Living a Local Life


I was already writing this post when this election gave it a new slant. I’d started writing about how much richer my life is when I frequent local businesses and services than when I go elsewhere for those things, like the suburbs or online. It makes me feel more grounded in my community, helps invest my dollars into the local economy, and gives me more time for the things I love. After the election, I feel these things even stronger. And I feel that local action is one thing we can still hold on to, even in the hard times to come.

Bringing things in

Lives are made up of many choreographed puzzle pieces. When one thing changes, the whole fabric becomes a little different. Sometimes those shifts are small, like getting a new job pretty near to your old job. But sometimes they’re large, like moving way closer to work so you save an hour a day that you used to spend commuting. While you probably can’t get a new job, get new friends, and get a new place to live, you really don’t need to. You just need to notice the places that you spend most of your time and focus on finding the rest of what you need near there.

A few years ago, my good friend Dan lived in a swanky light rail adjacent apartment in Bloomington. He’d moved there with a girlfriend, and even after they broke up, he planned on staying. One day we were talking on the phone, I was in my bedroom in Whittier and he was at the coffee shop formerly known as Bull Run on 34th and Lyndale. He mentioned he was planning on renewing his lease. And I said some simple words that have thoroughly changed the fabric of his life: “You should move to uptown.”

He was complacent. He liked his apartment. His lease was coming up and he was just going to roll with it. He works in Edina and spent all of his free time in my neighborhood: reading at coffee shops, going to events, visiting friends. He’d never considered moving. Now he’s lived in Whittier for several years and loves it. But it almost didn’t happen because he was stuck.

There are little changes you can make that will improve your life and your neighborhood. Instead of going to the dentist in the suburbs, find one nearby that you can walk or bike to. Instead of ordering batteries from Amazon, pick them up at your local hardware store while walking your dog. Instead of driving to the suburbs to visit shopping outlets, frequent your local thrift or consignment store.

When you make these changes, you make living life a little easier on yourself. You don’t have to navigate traffic and unfamiliar streets every time you have to run an errand. You get the small pleasure of walking or biking in your neighborhood and possibly seeing an acquaintance en route. You start to recognize the baristas at your favorite coffee shop, and they recognize you. It makes the connections around you feel closer. It makes living in even a large city feel cozy and comfortable.

Moving forward

Choosing to be more rooted in your community can be good for your own sanity and for building connections. Now it has become more than that. Since the election, I’ve been inspired by the words of our Mayor Betsy Hodges and my boss, Council Member Lisa Bender. To conclude an event we held on Thursday, Lisa said that Minneapolis will continue to fight to protect all residents. Our elected leaders will do what they can to keep us safe. It was a glimmer of hope on a dark day.

I don’t just see locality as a good way to make your life more walk and bike friendly. I see it as the only way that we’ll be able to make progress in the next couple of years. We will now be entering into an era with a unified GOP federal government, and a GOP-controlled state legislature. I’m afraid of big things, like disruption of international agreements and the systemic persecution of people of color, immigrants, and women. And I’m afraid of smaller things, like a complete dearth of federal and state funding for transit projects. It’s easy to become paralyzed by that fear and horror. So I’m working to focus on the things I can impact now, with my time, my voice, my energy, my money.

It is now up to us to do the work to bring about the world we want to live in. It is up to us to start protests, to attend protests. It’s up to us to caucus for our preferred City Council candidates in April. It’s up to us to put our hands to work volunteering for organizations that we value. It’s up to us to step in when we see hate in action and to call out bigotry wherever we encounter it. It’s up to us to organize, to have conversations, to stay engaged. All this work can happen locally, and indeed, it must happen locally. Just because we are small doesn’t mean we are powerless. There are things that need to get done here, where we live. And if we harness this energy that many have felt since the election, we can put it to good work in the places where we’re already planted.


Dressing like a biker

Photo courtesy of Brian Fanelli.

Photo courtesy of Brian Fanelli.

The way we choose to dress is not a fringe or frivolous issue. Women’s bodies are policed, especially in professional environments, so being able to bike is often dependent on being able to look put together. One of the most frequent questions I’ve gotten from other women, especially women who don’t bike, is how I end up looking clean and well dressed as I arrive at work. I’ve heard questions targeted at fellow biking babes expressing amazement that they bike in heels, wear make-up while biking, or don’t carry a change of clothes. This amazement comes from a place of misunderstanding what a biking life can be like. You do not have to have a special spandex wardrobe. You do not have to bike so fast that you get really sweaty. You do not have to carry a change of clothes if the clothes you have fit your lifestyle.

