Plymouth Bikers Dish on What They Love about the Sport

James and Brian Sondag

Cycling is fantastic for exercise and leisure—and everyone knows the region has some of the best trails around. There are as many kinds of bike enthusiasts as types of bikes out there. Four sets of Plymouth cyclists share what they love about the sport and give some tips for people who’d like to start or expand their skills.

Biking as a Family

Megan Nowak, who rides a Trek cyclocross, likes cycling because it’s an activity the whole family can do together. “I love anything that keeps us outside and active,” she says. Nowak enjoys getting her kids out for some fresh air, and suggests families start their children as early as possible, introducing toddlers to balance bikes and skipping the training wheels. Both her kids could ride a two-wheeler at age 3 with this method, she says.

Her family loves the loop around Medicine Lake: “It’s relatively short, but a great workout given the rolling terrain,” she says. All four of them, including 5 1/2-year-old Ben and 4-year-old Janie, ride together, sometimes for a round trip to the local Dairy Queen. For longer rides, Janie prefers the tag-a-long, though she enjoys riding her own bike on the cul-de-sac near their house.

One thing to watch out for is drivers turning right who fail to yield to cyclists in a crosswalk. Despite safety concerns, the Nowaks like getting out and getting some exercise together. Ben enjoys the trips to parks. “Even if a park is far away, I can still ride my bike far and get there,” he says.

Twin Brothers + Biking Buddies

The Sondag brothers bike on their own and together, frequently with their kids along for the ride in their Burley trailers. They also bike with friends for longer rides a couple times each summer. Brian has participated in organized rides such as the Tour de Cure, an American Diabetes Association event, where he did a 100-mile ride. When they are out together, they’re often taking their kids for a loop around Medicine Lake or to a neighborhood park. “Cycling is the perfect mixture of exercise and leisure,” Brian says. James agrees, adding, “It is a perfect way to explore the city with friends and family.”

James, who prefers road biking, has a road bike for paved trails and a cruiser to pull the kids’ trailer. He likes the trails around Minnehaha Parkway and the lakes for the scenery and the restaurants. “You never quite know where a ride will take you, although I will admit it usually ends with a burger and a beer,” he says. One tip he offers: Don’t leave home without a spare tube in case of a flat tire. “I have had a couple of long walks home!”

Brian also favors biking on pavement, but usually rides his mountain bike rather than his Trek road bike or his single-speed commuter bike. “Speed is not a huge priority for me, so I prefer to have a good, stable base for coming on and off curbs,” he says. When he wants to mountain bike, he likes the Elm Creek trails and Theodore Wirth Park.

Does it ever get competitive for these two? James says they generally believe biking is more about the journey than the destination. “But I will admit there have been a number of races home.”

Brian agrees that they’re not too competitive — except when they are. “Let’s just say that it isn’t much of a competition right now. James is the one who originally got me into biking, but he had a welcome addition to his family last year, which cut into his biking timing significantly last summer. He has two sons, and I have one son. This summer I anticipate we will be back to a good cadence of healthy competition and pushing each other.”

Bike Commuters

“I enjoy cycling for the combination of movement, fresh air and nature, and the enjoyable transition it provides both to and from work,” says Lani Willis, who rides 5.5 miles to work about twice a week in the summer and fall. She prefers riding on trails because they’re safer than roads and says the Luce Line and Medicine Lake trails are both convenient and beautiful. “[Cycling] gives me space to just move and be, to soak up the light, sights and sounds of nature … I find it nourishing — it’s self-care, really.”

Her bike is a Cannondale and besides commuting, Willis loves riding with her husband and their two young children. “When I ride to work, I ride solo,” she says. Her tip for riding with kids is to keep wet wipes and Band-Aids in your pannier — and that brings up another tip. Panniers are specialized bike bags that typically mount over your wheels and are handy for commuters or any cyclist who has something to carry.

Jill Kohler, who rides a Giant/Cyprus hybrid, says cycling clears her mind and wakes her up to the world around her. “I usually ride alone because I have no one’s schedule but my own and I can go at my own pace,” she says. She loves the Dakota Trail for its woods and lake views and likes having a destination in Mound or St. Bonifacius for lunch or a break, and sometimes rides with her husband or a friend for casual biking.

In the non-winter months, Kohler rides to work several times a week, and her biggest challenges are avoiding puddles and making safe crossings. Generally, she notes that it can be difficult to pass other riders who ride alongside each other. She suggests getting a bell or horn to avoid this problem. These are minor issues, though, and she encourages others to get on their bikes. “Don’t wait for the perfect day to ride. Unless its pouring, just dress for the weather and get out there!”

Mountain biking with friends and as a team

Thomas Golin and Alex Sipe are varsity racers on Wayzata High School’s mountain biking team, and both ride specialized mountain bikes. Sipe says cycling is a fantastic way to relieve stress and stay in shape. His favorite metro-area trail is Lebanon Hills. “I think going to different trails and riding different terrain is a lot more fun than riding on the side of the road.”

“I bike for fitness, for fun and for competition,” Golin says. “[The team] is a great group of kids to hang out with.” Although he loves road biking for its speed, Golin mostly mountain bikes. He laments unsafe and inattentive drivers, mentioning one teammate who was hit by a car while cycling home one day. “Drivers just need to be more aware,” he says. For mountain biking, his favorite trails are Elm Creek and Elk River for their technical sessions and “flowy track.”

The biking team’s races can be quite dramatic. For Sipe’s first race last season, he was placed in the last row of the varsity heat. Even though he was frustrated and started in 40th place, he finished fifth. “It was such a memorable race because I had a few friends who started in the back as well, and we worked together throughout the whole race to end up top five,” he says.
Golin was part of a huge crash in one race, when a pileup happened just in front of him at about 20 mph. “A bunch of riders were suddenly down in front of me. I jumped over two guys with my bike and then somehow rocketed over another guy before clearing it and continuing,” he says. “I guess I was going too fast to stop so I just rode it through. I was lucky.

I gained about 20 spots in the field because of that pileup.”

If you’re interested in mountain biking, Sipe says helmets and glasses are necessary. Golin seconds the helmet: “I prefer MIPS [Multi-directional Impact Protection System] technology because it has a pivot twist piece inside gives extra protection when you crash. When you crash, not if.” Golin also recommends chamois biking shorts, bike gloves to protect your hands in a crash, a Camelbak drink backpack, and a moisture-wicking jersey.