I’m not a big biking person.
It may have something to do with the scare I had at age 8, when I hurtled down a steep incline known to kids with bikes around here as “Murder Hill.’’
Just a few yards into my terrifying descent, I felt a bug fly into my eye. Momentarily blinded, I stomped on the brake, skidded toward the curb and fell off my Schwinn. I don’t recall much damage beyond perhaps skinning an elbow or knee. But Murder Hill had won, and I never took it on again.
A much more pleasant biking experience occurred a world away almost 50 years later, in the south of France, when my wife and I spent part of our honeymoon pedaling around a town on borrowed bikes. With all the walking and biking we did, we felt in great shape by the time we returned home.
Which brings me to this past weekend. We went to a wedding in Minneapolis, and had Saturday afternoon free. My wife and I turned down a trip to the Mall of America – a shopping excursion sure to torment a mall-averse male – and decided to join the multitude of people bicycling in lanes, on streets and on sidewalks all over the downtown area.
We went to one of the bike-share stands, with its distinctive lime-green signage, and for an initial $6 “subscription’’ fee, we picked up a pair of sturdy two-wheeled vehicles.
The Twin Cities’ nonprofit bike sharing program, called Nice Ride, has 170 stations and more than 1,500 bikes. The more hours you ride, the higher the final price you pay.
The only problem I found was that helmets were not available to rent along with the bikes. (Maybe I had a Murder Hill flashback moment.) But we slathered my shaved head with sunscreen, so at least another type of protection was achieved.
We rode several blocks to the Mississippi River and pedaled over it on the Stone Arch Bridge that’s just for pedestrians and bikers. We stopped and marveled at the waterfall that powered the great flour mills of the late 1800s.
Nearby, a restaurant allowed us to park close to its outdoor tables.
After lunch we took a path along the Mississippi, struggling up an incline that overlooks the great river and shifting down to first gear. Younger muscles could have made it farther.
All the area’s bike paths had generous allotments of space, and even on streets where there were no special lanes for two-wheelers, we bikers seemed to rate equal status, with buses and cars deferring to us. Nice Ride, indeed.
The shared bikes came with medical advertising: Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.
It was a healthy day. We were sweaty and heavy-legged when we returned the bikes to one of the many docking stations in the downtown area.
I can’t say that I’m ready to move to bike-friendly Minny. For one thing, having snow on the ground five months a year would be too much for my warm Southern blood. Georgia is home.
The Peach State has four cities rated “Bicycle Friendly’’ — Decatur, Roswell, Athens and Tybee Island — and Atlanta and Decatur are moving toward creating a bike-sharing plan. Minneapolis gave us a good warm-up and a sense of what such a program can do for people’s health.
As we were leaving the Twin Cities, the local Sunday paper carried news of an increase in Minnesota’s cigarette tax. But that’s another health story.