There’s no definitive answer to why women are less likely to bike than men, making up only a quarter of the bike commuting population. Over at FiveThirtyEight, Mona Chalabi writes about how both fears of traffic and crime, coupled with additional care taking duties and lack of wealth, combine to make it difficult to suss out women’s one ultimate barrier. One study found that women’s barriers to cycling are mainly the same as men’s: distracted driving, hostile road conditions, and insufficient bike facilities. In that same study, about one third of respondents said they “have to wear nice clothes and look well-groomed at [their] destinations.” That doesn’t mean that fashion prevents women from biking, but it does indicate that it is a consideration for many women-identified bikers.

We live in a world that tells women they cannot be seen sweating, they cannot show a glimpse of thigh while biking, they cannot deviate from the employee dress code, and they must look feminine and professional. And then, even if they do all these things, they still aren’t respected or paid as much as men. These expectations create barriers to riding a bike, especially riding a bike to work and integrating it into the fabric of your life. Even if you do bike, drivers honk at you when you’re biking in a skirt, strange men under bridges approach you and ask if they can ‘be your man,’ your boss gives you a hard time for wearing a sleeveless top when you’re hot from arriving by bike, or your relatives criticize your helmet-flattened hair.

For me, dressing like a biker means making my own clothes. It means being able to choose the way that I express myself while ensuring I’m comfortable on a bike and in a wide variety of social settings. I don’t have to be limited to the narrow band of styles that are in stores. While I choose to make my own clothes, this is a recent endeavor that came out of frustration with the options available to me. I understand that most folks don’t have the time or inclination to do it. There are plenty of ways to find personal style, be it through clothes that are handmade, thrifted, swapped, or bought new.

Sewing means I can make dresses with traditional feminine silhouettes that fit my personal style and my particular body, but that are made from modern materials to allow for movement.  I hate having two wardrobes, one for work and one for play. Dresses allow me to feel like myself in most any situation. And since I have a one-track mind, I like the consistency and simplicity that comes with having a uniform. For rides shorter than three miles, I don’t wear bike shorts, but for longer ones I do. I don’t wear a helmet. I often ride slowly. I like that my wardrobe and the bikes I ride are stylistically similar, it makes me feel like I’m firmly planted right in the middle of a Venn diagram of beauty and practicality.

In her essay, Dressing like a feminist, Morgan at Craft & Bee writes that “making your own clothing can be an act of resistance to the shortcomings of mainstream fashion.” So often, the clothes that women are told to wear are constrictive, revealing, or impractical for biking. On the other side, the clothing that’s made specifically for bikers is often primarily sporty, available in only certain sizes and colors, and, in some cases, produced by a company that objectifies women in their advertising. Developing a personal style that combines form and function allows us women-identified folks to navigate the world in whatever way we prefer.

How do you think about fashion and biking?


How people start winter biking


Next week, I’m presenting at the Winter Cycling Congress. I’ll be talking about self-efficacy and some of the things that encourage people to get started biking, both in general and in the winter. A few weeks ago, I put together a survey to get a little more perspective on how people think about winter biking. I wanted to hear stories. What barriers did folks have to overcome to start winter biking? How exactly did they make that leap? Did they figure it out on their own, or did others help them?

I was seriously blown away by how many people were willing to talk about their experiences. In just 24 hours, the survey received over 350 responses. That means I’ve got a ton of snippets and stories to share. I’ll be sharing my favorite responses to each question over the next week. For this first one, let’s explore how people got started winter biking.

How did you get started winter biking?

“It was gradual. I’ve biked in Minneapolis for 4 years now. The first two years, I stopped biking in the winter due to the cold. Last year I kept biking in the cold but was afraid of falling so I would only ride when the roads were clear and didn’t dress properly so I was often cold. This year I got studded tires, a nice warm hat, and dressed better so now nothing can stop me!”

“I thought I would stop bike commuting when it got cold, and I just never stopped.”

“When relatively newish to biking, I was making friends in the bike crowd and social activities were bike-centric, so there was impetus to keep it up during the cold months. I fortunately had a close friend who brought me into cycling who was there to answer questions and make recommendations about equipment and clothes. His fiancé, who I was also quite close to, was new to biking as well, so we had one another for encouragement and support. We were attending a lot of social events together, so at least initially there was lot of hand holding. It helped a lot that the first winter I rode was pretty mild.”

“Biking is too much fun to not ride in the winter.”

“Saw my brother had gotten back in shape and was looking good after bike commuting, and thought I should do the same after letting myself go a bit. Immediately, I was hooked by the fresh air and exercise, and very soon found a great community of bikers in Minneapolis and Saint Paul.”

“I figured it out on my own, through trial and error. Lots of error.”

“Commuting to work. Then winter happened.”

“I loved how biking in the summer made me feel and wanted to continue somehow. I like how it bridges the gap between seasons of nice weather biking and xc skiing season. I really dont care for the gym so it works to have an outdoor activity all year.”

