There was a time when riding bikes was considered a kid’s activity, something to be abandoned on the way to “responsible” adulthood. But in recent years, as Americans have followed the example of Europeans, cycling has become a lifelong, year-round pursuit. It’s somewhat ironic that the Twin Cities—with the longest winters in the lower 48 states—ranks first or second in cycling participation (depending on what publication you’re reading), and this is in no small part due to its world-class network of bike trails.
Longtime Plymouth resident Kevin Lennon, 55, is a lifelong cyclist who still rides 5,000 to 7,000 miles and competes in 40 to 50 races per year. Lennon has most noticed the explosion in cycling’s popularity when he’s on training rides 30 or 40 miles out in the country and sees casual riders. In the past, “We didn’t tend to see recreational riders out in those areas,” says Lennon, who trains year-round and often bikes to his workplace in Maple Grove.
Lennon was one of a group of three cyclists who formed the Minnesota Cycling team in 1989. He’s currently president of the Minnesota Cycling Federation, which oversees competitive road-bike racing across the state. (It’s affiliated with USA Cycling, the national governing body.)
You don’t need to be a demographer to notice that the number of adults older than 40 riding bikes has mushroomed in recent years. Martha Morris, owner of Way To Go Sports in Golden Valley, has noticed the trend at her store, which sells used sporting goods including many bikes of all sizes. “Biking is the new rollerblading; it’s the No. 1 athletic activity now for older people,” Morris says, referring to many who have taken up biking because it’s easier on aging joints than jogging or some other physical activities.
Morris doesn’t need to keep tabs on the local cycling calendar of events. “When races are coming up, it's obvious; people are coming into the store, buying, selling, trading bikes,” she says. Morris also gives away plenty of local bike-trail maps to people who want to use one of the best cycling trail-systems in the country. For leisure cyclists, there’s a certain Zen-like, enjoy-the-scenery appeal—almost like yoga on two wheels.
Another magnet for local cyclists is the Sports Hut retail store, which relocated to Plymouth in 2010 after more than 30 years in Wayzata.
Service manager Todd Steigerwald says the store caters to families (along with hard-core cyclists) who typically prefer using the bike trails because they’re much safer than roadways shared with cars and trucks.
Speaking of families, one of the recent bike innovations is the “run bike or Strider,” designed to help toddlers learn to balance on two wheels. It has 10-inch wheels but no crank or pedals. The child uses his or her feet on the ground to propel it. “It’s an alternative to training wheels,” Steigerwald says. The store also allows families to trade up to larger bikes as their kids grow.
As the universe of recreational cyclists has grown, so has the variety of bikes. There are “skinny-tire” road bikes built for racing, mountain bikes designed for rough terrain, and so-called “cross bikes” which represent a compromise between the two. One of the newer categories is bikes and tires designed for winter cycling; these are often wide enough to support a small scooter or motorcycle, adding tread for the slippery terrain. “Bikes have become far more specialized,” Lennon says; each permutation of the basic, centuries-old bicycle design represents a different way to enjoy one of the most democratic of sports.
The Three Rivers Parks system offers more than 60 miles of paved off-roadway bike/hike trails that wind through woodlands, and grasslands and along the shore of lakes and ponds. French Regional Park in Plymouth has 4.6 miles of bike trails. (Rentals are available.)
Three Rivers also operates 10 regional trails, popular among bike commuters and those just out to enjoy the ride. The two trails in the Plymouth area are the Medicine Lake Regional Trail (Plymouth to Maple Grove) and the Luce Line Regional Trail (Golden Valley to Plymouth and beyond).