Instagram photographs courtesy of Janna Krawcysk
Janna and Paul Krawczyk behind a bike wheel
Photos by Ackerman + Gruber
Our first date was on bikes.
It was 1994, and I was back in Minneapolis for the summer waiting tables downtown at Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery, saving as much cash as I could before returning to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to finish my senior year of college. My now-husband Paul was a bartender there, and one day, out of the blue, as he poured beers for my order, he asked if I wanted to go out some night and ride bikes with him. He knew I was into biking because that was how I got to work. In fact, that was how I got everywhere.
I grew up on the edge of Edina in the late ’70s and ’80s with two wheels between my legs and the wind in my face. As a kid, and later an angst-filled teen, my bike was my freedom. It took me from the cloistered sameness of my neighborhood into the city with its eruption of urban life, where the styles and colors and diversity of people opened up around me, filling me with inspiration and hope that anything was possible.
So I figure it was written in the stars that my first date with Paul would be on bikes. When I got to his place, he loaded two mountain bikes into his truck and we drove to the Luce Line trail in Plymouth. As we began to ride, side by side, faster and faster, each of us upping the ante and acting like we weren’t, I looked over at him as the tall summer grass blurred between us, and I had the distinct feeling that once we were lions running together in the Serengeti.
A couple of weeks later, I went back to Madison. Due to geography and myriad factors of life, our second date wasn’t until 2003.
On that second date, I rode my orange one-speed beach cruiser and borrowed a similar old-school bike for Paul from a friend, and we set out on the paths where I grew up riding. We rode around Lake Calhoun among the throngs of bikini-clad girls on parade for the motorcycle dudes rumbling along the parkway. We stood on our pedals, riding up the path to Lake Harriet, past the bird sanctuary and through the Rose Garden. As we continued along the parkway of the Grand Rounds toward Minnehaha Falls, the sun cast long shadows of two people on bikes about to fall in love.
We came upon a cluster of apple trees in bloom as we crossed Cedar Avenue and propped our bikes on their kickstands. Surrounded by the sweet fragrance of summer’s eve, we kissed.
Thirteen years and two kids later, all of our dates are on two wheels. All year long.
One weekend this past March, we set out in 40 degrees with imminent rain. At one point during our ride, shivering in my damp winter coat and stocking hat, I wondered if anyone had ever died of hypothermia on a bicycle in the middle of the city. And still, in that frigid state, we both prefer to be on bikes than in our cars.
Why? Because in a world where every moment seems scheduled, biking, with its spirit of play and adventure, is how we remove ourselves from the fray to recalibrate and come back together. We’ve biked to Marvel Bar in the North Loop for trendy cocktails and to Honey on East Hennepin for dancing. We’ve biked to weddings and formal office parties, carrying dress-up clothes in a backpack. Like Superman with his hidden persona, we walk in with our bike gear on and emerge from a bathroom dressed to the nines.
Though we race mountain bikes together (another story), our preferred ride is the beach cruiser, the Cadillac of bikes and, wonderfully, the least expensive in the lineup at any bike shop. A beautiful reprieve from complexity, our beach cruisers have one speed, coaster brakes, and ding-dong bells at our thumbs so we can ring hello to passersby. The seats are comfortable, the handlebars wide and proud, and the chains are guarded so I can wear cutoffs, jeans and heels, or a dress without worrying about the chain eating my clothes. When night falls, we have our headlights permanently duct-taped to our handlebars and red blinking lights tied to the seat posts.
On a typical date night, our babysitter comes around 7 pm, and I am never ready. Paul gets the bikes out of the garage and brings them to the top of our driveway. When we hop on and head out for the night, our biggest decision becomes, “Left or right?”
We live just off Theodore Wirth Parkway on the edge of north Minneapolis, coincidentally (or serendipitously) near where the Luce Line now connects to the city. Within a minute of riding out of our driveway, we are on a bike path that brings us to a dozen other bike paths that can guide us to every corner of Minneapolis. It is these interconnected paths that make Minneapolis so bike friendly, lifting it to the top of numerous “Best Biking City in America” lists.
Since our second date ride (and first kiss), we have never again caught those apple trees in bloom. We either arrive too early, when they are pregnant with tight pink buds, or too late, when they have released their blossoms, covering the ground with a snowfall of petals. But every time we ride along that stretch, we slow down to take it in. We often stop at the SuperAmerica across the street and grab a couple of candy bars and a big bottle of Gatorade to chug. Who needs patio seating when we can submerge ourselves into the heartbeat of the city, splitting the fresh night air with our rolling conversation, discovery, and possibility swirling up to the night sky in our wake.
