A chat with Nick


Since I want this blog to explore different biking experiences, that means I have to actually talk to people about their experiences with biking. My first subject/guinea pig/experiment was with my friend Nick. I know Nick because he’s dating one of my best friends, Lindsay (yes she and I have the same name, and yes it’s adorable, and yes when one of our friends sees us he calls us collectively “Twinsies”). I met Nick on the night of Northern Spark last year. It was a very dreary day: rainy, cold, and just unpleasant. We got a group together and biked around and had so much fun. Northern Spark is probably my favorite night of the year.


As we drank beers in his Whittier apartment I said, “So we’ve talked about what I’m doing here, you know how this works.” To which Nick replied: “HI, MY NAME IS NICK SANDSTROM. I RIDE BIKES.” On that note, let me tell you a little about Nick Sandstrom. He rides bikes.

Nick beer

Some of Nick’s biking history

L: How long have you lived in Minneapolis?

N: I’ve lived here about three years. I lived two years about two blocks away, and I’ve been here for about seven, eight months now. It feels like I’ve been around here longer, though.

L: Where did you grow up? 

N: I grew up in St. Louis Park, pretty close to Calhoun, until I was eight, maybe. Then we moved on to Chanhassen.

L: Good ol’ Chanhassen.

N: Chan-happenin’.

L: You’ve lived in Sweden too, right?

N: Yeah, I moved over there, lived there for a year, came back here, lived with my folks cause I just had one semester left of school, graduated, worked for 6 months or so, and moved back to Sweden for another year. So when I came back in 2011, I wanted my own place right away but I didn’t really have enough money. Well, I had money but I didn’t really have a job yet and I didn’t want to risk anything. I got a job like right away at Wells Fargo. I saved up money and lived at home for like eight months and then was like, “I need to get out of here, I need to get into the city.” I was lucky enough to get a place for cheap rent, in a good location that was super close to work. I think I’d been living there for maybe a month and I realized I needed a bike. My friends had bikes. I hated driving in the city.

L: Did you bike before that in college or in Sweden?

N: In Sweden, there’s a huge bike culture over there, it kind of amazes me sometimes. You go to cities and the bike racks it looks like there’s thousands of bikes. I’m not joking, it looks like there’s sometimes a thousand bikes locked to one big rack.

L: Do people always lock them up?

N: Yeah. When I went to school it was different. We were on campus and let’s say we wanted to go into the city, it was very close. It was kind of like Duluth but a little smaller. We’d go on campus and people would try to find bikes that weren’t locked. And we’d ride them to this party in town and just leave them. If they were still there when we were leaving, we’d take them back and put them back where we found them. It was kind of this weird bike share thing we had going.

L: I’ve heard about that in Denmark or something, it’s like an informal bike share?

N: This was like a no-consent bike share. Which looking back on it, I would definitely not do that now. But at the time it’s like you’re in college, you’re drinking, well… I’ll bring it back if it’s there when I want to leave. Eventually I bought a bike and I loved it, and then I bought another one so I had several bikes. I sold one of them and the other one I never sold. I kept it locked up, locked but not to anything, in this bike storage shed on campus by my building. I went back two or three years later, and the bike was still in there. It hadn’t moved.

Figuring out a bike and biking schedule

L: So what’s your usual biking schedule, when do you start in the spring, when do you stop? Do you stop all the way for winter or do you keep going sometimes if the roads are clear?

N: Well when I first got a bike I wasn’t sure what kind of bike to get, I wasn’t really accustomed to road bikes. All the bikes I’ve had were…

L: Good Swedish bikes?

N: Yeah. Also when I was younger I had mountain bikes and I had a BMX bike. So this first bike I had was kind of a mountain bike type deal. I had that for awhile and I realized, I need a new bike. I needed to invest a little money, because I’d bought that first one for like $50 or so. I found [my current] bike on Craigslist. My friend was really pushing a single speed. I was like, well yeah maybe I want a few speeds. I definitely didn’t want a fixie, because I don’t personally care for those.

L: Why not?

N: A fixed gear it’s like, I feel like I’m a child again riding a huffy where it’s like I’m going to come to a skidding halt in my bike, “What’s up guys!?” Whereas the single speed at least then I can pedal backwards and who doesn’t like doing that?

L: It’s the best.

N: On Craigslist, I found this awesome bike, a Torker. I looked it up because I didn’t know what it was. Made in Seattle, based out of Seattle, really good bikes. It was half the price it should be, like half the price it retails for. The guy said he’d ridden it twice and then put it in for the winter and this was in April of the following year. I went and checked it out. It was a little short, a little small, so I was a little worried it wouldn’t fit me. But I didn’t care, I was like, I’ll just jack the seat up. It was almost brand new, you couldn’t even tell it’d been ridden. I just love the bike.

