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Posted on 19 August 2016

Riding in Duluth, Minnesota

After moving to Duluth, Minnesota, Doug Robertson gave up owning a car and now cycles or uses public transport to get around. His Brompton is a key part of his everyday life getting around the city. We asked him to tell us about riding in Duluth and why he chose a Brompton.

How would you describe cycling in Duluth?

Cycling in Duluth has two main challenges. We have harsh winters which last 6 months of the year. And our hill. Duluth is situated on a hill overlooking Lake Superior and the St. Louis River. It is a port city on the western most point of the Great Lakes. Lake Superior is the world's largest fresh water lake by volume. Duluth is accessible to oceangoing vessels from the Atlantic Ocean 2,300 miles (3,700 km) away via the Great Lakes Waterway and the Saint Lawrence Seaway. The city has a population of 86,000 people. This city on a hill on the North Shore of Lake Superior is one mile wide and 28 miles in length. I've lived and biked here year round for 15 years. In that time Duluth has seen growth in the number of people using bikes for transportation. A few hardy ones ride all year. When I first moved to Duluth I rarely saw other bicycle commuters during my commute. Now I see other bicycle commuters every day in all weather. People like me move to Duluth for access to all kinds of outdoor pursuits. This growing population of outdoors minded people has driven the demand for more cycling infrastructure. As more infrastructure is built for cyclists we have seen an increase in the number of people using bicycles for transportation.


How do you use your Brompton bike?

I've owned my Brompton since January of 2013. I purchased it from Perennial Cycle in Minneapolis, Minnesota's only Brompton Dealer. I first started thinking about owning a Brompton around 2010. At that time there was talk of re-establishing passenger rail service between Duluth and the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area which is 150 miles to the south. Rail service ended in the early 1980's. I used to live in St. Paul and still love visiting and bicycling there. I thought a Brompton would be perfect for weekend rail trips to the city. I now have the Brompton but I am still waiting for the rail service. I wasn't sure how else I would use the Brompton when I purchased it, or if I'd use it at all. It turned out I use it much like my other bikes. It's my main commuter bike in the summer. I've logged as many as 1,400 commuter miles in a single year on it.  I can carry it inside my place of work. I don't have to worry about locking it up outside. I do errands on it. I take leisurely rides on it. When we drive to visit relatives or take car trips it always comes along. It's become my most versatile, most useful bike. 


How did you get into cycling?

I can't remember a time in my childhood I didn't ride a bike. My earliest memory is of riding a bike. I would sit on my older sister's bike, which I couldn't reach the pedals on, and get pushed down our grassy hill. When I wanted to stop I'd fall off into the grass. I grew up riding single speed Schwinn's with coaster brakes. I'd ride everywhere exploring the world around me. On my 13th birthday I received my first 10-speed. I spent most of my teens road racing. Later I bicycled everywhere in college. Once I finished college I got caught up in career and work. I didn't ride a bike for about 6 years during my twenties. At age 28 I started to commute by bike while living in St Paul. I did this on and off for most of the 1990's. I also did many weekend rides.  After moving to Duluth I sold my truck and started getting around all year by bicycle. I have not owned a car since 2001. I've lived and cycled in Pittsburgh, Chicago suburbs, Minneapolis/St Paul and now Duluth.  Bicycles have been a part of my life for most of my five decades.


What advice would you give to anyone considering cycling in Duluth?

Definitely start in the summer months. Find a route you feel safe on. If you live at the top of the hill and work at the bottom, or vice versa, you may want to use the city bus for the uphill portion. A Brompton is perfect for this. You can carry your Brompton right onto the bus. Winter riding can be a challenge, but it isn't impossible. Find the clothes and equipment that work for you. This takes time and experimentation. Most importantly, have fun. Mix up your route for variety. Occasionally take the long way home. Ride the Lakewalk on a snowy day or when east winds are whipping up 6 foot waves on the lake. Bicycling in Duluth can be very rewarding. You learn the many moods of Lake Superior watching it from the seat of a bicycle through the four seasons.


When you’re not commuting, where are your favorite places to visit by bike?

I love to explore the area I live in. The countryside around us and the nearby 70 mile long Munger rail trail. I love to pedal to local coffee shops. I love to pedal along Skyline Parkway. It's a scenic drive that twists and turns along the ridge 500 feet above Lake Superior. It spans the length of the city.  It has expansive views of the lake, Duluth and its working harbor, the St. Louis River and Wisconsin on the other side. I love to ride along the lake front. The big lake feels more like an ocean with its immense size and large freighters navigating its waters.


If you could go on one cycling adventure, where would you go and why?

I've done a fair amount of bike camping and touring. But never with my Brompton. I've been inspired by people like Russ and Laura of Path Less Pedaled and Heinz Stucke, people who have toured with a Brompton.  I'd like to do a multi-modal tour with my Brompton. Amtrak's Empire Builder travels from St. Paul to the Pacific Northwest. I think it would be a great adventure to pack up my gear and my Brompton and take the train west. Once I arrive in Washington or Oregon, I'd spend time traveling by Brompton to various locations and cities. Or maybe head down the coast to San Francisco or southern California. Hopping a train or bus when I was ready for a change of scenery. It would be a grand adventure. My Brompton would be the perfect companion for a trip like this.