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Think outside the box: Beyond trains, planes, and automobiles

Photo by Andrew Gook on Unsplash

How many of you think of “transportation” as an engine in a box? Such as trains, planes, and automobiles?

How many think that the closest you can get to carbon-free transportation is electric vehicles, even though electricity itself isn’t carbon-free?

That’s what I thought. What if I were to tell you there’s a type of transportation that:

    • Has no engine.
    • Has no box.
    • Consumes no fuel.
    • Generates no carbon. (Literally none. Zip. Nada. Not a molecule.)
    • Costs almost nothing to buy and maintain.
    • Uses simple, reliable, well-known technology.
    • You probably already have it. (You don’t need to spend a dollar or a day.)

Hear me out: It’s a bicycle. All you really need, besides the bike itself, is the original two-stroke engine: your legs. And the most confining box isn’t metal, it’s mental.

Misconceptions about biking

It’s too dangerous. Drivers in the Twin Cities are good about “sharing the road.” Minneapolis has been called the most bikeable city in the U.S.  In general, if you behave predictably on your bike — i.e. follow the rules of the road — drivers know where you’ll be, and will give you space. If you prefer physically protected bikeways, Minneapolis and St. Paul have miles of them, in addition to miles of separate bike trails, e.g. Three Rivers or the Greenway. For more information on biking safety, see Minnesota Bicycling Handbook by BikeMN.

It’s too far. According to the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, in 2017 nearly 60% of all vehicle trips were less than six miles. That’s the perfect distance to hop on a bike.

It’s too expensive. I’ve seen used bikes for $35. My annual tune-up ranges from $100 to $200. AAA says the true annual cost of a car is $9,282. Besides, how much do you spend on that gym you never go to? Roads are free.

It’s too cold. As we Minnesotans say, dress in layers.

I’ll arrive at work sweaty. See above (dress in layers). Take your time. Or shower when you get to work.

I need a sexy biking outfit. Use whatever is in your closet now. Go for comfort.


I need buns of steel. This is how you get them.

It takes too long. There are never traffic jams in the bike lane.

Keith Heiberg
Keith Heiberg
It’s too tiring. You don’t have to hurry. Some folks like to take longer, faster rides on weekends, then they’re in shape for their regular slow weekday commute. More physical energy also means more mental energy. Even if you’re sitting still, you’ll be able to focus better. And when your body is strong and flexible, you’re less likely to get stiff and sore.

I’m too old. When my grandmother turned 101, I told her I was looking forward to her 102nd birthday. She said, “It’s just a number.” And she was right. Age is not a number, it’s how you live.

I can’t carry stuff. Add baskets or panniers. I just use a backpack.

I can’t travel at night. Add lights and reflectors. Lots of folks also wear high-visibility clothing.

I can’t haul kids. Add a trailer. Or consider a cargo bike or a Trail-a-Bike.

I need go with someone, and my friends don’t bike. There are lots of biking groups. Try Meetup.com. Or google it. Or check out Eight reasons why riding alone is better than riding in a group.

There’s no good biking music. My favorite is Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream.”


A bike helmet looks dorky, and gives me helmet hair. The Hövding bicycle collar is an alternative to the traditional helmet, and is increasingly popular in Europe. Or you can shower when you get to work. Or, if you wear helmet hair with enough panache, you can create a new fashion.

I might catch cold. For most of my life, with the arrival of cold weather every autumn, I would stop biking and come down  with a cold or flu. But the first year I lived in Boston, the winter was so mild that I kept biking — and didn’t get sick!

It sounds counterintuitive, I know. Here’s what I think happened: As I biked, the weather gradually got colder, and my immune system had the chance to gradually ramp up. (That’s the key: gradually.) So when the usual cold and flu bugs made the rounds, my beefed-up immune system handled them easily.

Maybe someone could survey the number of sick days by workers who commute by bike vs. bus vs. private vehicle, and see who stays healthiest. They might also see who arrives with oxygen pumping through their bloodstream, ready to hit the ground running. (My guess: the cyclists.)

Need more? Check out “Drive Sharper, Live Longer, Look Sexier And 42 Other Reasons To Ride A Bicycle In 2019,” by Carlton Reid, in Forbes.

Ready to escape the box, and the carbon cycle? Hop on your bike.

Keith Heiberg volunteers for MN350, Our Streets Minneapolis, BikeMN, and First Unitarian Society’s Climate Justice Team. 

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Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Bill Lindeke on 11/07/2019 - 08:17 am.

    Well, there really is no good biking music.

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/07/2019 - 08:30 am.

    As a lifetime cyclist I agree wholeheartedly with the endorsement of cycling. However I would point out that cycling as a transit option has been with us for decades, note the mileage we devote to bike trails and lanes, and the fact that the Twin Cities is either 1st or 2nd in the number of cyclists in the nation. Cycling has been inside our transit “box” for quite a while… but it couldn’t certainly share a larger chunk of the pie.