“I just didn’t want to stop biking”

“Resented the encroachment of winter on my biking season each year, and gradually push the biking season later and later, until we had a relatively mild winter a few years ago, and I finally figured out how to bike through the winter. It was a lot easier than I imagined!”

“My car broke down just before a blizzard in February 1995. I had to get from northeast Minneapolis to Stadium Village to beat a publication deadline for my comic strip. The blizzard was in full swing. I was terrified when I left home in blowing snow, riding icy roads; but I was all smiles when I arrived. It was a wonderful experience. I didn’t bother getting the car repaired, and I never got another one. Twenty winters later, I have no regrets.”

“I didn’t want to stop riding so I threw on a ton of clothes and gave it a shot.”


How people get started biking


In the five months since I started this blog, I’ve done a number of interviews with Twin Cities area cyclists. I like to ask them for the details on how they got started biking in the first place. A consistent theme has emerged over time. One major way people first start biking is simply because they see other people doing it.

From the interviews

“I saw people with bikes and I was like, well maybe I could [bike] to go up to the coffee shop or go to the video store or things like that.” – Dana DeMaster

“Seeing how many other people were doing it. At first I thought it seemed unbelievably impractical to ride your bike downtown and then after awhile I was like, I think I could do that. Then I started trying to ride downtown. After that I saw people riding in the winter and I was like, no way. A year later, I was riding in the winter.” – Jessica Baltzley

“We saw people biking around there all the time and I thought it would be a good thing to get out and do together.” – Justin Wallace

“I think I’d been living there for maybe a month and I realized I needed a bike. My friends had bikes.” – Nick Sandstrom


This trend doesn’t really surprise me, because seeing other people doing something is a well-documented way to improve someone’s self-efficacy. I’ve talked about self-efficacy before, but as a refresher, self-efficacy is simply the confidence you have to do a particular thing if you set your mind to it. This premise is a major foundational component of many behavior change theories. If someone’s self-efficacy goes up, they’re more likely to engage in the behavior.

So then, how do we make someone’s self-efficacy go up? There are three main ways: mastery experiences, vicarious learning, and social persuasion. The other two are important, but I’ll just be talking about vicarious learning here. Vicarious learning is the idea that seeing someone who is similar to you doing something can make you feel more confident in your ability to do that thing. That’s exactly what I’ve seen through these interviews. People notice others riding their bikes around town and think something along the lines of, “hey, that looks doable and fun, I should try that.” Sometimes the hardest barrier to break is just that barrier of doing something the first time. When it comes to biking, vicarious learning can help someone overcome that first time barrier.


Promoting cycling through vicarious learning

St. Paul Women on Bikes recently released a summary of five focus groups they conducted to learn about barriers to cycling among women in St. Paul. They specifically focused on hearing from “women of color, women who don’t consider themselves bicyclists, and others who often get left out of conversations about biking in St. Paul.” One theme in the focus group conversations was that there are cultural perceptions that biking is for other (white) people. The authors recommend “seeing more people like me” on bikes as an important insight for promoting new bike ridership.

While cycling is becoming more normalized in certain populations and certain parts of the city, it’s not equal across the board. Just because people in my neighborhood may be encouraged to start biking because they see me on a bike, doesn’t mean that someone who is from a different cultural background would. That’s why encouragement of all people to bike is so important. Even as a few people in a community start biking, their cycling behavior is subtly influencing others.


I think it’s pretty cool that just by doing something you love to do, you might be part of a communal fabric that’s encouraging your friends and neighbors to bike. Perhaps we’re about to see an explosion of cycling over the next few years, as more and more people start biking due to this influence, and their presence on the road influences more and more people to start biking too. I’m looking forward to it.


Six reasons riding a bike is the best

There are so many benefits to riding a bike. It’s easy to explain all of these reasons to someone, to appeal with well researched arguments including statistics on health gained, CO2 reduced, and money saved. But, while I love the fact that biking is so beneficial in so many ways, laying out all the reasons doesn’t really get to the heart of the matter. The true reason I love biking so much is the pure, unadulterated joy it brings me. It’s that childhood rush of feeling free and invincible and like you can take on anything. That said, the other reasons are pretty compelling too. Let’s explore them.

1. Health

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: biking is really good for you. Building exercise into your daily life is a practical way to ensure that you continue being active, regardless of life circumstances, obligations, or lack of motivation. Most of us don’t get enough exercise, even though we know we need it. Regular physical activity prevents against chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and some cancers. When exercise is just another chore to be fit in to a busy schedule, it’s easy to forget about it or lose motivation or tell yourself it’s okay to skip it because that event tonight is totally a better use of your time. When exercise is completely integrated into the fabric of your life, you don’t even notice how much you’re getting. I can have a completely packed and busy day, but because I bike 11 miles round-trip to work each day, I’m pretty well set for activity even if I don’t do anything extra.