6 Urban Rides
Ditch the car. Cancel your reservations. This summer, take your honey on a bike ride through the city. Here are six routes sure to breathe vitality and adventure into your next date.
No bike? No problem!
For those heading into the city by car, lighten your load and leave your bike at home. Nice Ride Minnesota’s bike share program has stations throughout the cities where you can rent a two-wheeled freedom ride starting at $4 per half-hour. There’s a station near each of our suggested routes. For more information, visit niceridemn.org.
1. Spotlight on St. Paul
Nice Ride Stations: Mississippi River Boulevard and Summit Avenue, Lake Street and West River Parkway, Union Depot
Start on Summit Avenue at Mississippi River Boulevard and head east toward the Cathedral. Once downtown, take Kellogg Boulevard into Lowertown.
You can cover a lot of ground in just one 10-mile ride through St. Paul—from the Mississippi River, past the governor’s mansion, to the state capitol, and over to Lowertown, where the romantic options are plentiful: art galleries, the farmers’ market, sidewalk cafes, Mears Park. What goes down must come up, so if you are not jazzed about climbing out of Lowertown, ride over to Union Depot (214 East 4th Street) and hop onto the light rail for the trip home.
Total ride time: 1–2 hours
Miles (approx.): 10
Route type: Out and back
Highlights: Summit Avenue, St. Paul Cathedral, Minnesota State Capitol, Lowertown, Mears Park, St. Paul Farmers’ Market, CHS Field (home of the St. Paul Saints)
Where to eat: Handsome Hog, Saint Dinette, Big River Pizza, Tanpopo, Ox Cart Ale House, Meritage
2. Minneapolis Summer Celebration
Nice Ride Stations: Hennepin and Laurel Avenue, Loring Park, Walker Art Center, Groveland Avenue and Clifton Place
Loring Park and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden are the anchors of this route connected by the Irene Hixon Whitney pedestrian/biking bridge over Highway 94. From this area, riders can access downtown via Nicollet Avenue or head to Uptown via Hennepin.
Nothing sings of summer more than dancing under the setting sun at an outdoor concert. These are the nights we dream of, so don’t dampen the experience by getting stuck in traffic. Roll past the gridlock and enjoy (free!) front-door parking at your favorite concert, festival, or parade. Afterward, explore city landmarks on wheels. Head up the wooded ramp of the biking/pedestrian bridge over Highway 94 and catch a bird’s-eye view of Spoonbridge and Cherry at the Sculpture Garden. Ride past the Walker Art Center to Hennepin Avenue for dinner, drinks, and ice cream. Or pack a bottle of wine and some bread and cheese and head to Thomas Lowry Park, which is never busy and always tranquil. At the center of the park are seven pools of water in a “natural” setting, perched atop a hill. Kind of makes you feel like Tuck Everlasting.
Terrain: Moderately hilly
Total ride time: 1 hour
Miles (approx.): 1–3
Route type: Exploratory
Highlights: Walker Art Center, Loring Park, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Uptown, and Thomas Lowry Park
Summer events: Rock the Garden (June 18; note: this is moving to Boom Island for 2016 while the Sculpture Garden is being renovated), Twin Cities Pride Festival (June 25–26), Basilica Block Party (July 8–9)
Food: Lakes & Legends Taproom, 4Bells, Bradstreet, Lowry Meat Market, Burch (bike gear is fine for the basement pizza bar!), Sebastian Joe’s Ice Cream
3. Rolling the Greenway
Nice Ride Stations: Lake Street and Humboldt Avenue, Lake Street and Knox Avenue South, Lake Street and West River Parkway
This route along the Midtown Greenway runs parallel to Lake Street, cutting a west/east line through the center of Minneapolis from Chowen Avenue near Uptown, past Lake Calhoun, to the West River Parkway.
The Midtown Greenway is a 5.5-mile commuter superhighway and stay-to-the-right home to some serious “pathletes.” This ride along a former railroad corridor is blooming with community gardens. It carries you under concentric stone bridges and leads to the Mississippi River with St. Paul in view beyond. Along the way, stop at Freewheel Bike and enjoy an iced coffee at the Coaster Brake Café within. Make it a multi-sport adventure and rent a canoe or paddleboard at Lake Calhoun.