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/07/2019 - 08:35 am.

    It’s also perfectly acceptable to not wear a helmet. The data supporting helmets is not as compelling as many assume. Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” is a decent cycling tune.

  4. Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 11/07/2019 - 08:39 am.

    Probably the elderly, most of them, are not going to go grocery shopping, riding a bike, especially in the MN winter. I’m guessing your grandma did not, at 102.

    I am a general contractor. My job requires I haul tools and materials. I can’t ride bike ten miles to pick up lumber, or sheetrock, or concrete, or even some tool I need. This society was built around automobile transportation.

    BTW, bikes mostly require flat roads to be efficient, which you could add to the cost of bike transportation.

    But yeah, I should bike more than I do, even in winter, for groceries and for pleasure and exercise.

    • Submitted by Jeff Klein on 11/07/2019 - 09:37 am.

      The great thing about biking is that even if just some people do it some of the time, it’s a huge win for the climate, the city budget, and public health. Your 90 year old grandmother can still haul lumber in her truck.

    • Submitted by Christa Moseng on 11/07/2019 - 10:29 am.

      This is why we need walkable/rollable neighborhoods, which benefit cyclists (reducing distances making cycling more feasible) and non-cyclists alike, especially including those with physical barriers to biking.

      Saying “this society was built around automobile transportation” isn’t a conversation stopper, it’s a premise that needs to be physically and mentally dismantled through investment and less-fatalist thinking.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/07/2019 - 10:38 am.

      Ms. Heigberg is making a valid case, but there’s more than a little tongue-n-cheek thrown in there as well.

      I think a lot people might be surprised how much they can do and how much easier and faster it can actually be on bicycle with bags, racks, and baskets. Short hauls (five miles or less) can be quite doable and faster than driving. But yeah, you gotta be quite dedicated to ride in ALL weather.

      Older riders could think about the electric bikes, they’re legal on the bike paths and lanes, and while not quite as zero emission as pure pedal power they’ll even out hills and inclines, and you can still peddle them realistically (not like the mo-peds of yesteryear).

      • Submitted by Dave Carlson on 11/07/2019 - 12:32 pm.

        Prior to the unfortunate 2-year closure of the North Cedar Lake Trail due to LRT construction, I could bike the 5 miles from St. Louis Park into downtown Minneapolis non-stop faster than going through the side street stoplights and driving in on congested I-394. Target Field has hundreds of free bike parking racks right next to the stadium, as do other venues. And the Midtown Greenway also offers mostly non-stop biking five miles through the heart of South Minneapolis. If you plan your route carefully on the many bike paths and bike lanes, it really is quite easy and convenient to get to wherever you want to go by bike.

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/07/2019 - 10:50 am.

    I would also point out that you don’t necessarily have to spend $100 a year on tune-ups. If you ride THAT much and you have the space, you should look into investing in the tools and a repair stand you can use to do you’re own tune-ups. Bikes are actually pretty simple from a mechanical perspective and you don’t have to tear them apart every year.

    Depending on your mileage and grease, you don’t have to pull the hubs and repack the bearings every year, so simply adjusting the deraileur and brakes every so often, and truing the wheels is all many people would really need to do. For $200 bucks you can have all you need. I spend about an hour and half every year tuning up all 5 of our bikes. I’ve long since paid for my tools so most years it costs nothing unless I have to replace a cable or chain or something.

    If you buy a bike for less than $300 even at a retail outlet like Target, Costco, or Galyan’s, bring it to an actual bike shop for a look over because the folks who assemble them at retailers frequently mess up, or they come pre-assembled not quite right.

  6. Submitted by Leon Webster on 11/07/2019 - 04:11 pm.

    In 1978 I made a bet with Wil Totten over which one of us could commute by bicycle the most number of times. And I had just purchased a new bike and promised my wife that it would pay for it self because I was going to ride my bike to work. It was the beginning of 34 years of bicycle commuting. Over time, I acquired gear for winter riding. Studded tires for icy roads and warm mittens and booties. Bit not as much warm clothing is needed as people might think. When you ride a bike you are your own heat source.

    When I first started cycling to work, it was rare for me to see another cyclist. By the time I retired in 2012, it was common to see 25-30 other cycle commuters, even in late November.

  7. Submitted by Matt Haas on 11/07/2019 - 11:51 pm.

    When you can get me 17 miles across suburbia, including crossing the river on the freeway, and can arrive by 7:30 am without needing to leave at 4:30 am (I actually checked it once for fun), I’m all in. The 150 miles or so a day I drive while AT work, that could pose a greater challenge.

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