James is a pal of mine, whom I’ve known for a couple years now. We didn’t meet in any sort of formal way, we just saw each other at Common Roots and at One Yoga enough times that we started recognizing each other. He works at Common Roots and one day, during happy hour, I ordered wine and he filled the glass nearly to the brim. That’s when I realized he was a pretty okay dude. You know when you find out someone you know, knows someone else? James and I had one of those once, and the person we knew in common was my grandma. That made my mind explode a little bit.
James bikes a lot, and volunteered to share some of his experiences with me, and via me, with you all.
Biking in Mpls: Have you always biked?
James: No. Biking came to me from, I remember being like 9, 10 years old and at the time my church was in south Minneapolis in Phillips neighborhood. In the Phillips and Powderhorn neighborhoods I’d see folks riding bikes and I just thought it was really cool to ride bikes. I never really got invested in it, I lived in Minneapolis but I was going to school in the suburbs. I was going between both of them and didn’t really have the time to bike. It was when I was in college that I realized people do really get around on bikes. I lived in Spain, came back from living in Spain, and I realized that I had lifestyle changes I wanted to make, but I didn’t make them wholeheartedly until I came back.
I had purchased a bike, a cheap Schwinn from Target, I was super excited about it. It had a cable lock and I thought it was set. I didn’t know anything about bike safety. I spent the night at my girlfriend’s house at the time and I came outside and my bike was gone. It was heartbreaking. It was the first bike I bought myself, and I felt a little violated because my bike was gone.
So then I was working at a restaurant downtown and my friend David was moving to Ecuador. He said, I don’t want to let my bike go by the wayside, if I left my bike with you would you hride it? And I was like, yeah. He had a fixed gear, and I’d never ridden a fixed gear in my life. He said, you’d probably need to come over and try it out for a second. I think it took me three days before I could ride it, because it’s a totally different riding experience than I was used to. He also said, James if I let you use my bike you have to ride it the entire winter. And I was like, what? It was crazy for me to even think about riding the entire winter. I had a car so I was like, why ride the entire winter? But he said, the only way you can use the bike is if you ride the entire winter. And I like a challenge so I was like, cool. He gave me a bag full of goodies, like gloves and jackets, to use.
The first winter was difficult, but not that difficult. I was mostly biking to work and I lived downtown and worked downtown, so it was only about a mile. I would take small routes and trips off from there. That bike he let me use I ended up purchasing when he came back. That’s the bike I still ride.
Biking in Mpls: Do you have any other bikes?
James: I’ve had other bikes. I had a collection of 6 bikes at one point, and it was really nice to have them, but then moving from place to place, it became hard to transport them and find places to store all of them when you weren’t using them. I ended up getting rid of all the bikes and I still only have the one bike.
Biking in Mpls: I remember last year we were talking and you said you were trying to bike some amount, was it like 8,000 miles?
James: 8,000 miles. I wound up biking 5,500. Which is still a decent amount, but it was way shorter than I thought. Biking that amount requires a lot of dedication. I see the people who attain closer to that amount and they go on treks like biking across the country and that will be a huge chunk of it. I don’t bike tour. I had a goal of riding four hundred-mile rides and I only ended up riding two hundred-mile rides. I had that goal but I fell short. I had to give up on it.
Biking in Mpls:That was also a really rough starting winter.
James: Yeah, it was just so cold and snowy that I couldn’t really get the miles in. What’s been nice about this winter is it’s been milder and there have been thaws, which have made it easier to bike.
Biking in Mpls: Do you have any goals for this year?
James: No. I’m trying not to. I do but I don’t. I know I won’t meet those goals. I’m going to a yoga teacher training so I’ll have at least a month in the summer, which is prime biking time, where I won’t be biking.
Biking in Mpls:Where’s that, where are you going?
In Pennsylvania. I will not be around to bike so that’ll be weird, a month without biking. But I want to be realistic with the goals. My crazy mind says that between middle of April and beginning of June, I’ve got to get a big chunk of miles in because once you have a base it’s easier to build on.
The All-City alley cat is a bike race I’ve ridden in for the past four years, and I’ve progressively gotten better, the first year I placed over 100, the second year I was in the top 70, third year I finished 52nd, and this year I finished 21st. So my goal this year, if I have a goal, is to break the top 20 in that race. That’s the goal.
Biking in Mpls: How did you go from not really having a bike to biking 5,500 miles? Was it just a natural progression or was it a conscious decision?
James: It was a conscious decision. Living in Spain planted the seed that I wanted to make whole lifestyle changes, what I wanted my life to look like. So it was a whole lifestyle where I was going out, partying and clubbing, and dressing real fancy. There was a whole different James. I had some Gucci things and Louis Vuitton and crazy shoes, it was a whole different time of who I was. That lifestyle and the way I was treating my body wasn’t good. I was working at Fogo de Chau downtown, the steakhouse, I was eating so much meat. I weighed the most I’ve ever weighed in my life.
I became a vegetarian, but that wasn’t good enough. David worked at Common Roots and was into healthy eating, and a girl I was dating around that time was really into local, organic food, farm-raised food, and I was like, I can do things a little bit better. And biking, I can do that a little bit better. I wanted to participate in these bike events. I knew of alley cats, and there was a bike race by New Belgium called the Urban Assault Ride. That was my first foray into an alley cat, there are just a few checkpoints around the city. Just because I was in that, I felt like I could ride a little bit faster and harder, I knew I could, and I wanted to know how to go about this. What everyone told me was that you just have to ride your bike more. That’s the only way you get stronger, is by biking biking biking. That’s just been propelling me.
Three and a half, maybe four, years ago I found yoga too and for exercise it’s an amazing thing, a lot of folks will make the assumption that I go to a gym or something but I don’t, I just bike and yoga. That’s my entire regimen.
Biking in Mpls: It’s the perfect combination, biking gets your legs and your cardio, and yoga gets your upper body and your flexibility and then you’re done. And both of them help me calm my mind.
James: Even in that regard, that’s another aspect of why I bike. When I bike I feel a lot better. I know I feel way better than when I don’t bike. You know, if you go on vacation and you don’t bike, I’m like what the heck is going on.
Biking in Mpls: What is your favorite thing about biking? Do you have one main favorite thing?
James: The freedom and peace. I think it’s really peaceful. My favorite time of the year to ride, which is going to sound crazy, is when it snows.
Biking in Mpls: Oh, me too and it’s so quiet.
James: It’s dark, it’s quiet, everything is muffled. Cars have to slow down, you can go faster. Just being on your bike when it snows, it’s one of the most amazing things.
This is another thing, coming out of a yoga class and then biking, I get this profound appreciation for what I’m doing. I’m like oh my goodness I’m here, I’m on my bike, I’m alive. Or when it snows, the snow is hitting my face oh my goodness this feels really, really good. Just appreciating those small little things.
Biking to Minnetonka, when I go on longer rides, the headspace that it gives you, it’s clearing. No matter what part of your day. I meditate the whole time, meditating is really good for you, just to have the ability to get on my bike and put something out of my head. Or if I want to rock out to some music, is another great thing, cause it’s hard for me to sit down and listen to an entire album. But you go for a bike ride and I can put an album on and listen to it the entire way through.
It’s peace and calming. And the fitness benefits of it, like at first I thought of it as exercise but now I don’t even think of it as exercise, I’m getting to where I need to go and that’s it. But then, oh yeah I am getting exercise, but people have to remind me of that. It’s just what I do, I don’t think of it as crazy or extraordinary, it’s just part of my lifestyle.