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A bike means freedom, at any time of year

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Ann Reed
Ann Reed is a singer/songwriter in Minneapolis.
Submitted photo

I am one of those people you come upon while driving and think: "Are you kidding me?" or "That looks cold" or "You idiot! Get out of the road!"

 Winter is here, the snow covers our land, the temperatures hover around 20 degrees  and, yes, that's me, commuting on my bike.

At first, riding was strictly leisure -- a spin around the lakes or a trip on a bike trail now and again. Then, in 2004, I watched gas prices climb; I read more about shrinking ice caps and dwindling resources. I turned 50. I decided it was time to stop complaining and put my beliefs into action. 

If I believe that global warming is real (I do) and that burning fossil fuels are part of the problem, then it's time to drive less. I began to ride my bike during the day in decent weather on trips of five miles or less. Pretty soon, the weather didn't matter as much and I began riding farther. Then I started to ride later into the year. When the snow and ice came, I reluctantly put my bike in the garage and covered it up. Even though I saw other people riding their bikes in the winter, I had a difficult time imagining myself doing it. 

Spring, summer and fall, I ride a recumbent. Before the recumbent, I rode a standard bicycle. It stood patiently in the garage, tires flat, waiting. Last month I brought it to Calhoun Cycle, where the merry band of bicycle mechanics changed it to a single-speed bike with shiny black fenders and nice, knobby tires. Perfect for winter. 

I know it seems crazy, trying to pedal on streets that become more narrow with each snowfall, pushing through the beige, sand-like substance known as "snirt" (snow + ice + dirt). Still, there's something about making my way around the cities on two wheels that lightens my heart. 

Maybe it's being a part of a community where people choose a bicycle over a car. It's nice to be a part of a community, especially one where you don't really have to talk to anyone. In the winter, when I'm carefully biking along the Midtown Greenway and I see another rider, our eyes (the only things not covered up) meet, and we give one another a little nod. 

As a member of this community, I'm a part of something bigger and not a part of the problem. 

There's a woman who lives at the end of the block on the very street where my dad held on to the seat of my Huffy bicycle, running behind, then letting go, saying, "You're all right ... just keep pedaling." And suddenly, a bit wobbly, I was rambling down Belwood Lane under my own power. She was our neighbor for many years. 

When we moved my mom out of her house this year and into a senior apartment, the neighbors had a farewell party. Gerry was there. She's a bike rider too. I'm 56, so Gerry must be at the very least in her mid- to late 70s. At my mom's party, she said she once joined a biking group but found she liked to go at her own speed. We talked about bike riding, where we ride, what irritates us, what makes us happy. 

"You know what it is, Annie?" she asked, smiling. "It's freedom." 

Even riding in the snow, cold, slop and snirt, I couldn't agree more.

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Ann Reed, Minneapolis, is a singer/songwriter and a source in MPR's Public Insight Network.