Much in the way that Boston often pitches itself as a rival to New York City, so too does Minneapolis pair itself frequently with Portland Oregon. Instead of throwing used 9V batteries at the other city's baseball players, however, Minneapolis and Portland have a much friendlier rivalry to see who can be the friendliest Amercan city to bike in. These friendly rivalries are, at their core, based on flattery. Boston wants to be every bit as bustling and important as NYC, and Minneapolis wants to be known as "the bike city" in the US. Having just spent several wonderful days seeing it by bike, we are happy to say that Minneapolis has in fact done more than enough to be considered Portland's biking peer.
What we noticed immediately was that there is a seamless connection of off road paths that are basically bicycle interstate highways, that take you pretty derned close to wherever you need to go. And unlike certain East Coast cities (ahem, Boston), all the paths are plowed during the winter -- "before the roads," we were told by more than winter bike commuter. While it is true that you don't get a strong feel for the neighborhoods while you're biking on these isolated and scenic paths, you also don't have a single car / truck / scooter competing for space with you. Coming from Boston, where bike lanes are all too often used for cab dropoffs, it was almost shocking to go so far across town in multiple directions while having a pleasant conversation. Not once did our heart rates shoot up. Not once did we wonder if this was our turn-off... they're all clearly marked. In most cases, you go 90% of the way to your destination on these wonderfully serene paths, then take the proper exit, and go the remaining few blocks via on-street bike lanes. Minneapolis passes the "let your kid ride there by themselves" test with flying colors.
For our first day of biking in the city, Ben of Minneapolis Bike Love met us at noon at a brewery, and then showed us around town, ultimately taking us to 4 more breweries. He was incredibly proud of what Minneapolis has built, and I now understand why. There were moments when I would take a good look at what I was biking on, mentally compare it to what most cities call "safe bike infrastructure," and laugh aloud. Lanes that cut through prairie land full of rioting flowers, beautifully soaring bike-only bridges whisking us over traffic, and serious connectivity to all major areas of town meant that I actually felt bad for car drivers. When I did see them, they just looked comparatively miserable.
I'm now a little embarrassed at how long it took us to finally get to Minneapolis to see the biking for ourselves. And I'm not ready to weigh in on whether or not Minneapolis has dethroned Portland as "American Bike Mecca," because I think those things are largely subjective anyway. If you have no tolerance for snow, for example, then it doesn't matter how sexy those bike paths are, you're not going to move to the upper Midwest anyway. I will say, however, that for my money, no one in this country that we've seen yet has the sheer tonnage of ridiculously safe bike paths that Minnie does.