Besides the obvious contributions to your physical and mental health, biking also carries social benefits—bike “dates” are a great way to get to know your neighborhood and your neighbor better.
When I say “date,” I mean it in the general sense: no matter who you pedal out with—roommate, casual friend, or perhaps someone you’re more interested in—going on a ride is a great way to get to know someone better. On your ride, you’ll continuously experience exciting changes in scenery and interact with your natural surroundings, and although you usually have a final destination to look forward to, along the way you’re bound to have some good conversations.
We’re spoiled in the Twin Cities because there are so many options for great bike dates. You can ride anywhere from 3 miles (down Summit to the River) or 30 miles (to an outlying suburb or a campground) and stay on bike lanes and paths for most of your ride. Anywhere in Minneapolis or St. Paul you might want to go with someone—restaurant, park, theater—is accessible by bicycle. Not to mention, you’ll probably be in a better mood by the time you get to your stop; I always hop off my bike feeling better than when I got on.
The following list of routes in the city is by no means comprehensive; I’ve just highlighted some fun routes of varying length and destination types. To the unacquainted, the distances may seem a bit intimidating, but remember that it’s far easier and faster to bike 10 miles than to run them. For example, almost everyone is capable of taking the Chain of Lakes trip (about 15 miles); I’ve done it several times with friends of a wide variety of biking capabilities, and everyone agrees that it’s very doable—so do it!
Also, don’t be afraid of the incipient fall weather— once you pedal a couple blocks your blood will be warm, and you’ll probably want to take your jacket off. Plus you can catch some beautiful fall colors—crossing the bridge on my way to Minnehaha Park last weekend vies for the most picturesque moments I’ve had as a Twin Cities cyclist.
As you plan your date, don’t let the route you’ve selected inhibit you. The improvisational and exploratory nature of bike dates is what makes them the most fun—when the two of you spontaneously decide to take that obscured path down to the river, you never know what you might discover.
Como Park and Zoo — 3.5 miles This is a quick bike ride and great destination—Como Park is a great place for a picnic or some frisbee, and is actually pretty close to campus. And Como Zoo is free! The most direct route is to take Lexington Parkway north from Summit. Lexington isn’t the best street for biking, though, so if you can afford to bike a mile and a half farther, start by pedaling west from Macalester and take Prior north (there’s a nice bike lane here), turn right on Minnehaha Avenue, and then take Lexington.
Hidden Beach on the Mississippi via West River Parkway — 2.5 miles plus walk Here’s another fun picnic spot. Take West River Parkway as though you’re headed to the Greenway, but just as you’d turn left to cross the road to the Greenway, dismount and lock up your bike. Just to the north of the crossing is a stone staircase that starts you down toward the Mississippi. Follow the path for several city blocks, down to the banks of the Mississippi River and sit on the sandy beach. Take an extra trash bag to leave the area cleaner than you found it! There’s a trash can near where you left your bikes.
Saint Paul Downtown and Hill Challenge — 4 miles See if you can bike down and up one of the largest hills in the city! Take Summit east from Macalester, and hurtle down Ramsey Hill. You’ll be nearing downtown St. Paul if you want to explore the city here. Turn right on Smith Avenue and head up the Smith Avenue bridge. You can get away from traffic by moving over one block after the bridge. Stop at the Café Amore coffee shop on Annapolis and Smith before heading home.
Chain of Lakes — 15 miles This should be on everyone’s Twin Cities Bucket List! It’s a great route that follows beautiful paths the entire ride. Starting from Macalester, take Summit west to the East River Parkway. Pedal north and and cross the river at the Marshall-Lake Bridge. Continue pedaling north on the West River Parkway to the Midtown Greenway, and take the bike freeway all the way to the Chain of Lakes. Lake Calhoun, Minneapolis’s favorite lake, will be on your left (to the south), and during warmer months you can swim at one of the beaches. But you should also check out Lake of the Isles (less crowded, arguably prettier, and better for a stroll) and Cedar Lake to the north. After taking a dip at Calhoun’s beach, you can bike another block west and grab some Ben & Jerry’s to cool off and recharge for the ride home. For a longer, more picturesque trip back to Mac, pedal south around Lake Harriet and take Minnehaha Parkway to Minnehaha Park (it’s worth adding the extra 5 miles to your trip!). Cross the river on Ford Parkway and head back up East River Parkway to Summit.
Historic St. Paul Mississippi River Ride — 20 miles A recreational loop with smooth tree-canopied trails, beautiful views of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers, historic sites, and not many hills! You can start anywhere on the loop, but the easiest place to begin is by pedaling south down West River Parkway and turning on Hidden Falls Road. Follow the main path through Hidden Falls Park and Crosby Lake Regional Park (these are two parks that are definitely worth the trip on their own!). After pedaling by Crosby Lake, you’ll intersect with Shepherd Road. Take this right, and then turn right again on 35E (there’s a pedestrian path on the side of the bridge). You’ll turn left on Lilydale Road and follow this back to the river. If you take a right, you can take an optional out-and-back leg of the ride through Lillydale to Harriet Island Park (adding about 7 miles onto the trip). For a shorter trip, turn left to take Big Rivers Regional Trail along the Mississippi. You’ll cross the Minnesota River when you turn right at the path along Highway 55. This path eventually curves right and takes you past historic Fort Snelling. Cross the Mississippi again at 7th Street West and hop back on West River parkway to head back home. There are some stairs and ramps on this route. About 20 miles (27 with optional leg up to Harriet Island).
Art and Ice Cream — 8 miles Take the Midtown Greenway to the Bryant Bike Boulevard exit and head north. Since Bryant is a bike boulevard, you can go ahead and bike right on top of those big painted bikes on the street—that’s where you’re intended to be! At Franklin, you can turn left or dismount and cross Hennepin and get a scoop at Sebastian Joe’s (Addy Free recommends the Nicollet Pothole). Return back to Bryant and continue pedaling north—you’ll curve right on a pedestrian bridge. Leaving the bridge and continuing north on the Loring Parkway will take you to The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and Loring Park. It’s about 1.5 miles from the Bryant Street Exit to Loring Park and the Walker.
Pizza Luce in Hopkins — 25 miles This 25 mile trip is almost perfectly flat, follows beautiful trails all the way from campus, and allows you and your friends to recuperate with a big pizza halfway through. Pedal all the way down the Midtown Greenway—it will become the Cedar Lake LRT Regional Trail. Follow the path about 5 miles to Pizza Luce in Hopkins—it will be on the right at Blake Road (keep your head up and you can’t miss it).
Got no bike and it’s breaking your heart? Don’t forget you can check out a Macalester BikeShare bike (and helmet) from the DeWitt Wallace Library!
Thanks to Bike Commuter Coffee attendees who helped contribute to this list (especially Suzanne Savanick Hansen, Addy Free, Brian Longley, Gena Berglund and Natalie Izzo).