Terrain: Flat as a pancake
Total ride time: 2 hours
Miles (approx.): 11 miles roundtrip
Route type: Out and back
Highlights: Lake Calhoun, Midtown Global Market, Freewheel Bike, Hollywood Cycles
Summer events: Northern Spark (starts June 11)
Where to eat: Tin Fish, Barbette, Lake & Irving (for craft beer!), Punch Pizza, Rustica, MyBurger, Wakame Sushi, Yogurt Lab, Ben and Jerry’s
4. Bryn Mawr and Beyond
Nice Ride Stations: Wirth Beach and Glenwood Avenue
Start at Wirth Beach and go west on Glenwood Avenue to Theodore Wirth Parkway. Head south along Theodore Wirth Parkway to Cedar Parkway, where you will join the bike path around Cedar Lake to the beach on the south side. Cross the railroad tracks and make a left onto the Kenilworth Trail.
You don’t have to leave Minneapolis to enjoy an “up north” experience. Theodore Wirth Park is an outdoor athlete’s dream come true, with its ever-growing network of mountain biking and hiking trails in the summer and world-class cross-country skiing in the winter. Be sure to pack a towel and swimsuit—Cedar and Wirth lakes are two of the city’s cleanest, both listed as having “excellent” water quality for swimming. Take a dip at one of the four public beaches along this route or try them all. Be sure to check out Cedar Lake East Beach, commonly referred to as “Hidden Beach,” a hippie favorite off the beaten path.
Terrain: Moderately hilly
Total ride time: 1–2 hours
Miles (approx.): 7
Route type: Loop
Highlights: Wirth Beach and Cedar Lake East Beach, hiking in Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and the Quaking Bog
Where to eat: Sparks, Bryn Mawr Pizza & Deli, Cuppa Java, and Bryn Mawr Market, all at Cedar Lake Road and Penn Avenue in downtown Bryn Mawr
5. (The Mini) Grand Rounds
Nice Ride Stations: 46th Street Light Rail Station, Lake Nokomis at Minnehaha Parkway, Lake Harriet Bandshell
This route follows Minnehaha Creek along the southwestern edge of Minneapolis on Minnehaha Parkway from the Mississippi River to Lake Harriet.
Sound the horns. This is the Grand Poobah of bike paths in the city and its oldest—meandering along Minnehaha Creek, with dozens of little spots to stop and stare into each other’s eyes along the way. But you won’t want to stop. You’ll want to talk about everything under the sun as you forget you’re biking and, instead, feel like you are flying through your own movie scene.
Total ride time: 4–6 hours (leisure cruise)
Miles (approx.): 25
Route type: Out, around, and back
Highlights: Minnehaha Falls, Minnehaha Creek, Lake Hiawatha, Lake Nokomis, Lake Harriet
Where to eat: Sea Salt Eatery, Town Hall Tap, Pepitos, Turtle Bread Company, Pizza Biga, Bagu Sushi & Thai, Pumphouse Creamery, Mel-O-Glaze
6. Saturday Morning along the River
Nice Ride Station: 11th Avenue South and South 2nd Street
This route begins or ends at Gold Medal Park at 2nd Street and 11th Avenue South. Ride through the park to West River Parkway and follow it left to the Mill City District. Continue over the Mississippi River on the Stone Arch Bridge and turn left onto the Heritage Trail bike path along St. Anthony Main. Turn left toward Nicollet Island Pavilion and follow the road to Island Avenue on Nicollet Island. Take either West or East Island Avenues to the north end of the island and ride over the Mississippi River into Boom Island Park (724 NE Sibley St.). Cross back over the Mississippi River on Plymouth Avenue and turn left onto the parkway back to the Mill City District.
This is a perfect date for those energetic morning types who love to seize the day and get rolling early. Power up on coffee and pastries and ride over the Stone Arch Bridge and along the cobblestone road of St. Anthony Main. From there, check out Nicollet Island, an actual island in the middle of the Mississippi, and home to the Nicollet Island/East Bank neighborhood, a tiny hidden ’hood lined with quaint turn-of-the-century houses and welcoming green spaces with communal fire pits. Don’t forget to stop at the Guthrie Theater—take the elevator up to the Endless Bridge for spectacular river and city views. If you prefer to sleep in, don’t worry—this ride is also magical amid the sparkling night lights.
Terrain: Minimally hilly
Total ride time: Less than an hour
Miles (approx.): 2
Route type: Exploratory
Highlights: Mill City Farmers Market, Stone Arch Bridge, Guthrie Theater, Gold Medal Park, neighborhood on Nicollet Island
Summer events: Stone Arch Bridge Festival (June 17–19), Fourth of July celebration and fireworks
Where to eat: Zen Box Izakaya, Ginger Hop/Honey, Wilde Cafe, Aster Café, Izzy’s Ice Cream