Pedal Power

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June 21, 2004 // UPDATED 2:12 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Jennifer Frey
Jennifer Frey

Biking Downtown is all about confidence and knowing the real road rules

Many people tremble at the thought of biking Downtown. In addition to the car exhaust, there's the constant fear of being run off the road by that sedan, SUV or semi weaving around you. However, according to Gene Oberpriller, co-owner of One on One Bike Studio, 117 Washington Ave. N., it's just a matter of practice -- and confidence.

"Riding a bike for the first time in Downtown is a lot like when you first start driving after you get your driver's license," Oberpriller said. "You're not good at it until you do it for a while."

Oberpriller is a biking expert; he's worked in six bike shops, raced professionally for 10 years, was a manager for a professional team and currently cycles to work every day, rain or shine.

In addition to Downtown residents, all kinds of local workers frequent One on One -- bike messengers, students, businesspeople, architects and members of what Oberpriller describes as "the hip urban crowd."

Regardless of their background, Oberpriller said the hardest thing for a new Downtown biker to learn is not to ride on the sidewalk -- it's illegal in all business districts (as well as other areas where signs are posted).

"The [state] driver's manual has a section about bikes in it, but it doesn't say anything about how bikes can't ride on the sidewalk. It's illegal for us, and the cars get annoyed because we have to ride on the street," he said.

Another common misconception is that cyclists are only allowed in designated bike lanes. While the city does ask bikers to use bike lanes whenever possible, bikers have a right to bike in the street and can even take a whole lane when necessary (to prepare for a left turn, pass a car or to avoid roadside conditions, such as potholes, for example).

Oberpriller said it's essential for bikers to hold their ground in traffic. It's not only legal to take up road space -- it's safer.

Biking straight ahead on a clearly claimed swath and acting like a car (obeying traffic lights, signs, etc.) makes your movements more predictable.

"Ideally, no one is going to run you over, I mean, if you don't move [to the right every time a car goes by], it's not like they're going to run you off the road," he said.

The city concurs. On its Web site, the city asks bikers not to hug the curb so drivers can see them clearly.

Hesitation and skittishness can lead to other problems, Oberpriller said. "The bike gets to the intersection and the car waves the bike across but the bike waits, and then the car and the bike start to move at the same time."

Of course, being assertive is different from being aggressive or just plain irresponsible. Oberpriller urged cyclists and drivers alike to use common sense. Cyclists are required to obey all traffic signs and lights. (You can be ticketed for running a red light on a bike.)

And while the city Web site estimates that just 4 percent of biking is done at night, evening accidents account for 60 percent of cycling fatalities in the city. To avoid becoming part of that statistic, only ride at night if your bike has the legally required accessories: a headlight and a rear red reflector. Wearing light-colored and reflective clothing and having rear lights on your bike are also recommended, but not required.

Trial run

If you feel like you can't make it all the way to work, don't worry, says Oberpriller, "It's like an exercise program or quitting smoking. It's all about getting past that 21-day window.

"It's about going back to your inner child. People think they can't ride seven miles on a bike, but they can, because they did it all the time when they were younger."

And just like you didn't need a complicated bike when you were a kid, you don't need one now. In fact, bike messengers primarily ride bikes with a fixed-gear system, i.e. they only have one gear.

"They're great because it's the purest form of a bike, the first bikes were fixed-gear. You only have to pedal; you don't have to do anything else. And you don't have to fix them as often because there's less to go wrong because there's less technology," Oberpriller said.

While a high-end bike is not an essential, a well-maintained cycle is, and that can cost a little cash.

Oberpriller said many people have unrealistic expectations about bike repair prices. For example, people expect a shop to fix something on their 20-year-old bike for $10, but they wouldn't take a 1979 car into a shop and expect a repair for a 10-spot. Still, bike repairs are usually much less expensive than car repairs -- revitalizing a "classic" auto can set you back thousands, but fixing an old bike would probably run around $50.

In addition to servicing bikes, Oberpriller said the One on One crew has performed its share of biker counseling and triage, from safety tips to filing "a couple of complaints" on behalf of cyclists against drivers in the wrong. His final reminder for new bikers: when all else fails, remember, cars come with license numbers.

To read all the rules of the road or find out more about biking in the city, go to www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us, click on "community" and then "bicycling" (under "Transportation & Parking").

To report a vehicle for illegal driving, call the city of Minneapolis Traffic Control at

335-5932.