A guest post by Eric Leugers, one of the two guys that run Banjo Brothers.
I have been an avid cyclist since purchasing my first road bike at age
15, but only a half-hearted bicycle commuter until recently. Riding
almost always was recreation for me. After moving to Minnesota in the
mid-90’s, I used my bike to run errands and to see bands play at the
various clubs around Minneapolis. It prompted me to build my first
single-speed beater in 1997 in order to reduce maintenance and
theft-risk. I commuted seasonally when my old job moved downtown
about 5 miles from home (our small office stopped following the
corporate “business casual” dress code at the same time – the
logistics made it much easier to ride). Still, I didn’t ride in the
winter and when it got really hot in the summer.
After we started Banjo Brothers, my driving ironically increased. I
was riding more than ever for errands and other “practical” trips, but
I also began driving carloads of cartons to FedEx for shipment. As I
drove more, I finally snapped and did what should have been obvious
much earlier: let FedEx do the driving by picking up at our warehouse
– they already had a driver in the area. So as winter waned in late
February of 2008, I began riding each day to the warehouse, a 9-mile
round trip on back streets and a rails-to-trails path that passes
within a block of my destination. It takes about 10 more minutes to
ride than to drive, and it is typically an unhurried and pleasant
By that first summer, I hardly ever drove for work. The elimination
of that driving encouraged me to do other trips by bike. In the past
I might have found excuses to drive instead of ride (too
cold/hot/rainy/etc). I now found myself holding off on errands that
required a car , preferring to bunch as many errands into one trip as
possible. Anything that would put off a car trip. I have to admit
that my motivation was not the cost of gas or global warming, but
exercise and just enjoying being on a bike. The next step was buying
a Burley Flatbed trailer for cargo bigger than a set of panniers would
carry and I started delivering to some local Minneapolis bike shops
with the trailer.
My wife had similarly embraced riding as transportation, and by Fall
of 2008 we began taking our daughter to kindergarten each day on a
Burley Piccolo trailer cycle in lieu of driving or taking the bus.
Winter of 2008 loomed and we were determined to keep riding through
it. We both had 3-speeds with all-weather coaster brakes, and I put
studded tires on them. I am fairly timid riding on ice, but the
studded tires were amazing. Veteran commuters said it was one of the
worst winters they had experience – extreme cold and a lot of smaller
snowfalls that went unplowed. Back streets were white-knuckle rides
through rutted ice and slushy snow. The main streets were plowed more
consistently, but dangerously narrow with high traffic volume. The
best riding? The city’s off-street bike trails, which were usually
plowed before the roads. We made it through the winter without a
crash and even managed a few trips to school below zero (our daughter
wasn’t always thrilled, but she was a trooper). We learned how to
dress for subzero riding and were always warm enough, but I did enjoy
that first ride in Spring without the heavy studded tires.
At this point over 90% of our trips are by bike or walking and we
often go a week or two without driving. We are certainly fortunate to
live within easy riding distance for most of our errands. In a sign
of how things have changed, my wife recently asked for an Xtracycle .
She maxes out her panniers quite often and the trailer cycle that she
usually tows makes a cargo trailer difficult to use. I bought an
Xtracycle from Hiawatha Cyclery and began building up a bike with it.
It will likely become the bike she rides the most and has the
advantage of being able to carry both cargo and our daughter at the
same time. With winter in mind, it will have disc brakes – she has
her trusty 3-speed as backup, though.
I’m not a zealot with regards to bike commuting, but judging by the
questions I get, it’s much easier than most folks think. For me the
breakthrough was when the process of getting out of the house became
automatic: my commuter bike ready to go in the garage, helmet and
lock right next to it. I made it as brainless as getting in the car.
10 years ago I never would have guessed that my most-ridden bike
would be a 3-speed with panniers, but I’ve really come to enjoy the