L: It hasn’t been a problem it was a little too small?

N: Yeah like I said, I raise the seat up, it’s fine. I try to bike as late into the fall as possible. Last year I biked into mid-November close to Thanksgiving. Then I put it in. This year, it was maybe a little earlier, maybe the beginning of November I was out. But then I did take it out in December. It was super cold but it wasn’t wet, so at least the roads were fine. I biked maybe a handful of times in December. But now it’s just been in the basement here, safe and sound.

About the importance of fenders

N: One thing I really need to invest in is fenders because that keeps me from biking when it’s wet out. When it’s shitty out. It’s a pet peeve, I can’t stand when it’s shitty, it might be nice out but the roads are all wet.

L: Get some fenders, I have them on both of my bikes. 

N: Lindsay gave me a pair but they didn’t fit her bike, but they didn’t fit mine either. So that was a waste.

 L: I have my road bike, which has a women’s friendly seat which has a hole in the middle. I don’t know, maybe it’s like ergonomic to your body…

N: Maybe like so your butt doesn’t get all sweaty, some air flow up in there?

L: Maybe, I don’t know?

N: When you fart, it goes out the hole?

L: [Laughs] Yeah, probably. So there was this one day in grad school when I was running late for class, I was going to bike, and I get on my bike and I start biking towards campus. By the time I got to Electric Fetus, I realized that because I didn’t have fenders the water was shooting right up through the hole in my seat. The rest of me was a little wet because it was drizzling, but my crotch was just soaked.

N: It’s dirty water too.

L: Yeah, I was getting like a dirt bidet. So I turned around and went home. Sorry class, I’m not going to make it to you today.

About Northern Spark

L: I was just thinking about Northern Spark and about how Frank had all his rain gear. I didn’t want to wear all my rain gear that night and I was thinking, No, it’s going to be the most fun night of the year I don’t want to look like a dweeb.

N: Same thing here, I was like, “I don’t care.” And then I realized very quickly that I was fucked. And then when we went back to my place.

L: Yeah, you changed your pants.

N: Oh, I changed everything. I put on shorts, I put on swim trunks, and I put on my sandals. I figured, if I get soaked now, I won’t mind.

L: The dumbest thing was that I have my usual gear: rain coat, rain pants, and galoshes, and I’m totally impervious to rain. But all I was wearing was the rain coat, so my top was dry, but the whole bottom of me was totally soaked, including my shoes and everything. I remember I put one or two extra pairs of underwear in my bag because I figured, if I can just change out of my wet underwear, that will make sense and then I will feel dry, even though the rest of me is soaked. But now I know.

N: That rain last year was epic.

L: Yeah, June monsoon.

N: The rain that night almost made it better.

L: It did, the thing I felt about Northern Spark the first year I went, the second year it happened, was that everything was connected. There were these huge crowds of bikes moving through downtown and I just felt like I was a part of this big thing I didn’t even know was there. When it moved over to St. Paul I still felt that way, but not as much because it felt like a smaller version of what it could be. And then that night, I was expecting it to feel like I was so connected with everything. Instead I felt extra connected with the few people we went with and anyone else who was out. Later, I talked to other people who said, “Man, I wish I could’ve gone to Northern Spark but it was so rainy.” I’d think, “I went and I had the best fucking time!”

N: Having fewer people out did make it better, things weren’t super crowded. I feel like if it had been nice out there would have been way more people. It wouldn’t be the same experience. You connected way more with our little group and with everyone because you’re in the same boat and everyone is getting soaked.

L: It’s like when there’s a big snow storm here and everyone’s out digging their cars out and just feeling part of it.

N: Like we were all in FutureKave together.*

Where Nick's bike lives.

Where Nick’s bike lives.


*During Northern Spark, we hung out in the FutureKave exhibit at the MIA even though it was malfunctioning. There was a time when I picked up a microphone repeated, “Futurekaaavvv” into it. They also put me in a suitcase and wheeled me around. We got yelled at and shared a moment.


What it’s like to only bike

People are fascinated when you’re car-free. I didn’t have a car for eight months between last June and this past weekend when I bought myself a zippy little used Toyota Yaris. I would relish the moment right after someone made a comment assuming I had a car, when I got to set them straight. I thoroughly enjoyed how many times people called me “badass” for biking through the winter and not having a car. I’d protest and tell them it wasn’t that badass, but inside I’d feel like it was. Even in this city, being carless is a novelty.

After the death of the car I’d had for nearly ten years, the car my parents bought when I was 16, I figured I’d see what the carless life was like. As with most things, it was a mixture. I felt a particular freedom not having a car. I biked more and expanded my biking radius. I got over my fear of winter biking. I didn’t have to worry about a car, pay for a car, or drive when I didn’t want to. I used to hate it when friends and family would disregard my intention to bike by saying, “Just drive, you have a car!” I hated that. I still would hate that.

