Trains and Bikes; Big Lake to Minneapolis

Posted by Doug Shidell, September 26th, 2010 3 responses

Riding buddy Dave Olson and I had talked about it on and off through the summer: We’d take the North Star Commuter Rail from Minneapolis to the end of the line, then ride our bikes back, but life got in the way and summer slipped by, so when the email said that North Star was offering a free ride to the end for bikes and riders, we jumped on it.

The train: We rode to Target Field, wandered around a bit in confusion, then figured out that getting to the train platform required using an elevator, escalator or stairs. Not easy in road riding shoes. That problem will be solved when the Cedar Lake Trail extension is finished late this fall. Bicyclists will be able to go directly from the trail onto the platform. Quite nice, except that North Star doesn’t sell tickets on the platform. They’re sold one flight up- via elevator, escalator or stairs.

Each car has storage for two bike, at one door of the car, but securing the bike is clumsy. It requires holding the bike upright while kneeling to floor level to strap the rear wheel to the stand. LRT has a much better system. The cars themselves are quite nice with commuter enhancements like 110v electrical outlets for plugging in a laptop to get some work done during the commute. They also have second floor seating for a nice view of the city and countryside during the ride.

Train platforms lack bathroom facilities. Plan ahead, especially if you are over 50.

The bike ride: We received maps for the ride back. The suggested route more or less followed the Mississippi River and the rail line back to town, but the map itself was remarkably free of useful information. At one point, for example, the route turned off Hwy 14 onto Hwy 30, then weaved through a number of streets until it arrived in Elk River. We saw Hwy 30, but it wasn’t on the map, anywhere, so we rode on and spent the next hour negotiating our way to Elk River through a combination of aiming in the right direction (the sun was out, that helped), asking directions (novel for male travelers), and trusting our gut instincts. It worked, and we managed to hook up with the main group at a park in the center of town. The route we found was actually quite a nice alternative and could easily be incorporated into a loop ride or alternate route back to town.

Although it was novel to ride back to the city from the end of the line, I think the real benefit of  commuter rail for bicyclists will be the opportunity to get off the train at one of the remote stations to spend a few hours riding country roads before hopping back on the train for the return trip. Train fare is under $8 each way, so for the price of a couple of movie tickets you could spend a pleasant afternoon riding the train and bicycling through farm fields and woodlots.

Filed under: Bikeverywhere News

3 Comments to “Trains and Bikes; Big Lake to Minneapolis”

  1. Dennis Larson Says:

    Interesting article. I did the same thing on April 10. I picked a day with a stiff wind from the west and headed back east from Big Lake. My end point however was Coon Rapids since that is home. I did a similar thing from Elk River twice and used highway 10 all the way on all three occasions. The last trip was September 12 from Elk River.

  2. funskater Says:

    One point about restrooms. They are on the trains. No need to hold it.

    I rode the train (along with two very young railfans) on the opening weekend. Very impressed with the speed and the ride.
    They had a lottery to get tickets at various stations. No chance to try out the bike racks.

    Does anyone know of trails by the more distant stations?
    That is a great idea.

    I have done skates with friends using the light rail line to assist with the tour.
    Start at Minnehaha falls park
    follow trails to lunch downtown
    Take the train to Mall of America
    Take trails back to the start.

    The train is more necessary for some than others but it makes a fun outing.

  3. Dennis Larson Says:

    The Fridley station is located on a bike trail although I use East River Road because it is faster, and the Anoka station is near to a north-south trail along the Rum River.