check it for free. But I think just the, the assumption that we all have a car to store stuff in, is like, it’s so frustrating when your life isn’t like that.

Ian: [00:45:01] And like, the wild thing about this to me is that like, you would think that this is a solution, that this is a problem, that that capitalism itself would be like all over. Because, hey, if you just have like lockers that I have to pay a few quarters to use for a couple of hours.

Melody: [00:45:20] Right!

Melody: [00:45:20] Then, yeah, I’m probably going I will be willing to pay that money to do that.

Melody: [00:45:25] I’d love a locker.

Ian: [00:45:26] But no they don’t do that.

Melody: [00:45:27] I don’t want to haul my I don’t want to haul my crap around like yeah. Give me a locker. But no they have lockers at the mall.

Ian: [00:45:32] That’s I guess that’s a piece of infrastructure that you don’t typically hear talked about is like a bike-friendly aspect. But I think maybe that’s something that we need to start pushing for is like more lockers in downtown areas and stuff like that.

Melody: [00:45:45] Or just understanding that people come with things that like we’re not bringing in knives, you know, we’re not bringing in a six pack of beer, we’re just bringing in like they’ve often thought, my light, my front light was mace. They’re like, Can you turn that on? I’m like, “Are you kidding me? You’ve never seen a bike lock? Here you go.” 

Ian: [00:46:02] Yeah.

Melody: [00:46:02] I think it’s just. And now I’m thinking about New York City. I haven’t lived there because everybody in New York City takes the subway, or I know Lyft is popular now, and Uber, but like, there’s a lot of bicyclists and a lot of people that use the subway, right? So like, I’m curious how their public spaces work. Like if they’re a little bit more understanding? If it’s like a cultural thing, because I don’t know how to solve this problem. Because I get angry about it, and then it’s such a foreign concept to the people that you’re complaining to, that they don’t even… They have no idea. They’re like, “Yeah, we hear you, but like we have no solution.”

Ian: [00:46:39] Thanks for joining us for this episode of The Streets.mn Podcast. Melody, how can people find you on the internet?

Melody: [00:46:46] My website is [https://phmelody.com]. You can find me on Twitter at [@mlh_arcc] and you can shoot me an email at [mlh.rw24@gmail.com]. You can call me. Just kidding.

Ian: [00:47:07] What’s your geocities?

Melody: [00:47:09] Dude? I had one a long time ago for a band that I loved and I can’t remember though. I wish I could remember the address now.

Ian: [00:47:18] This show is released under a Creative Commons attribution, non commercial, non derivative license, so feel free to republish the episode as long as you are not altering it and you are not profiting from it. The music in this episode is by Eric Brandt and the Urban Hillbilly Quartet. This episode was hosted and edited by me, Ian R. Buck with transcript by the indomitable Mike Allen. Christy Marsden is our awesome guest-booker and technical assistance is provided by the super professional, Brian Mitchell. If you’re able to help make sure this team gets paid for the hard work that they do, please consider donating at [https://streets.mn/donate]. We really appreciate it. If you have feedback or ideas for future episodes, drop us a line at [podcast@streets.mn]. Until next time, take care.

About Ian R Buck

Pronouns: he/him

Ian is a podcaster and teacher. He grew up in Saint Paul, and currently lives in Minneapolis. Ian gets around via bike and public transportation, and wants to make it possible for more people to do so as well! "You don't need a parachute to skydive; you just need a parachute to skydive twice!"