Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bike to the sights

It's easy to do in cycling-friendly Minneapolis

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Voted most bike-friendly city by Bicycling Magazine in 2010 and second only to Portland, Ore., on varied walkability and bikeability scores, Minneapolis is truly a rider's paradise.

The hinterland's oasis is 148 kilometres of on-street and 137 kilometres of off-street bikeways, with more in the works.

If you're brave -- and many here are -- you can even ride in the winter. The City of Minneapolis clears the snow from bike lanes before they plow the streets. This might seem ludicrous to some, but the large contingent of bike commuters -- 8,200 daily riders, 2008 U.S. Census data show -- is a high priority for the city to service.

As a visitor, you can pick up a bike at one of Nice Ride Minnesota's 145 solar-powered self-serve stations in Minneapolis and its twin city of St. Paul. Minneapolis was the first American city to adopt a bike-sharing program in 2010. Similar to car-sharing, Nice Ride offers memberships for a day, month or year, with fees for extended-time use beyond the first free half-hour. A one-day rental without trip fees costs $6.

The Grand Rounds Scenic Byway features some of the city's most fascinating and historical attractions. Minneapolis is dubbed City of Lakes for good reason, and you can wend your way around some of its most popular lakes, as well as ride alongside the mighty Mississippi River on this comprehensive circle tour.

The U.S. government has declared more than 100 roads, mostly rural, as "national scenic byways" (paths that lend cultural and historical significance to the featured area). The Grand Rounds is unique in that it seamlessly connects more than 80 kilometres of public urban parkway -- the longest such network in America.

The historic riverfront is a good place to begin a journey. You can see the juxtaposition of Minneapolis's present and past in one view: downtown skyscrapers twisting high above in the distance from Mill Ruins Park, a site dedicated to preserving the city's storied flour-milling history.

From 1880 to 1950, Minneapolis was the largest flour producer in the world, establishing mills along the Mississippi while harnessing water power from nearby St. Anthony Falls. Corporate giants Pillsbury and General Mills had their humble beginnings here along the riverbanks.

The beautiful Stone Arch Bridge is a highlight. It's the oldest railway bridge in the American northwest, featuring 21 stone arches. It is now used solely by pedestrians and bicyclists.

Make sure to return for an evening ride along this part of the Mississippi when the bridge, falls and park areas are awash in a striking amber glow.

Parallel to the Mississippi, on West River Parkway, widened bike paths stretch south toward Minnehaha Park, with unique views of the University of Minnesota and the Frank Gehry-designed Weisman Art Museum across the river.

Minnehaha means curling water or waterfall in the Dakota language. Journey through the park's many trails, refuel at the ever-popular Sea Salt Eatery and enjoy a moment of repose and reflection at the park's main attraction -- Minnehaha Falls, immortalized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's 1855 epic poem, The Song of Hiawatha.

Continuing westward will connect you to one of the loveliest areas for walking and biking in the city.

The Chain of Lakes is a system of five city lakes and green spaces connected by nearly 20 kilometres of foot and bike paths. Lake Calhoun is the largest and most popular, boasting three beaches and numerous watercraft rentals.

My favourite is the Lake of the Isles with its pretty, meandering paths and impressive stately mansions holding court along its edges. There are also two islands in the middle of the lake, which are protected wildlife sanctuaries.

The hub of Uptown -- the city's hip shopping and eatery district -- is a mere five minutes away from Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles. Food abounds in Uptown, and you can satisfy just about any craving.

North of Uptown is the visually compelling Walker Art Center, one of the most popular contemporary art museums in the U.S. Several days can be spent walking through the centre's exceptional collection.

Equally eye-popping is the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden across the street, where the famous Spoonbridge and Cherry resides. This impressive sculpture -- a gigantic replica of a red cherry sitting atop an equally enormous spoon -- is guaranteed to amuse. In warmer months, a pit stop under the sculpture affords a welcoming gentle water misting from the tip of the cherry's stem.

From the garden, you can easily cut back to the Mississippi River via downtown along Hennepin Avenue, where you'll end up at Mill Ruins Park. At this point, you've completed more than half of the Grand Rounds.

If you decide to continue through the byway, the trail reaches denser green spaces through Theodore Wirth Park and the Columbia Golf Course in the northeast. You can complete the circle tour in a day or, ideally, take several days and use the Rounds as a scenic starting point to explore the wonderfully diverse neighbourhoods of Minneapolis.

-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2014

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 17, 2014 E3

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