Pedal Power

Pedal Power: Biking as Transit
1. Pick a beautiful day
2. Ride with a friend
3. Give yourself extra time
4. Have an escape plan
5. Use what you have — or buy something if that motivates you to use it
6. Don’t have a bike?
7. Be safe
8. Share your plans with your social circle so they can encourage you to ride
9. Just try it


Pedal Power: Biking as Transit

I started Varsity Bike in 1995 because I wanted to create a store that is for people who use their bikes as transportation. Most bike stores I was familiar with in those days focused on mountain biking and biking for recreation. I love mountain biking, bike touring and biking around just for exercise — but what has been the constant in my life is that I have always used my bike as a my primary means of transportation. When I was in high school I rode to work first then school. I continued commuting by bike throughout my brief college career, to and from a ski bum job in Vail, and also while working as a bike messenger and waiter in New York City and that has continued with my return to the Twin Cities. I hope to continue riding for the rest of my life and help others find a way to make biking a larger part of their lives.

Biking as Transit. Owner Rob standing in front of his bike shop

Rob DeHoff, Owner Varsity Bike & Transit

Pregnant Mom on Tandem Bike

Biking before I was born. Ken and Carol DeHoff pregnant with Rob.

For the first 20 years, both strangers and friends laughed at me. Everyone thought it was crazy to use a bike in such a practical way. But because I started riding young — and commuting felt natural — I ignored all the comments made and the drivers that honked at me. I kept riding.

And then about 10 years ago I noticed a transformation. The drivers that were honking at me on the street were people I knew, and friends started giving me credit for riding everywhere. They didn’t think I was crazy anymore. But they also still saw bike commuting as a more daunting daily activity than I did. And as a bike shop owner, I wanted to change that.

Biking as Transit

Emily Lee with her commuter bike

So in 2008, our team decided to relocate the bike store and also rename it — to Varsity Bike & Transit — to more transparently communicate our focus on biking as transportation. That year, Jameson McGuine joined as a partner and brought not only his years of experience in the bike industry to the shop (he’s worked in bike shops since he was 15 years old and has never worked anywhere else), but also a shared enthusiasm for helping others make biking a larger part of their life.

Today our goal remains the same: to make it easy for people to bike every day, all year, or just when it’s beautiful outside. But where do you start? How do you plan trips around errands, commuting, or social life? Try these tips. And if you have any questions, ask!

Using your bike as transportation should not be daunting — it should be fun and invigorating. If you have gotten this far you have the motivation and desire to try.

1. Pick a beautiful day

Be the person who you see riding on a perfect 65-degree day and are jealous of. If the weather report is poor, postpone your commute to a different day. If you do get caught by bad weather, try some of the tips listed in the “Have an Escape Plan” section below.

Biking as Transit. Bike cat woman

Beautiful days are the best for riding

We recommend wearing comfortable clothes but you will be surprised that most outfits are fine for riding. A light jacket and a pant leg band can make most outfits very bikeable.

A diverse range of biking outfits

A diverse range of biking outfits

Tranney believes a bike makes any outfit even more stylish

Tranney thinks a bike makes any outfit even more stylish


2. Ride with a friend

Most things are easier with a friend; especially if that friend has some experience using their bike as transit.  This is a good article about one person’s start to bike commuting. Maybe one of your friends has a similar experience to draw on.

Biking as Transit. Friends of the shop Brian and Emily riding there tandem

Brian and Emily on their tandem bike


3. Give yourself extra time

Leave early so you can enjoy the ride. One of the benefits of riding is that it is a stress reliever, so try and eliminate anything that could cause a headache before it happens. Plan your route with bike maps so as to take a route that is good for biking. The way you might drive to a location might not be the best bike route.

Biking as Transit. Breezer Beltway bike ridden by Manny

Manny Duerson with his Breezer Beltway bike

Even better is to start with a ride that does not have a hard schedule, such as doing errands without a time frame or meeting a group of friends for a social event. If you are late, your friends can keep each other company.

Biking as Transit . Employee alumni riding on the stone arch bridge

Group on a social ride crossing the Stone Arch Bridge


4. Have an escape plan

It is normal to worry about what to do in the event of a flat tire or other emergency. Issues like these can be stressful for all of us, especially on one of your first rides. The key is to be prepared and have a plan for the unexpected.

    • Carry your phone to call a friend that you know will be around
Viviana enjoying a beautiful Spring bike commute.

Viviana enjoying a beautiful Spring bike commute.

    • Use Uber or other local cabs. They have vans or bike rack equipped car to accommodate you and your bike
    • Have Metro Transit information on hand via their app or a bus schedule and carry a bus pass or $2.25 for the fare. Carry a lock to leave your bike or familiarize yourself with their light rail and bus bike rack system to get you and your bike to your home or destination.
    • Metro Transit Bus bike rack

      Taking the bus with your bike is easy.

5. Use what you have — or buy something if that motivates you to use it

If you have a bike, try using it to test the waters. It might not be perfect but will work and will help you decide what you want out of a bike you are going to use as transportation. Ride it around the block to see if it is functional first, then try and use it for a couple of rides. If your bike needs service we would be glad to help you.

Biking as Transit Basic transit bike

Any bike can work to start

6. Don’t have a bike?

  • Borrow a friend’s bike. Ride it around the block to see if it is functional first, then try and use it for a couple of rides.
  • Sign up for NiceRide, the bike sharing program.
  • images
  • Buy a new or used bike. Maybe you’re the type who will be motivated by getting a new bike. Come on down to Varsity Bike & Transit and we can help you decide which bike will work for you.
Biking as Transit Babboe Cargo Bike

Sarah, Max and Raymond Duerson in their Babboe cargo bike

7. Be safe

  • Biking is one of the safest means of travel
  • Minneapolis has one of the most extensive bike networks in the country and St Paul is gaining quickly. Bike Walk Twin Cities has great information and maps for planning a bike route. Many specific areas and business districts like Dinkytown have pages to help you with their bike resources.
Biking as Transit Dinkytown bike lane

Bikers using the bike lane in Dinkytown

  • We strongly recommend helmets but don’t want our suggestion to stop you from riding if you prefer to not wear one. Lights and reflectors are very important at night. As with all our suggestions, there is not a wrong or right way to use your bike as transit.
Biking as Transit Safe biker with helmet and bright colors

Bright colors and a helmet are great for biking

8. Share your plans with your social circle so they can encourage you to ride

Biking as Transit Varsity Bike & Transit group bike ride

Varsity Bike & Transit group bike ride

Join a program like the MN Move Zap tag system where it keeps track of your rides around Downtown Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota. This can help encourage you to use your bike on a regular schedule. You can even win prizes!

There are many ways to do it. None will be the right or wrong way. The only wrong is not to try.

9. Just try it

Biking as Transit Stacy riding on a bike lane

Stacy Nordstrom on her daily commuting bike

If you would like more information about using your bike as transportation, The League of American Bicyclists has created this helpful guide to the specifics of commuting by bike.

Maybe you will be a once a week beautiful day rider, or maybe you will leave your car at home like this family. There’s many ways to integrate biking into your life, and however you choose to do it is the right way for you.  Regardless of how you ride, we hope you enjoying biking and get as much out of it as we do .


Good Luck and Pedal Less Oil