Without a car, I sometimes felt exhausted. I hosted a party in July and hauled my bike trailer all about town, filling it with beer, food, and party balloons. In August, I borrowed camping gear from an assortment of people, all of which I had to pick up by bike trailer. To get to a wedding in Wisconsin, I hitched a ride there from a friend heading to Chicago, and a ride back from some other wedding guests. Even when things were tricky or inconvenient, I may not have driven even if I’d had the option. However, not having the option would often pit things I wanted to do against the energy I had left to bike further that day.

I sometimes used the car2go car sharing option. I borrowed cars from friends. Then, the other day I suddenly came to a rapid conclusion. I don’t need a car. After eight months of not having a car, I think I’ve proven that much. But I suddenly realized I want a car. I want to go hiking in the woods. I want to visit the good dog park at Minnehaha Falls. I want to visit my relatives in the suburbs. I want to go camping and to cabins without having to do the borrow-the-parents’-car-shuffle.

For me, what it came down to is this: When an acquaintance invites you to some inane activity in the suburbs, it’s convenient to hide behind the excuse of, “I’m sorry, I can’t, I don’t have a car.” But when your parents, aunts, and cousins are getting together at the spur-of-the-moment, it’s incredibly sad to not be able to join and instead to say, “I’m sorry, I can’t, I don’t have a car.”

Are you carless? What has your experience been like?


Build your self-efficacy to become more awesome


When you’re in public health, you become intimately familiar with the term ‘self-efficacy.’ It’s a vital piece of many behavior change theories that explain why people do or do not do certain things.

Self-efficacy is simply the confidence you have to do a particular thing if you set your mind to it. How confident are you that you can brush your teeth tonight? You probably feel pretty confident that you can. That means you have a high self-efficacy for teeth brushing. How confident are you that you could bike consistently throughout the winter? This is going to vary widely for people. If you’ve figured out what gear you need, what route to take, what to wear for a winter ride, and you’ve biked during winter before, you’re probably quite confident that you can bike through the winter. If you’ve only biked irregularly through the summer and don’t know what’s up with studded tires, or what the heck you would even wear, you’re probably much less confident.

Self-efficacy has been shown to be an important determinant of whether someone completes a behavior or not. Many public health practitioners who work to change behavior spend a lot of time thinking about how to increase the self-efficacy of others. If you want to make a positive change in your life, you can harness self-efficacy for your own purposes.

How do you build self-efficacy? There are three main ways:

  1. Mastery experiences: Being successful at your goal will increase your self-efficacy. Mastering small pieces of the goal will help you build confidence one step at a time. You don’t need to start by biking ten miles to work every day, simply start by biking one mile to the grocery store once per week. As you get more confident with the small goal, you can build up to slightly larger goals slowly but steadily.
  2. Vicarious learning: Seeing people who are similar to you accomplish what you want to accomplish can help you build confidence. Talk to others who are doing what you want to do to see how they do it, what barriers they faced, and how they overcame them. Don’t be shy, ask them for advice.
  3. Social persuasion: Encouragement from others can help you build self-efficacy. Tell people your goals so they can cheer you on. You can do this!

I was hyper-aware of self-efficacy when I was trying to figure out winter biking. I could feel this big internal barrier: I wanted to bike in the winter, but I was nervous and not sure how to get started. I started talking to all these people who had biked in the winter. I kept talking about it, with anyone and everyone. I learned about their experiences and made a game plan. Then I just had to get out there and actually do it.

Those first couple weeks of biking in the ice and snow were scary. I fell on the Greenway my first day, when I only had one studded tire on the front. Since I got my rear studded tire, I haven’t fallen once. But that hasn’t stopped me from getting tense when I encounter different types of ice or snow, or new situations. The trick is just doing it, and then doing it again, and to keep doing it until it becomes part of your routine.


What is this blog about?

This blog is about biking. It’s about the sheer joy of zooming down the hill on Marshall Aveue as you return to Minneapolis after a trip to St. Paul. It’s about the freedom of leaving behind cars stuck in traffic as you turn off the road and onto the Cedar Lake Regional Trail. It’s about the quietude of your studded tires packing down fresh snow on your commute. It’s about the connectedness you feel on a group bike ride, listening to just the right song played through someone’s bike sound system on a summer’s day. It’s about that fist-pumping excitement of fixing your first flat by yourself. It’s about the injustice you feel when a car honks at you or a driver yells at you when you’re doing nothing wrong. It’s about all the big and little things that make riding a bike here different than riding a bike anywhere else.

This blog is about biking in Minneapolis. Welcome.