Biking isn’t just good for your physical health, it’s good for mental health. Physical activity can reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I have an overactive mind. I tend to overthink. Biking is a reprieve. While on my bike, those thoughts lose less of their power. The exercise clears my head. When I get to work I’m more focused, creative, and productive.

2. Environment

Taking into account the entire life cycle of the vehicles involved, driving releases 271g of CO2 into the atmosphere for every kilometer driven while taking the bus releases 101g and biking releases 21g. Did you see that? Biking produces a mere 7.7% of the carbon that driving does. This is a very important reason for me. I know it’s important because even when I’ve gotten enough exercise and I have enough money to drive, there is still this part of me inside that feels guilty and unhappy about taking out my car.

It’s easy to think that the actions we take in our daily life are so insignificant that there’s no way they could impact the climate crisis we’re now in, but we can’t think that way. Sure, you’re one piece of an overall puzzle, but here in Minneapolis we can be proud that we’ve chosen to live in a walkable and bikeable city. Large segments of this community value transportation modes that are good for the environment. If we think of it as a community of people working together locally to do what we can to decrease our consumption and CO2 emissions, well that seems a little more hopeful to me.

3. Money

Let’s talk about how bike commuting saves you a ton of money. Hold on to your butts, I’m about to lay down some statistics:

  • The average commute in the US is 25.4 minutes, and average gas mileage for a small sedan in 2013 was 23.4 mpg. If we assume a 50.8 minute commute is 30 miles round trip, and we take this comprehensive estimate for wear and tear of 66 cents per mile, that means car commuting will cost you $19.80/day. 
  • Riding a bike, by contrast, costs about $300 a year in maintenance, which means bike commuting will cost you $1.20/day. You do still have to buy food for fuel. However, you’re probably eating enough food already, so it’s really just helping you work off those extra donuts.

This is only taking into account your commute. If you replace other errands with biking, you’ll end up saving more. Plus, if you get to a point where you realize you’re hardly driving anymore and can get rid of your car, you’ll save even more. This is not to mention the fact that you’ll miss fewer days of work due to illness, you won’t have to spend money or time at the gym, and you’ll be in better shape which has a myriad of benefits including making you more appealing to employers.

4. Friends

Making friends as an adult isn’t easy, but going on a group ride is. On my first few group rides, I didn’t know anyone, and after the rides I still didn’t really know anyone. Little did I know, there were friendships there waiting. There were people who I’d see on ride after ride, at event after event, and whose names and faces I would come to know. Group rides are perfect for this because anyone can join, and by their very nature they make it natural to fall into place biking besides someone and strike up a conversation.

I’ve also met people while simply out on the street riding my bike. In fact, I met the city’s new Bike and Pedestrian Coordinator, Matthew Dyrdahl, last summer when I complimented him on his Brompton. It just so happens that I now work with him regularly as part of my role on the Bicycle Advisory Committee. Getting involved by volunteering or attending public meetings can be a neat way to meet like-minded folks. It’s scary to put yourself out there no matter what you’re doing, but I find biking to be a great way to get exposed to groups of friendly, social strangers on a regular basis.

5. Convenience

Once you get used to riding a bike in the city, it’s the only transportation option you’ll want. Cities are perfectly sized for bikes. It’s a hassle to drive your car somewhere and fight for parking with other cars. Walking is pleasant, but it takes too long if you’re going farther than a mile or two miles. Depending on where you are, public transportation may not be convenient and it’s kind of expensive. Biking is the Goldilocks of transportation options: it’s just right, especially when you consider the fact that driving two miles and biking two miles both take about ten minutes.

I really love the description by the late biker/blogger Ezra Caldwell, who, after being diagnosed with with colon cancer and told by his doctor he wan’t allowed to sit on a bike seat, promptly created an assless bike: “From the start of this thing, the notion of not being allowed to ride a bike has been the biggest problem for me. I’d like to stress that it isn’t a pride issue. It’s purely practical. Once you’ve gotten used to getting around the city on a bike, other methods just seem ponderous.”

assless bike

The assless bike.

I can’t agree with this more. I have rheumatoid arthritis, and while recently in the midst of a knee arthritis flare, a brusque on-call nurse told me not to ride my bike. I was at a conference at the time. I went into the bathroom and cried. Biking is one of the best parts of my day. It makes my body feel good, rests my hamster wheel mind, and is the way that I get to everywhere I can’t or don’t want to walk to. If I’m not allowed to bike, I’m at a complete and utter loss for how to get places and how to get exercise.

6. Joy

This item cannot be quantified, even though it’s what really matters on a daily basis. All of the above points would be moot if biking were a horrible chore. Thankfully, it’s not. It’s simple and easy and fun. Riding a bike makes me feel connected with my city and my community. It makes me feel vibrant and alive. When I’m transporting myself using my own leg power, I feel strong and capable. There is nothing like it. Biking just really is the best.