Category Archives: Sports & Leisure

Recreation & relaxation, sports, events, general fun

Pickleball is coming to Northfield in 2014

Pickleball photo, StarTribuneI’ve been hearing about the sport of pickleball from a high school buddy in the Twin Cities for a couple of years and I’ve been more curious lately since I’ve not played racquetball since Northfield Athletic Club/Olympus closed.

So when I read an article in the StarTribune a month ago titled Pickleball continues to gain fans as a year-round sport for all ages in the south metro area, I decided to see what might be available in the area.

It turns out I was slightly behind the curve, as Northfield Public Schools Community Services had already announced a pickleball class for this spring. It starts this week at Bridgewater Elementary. You can register online or just show up with cash in hand:

Adult-Rec-Pickleball-LeagueJoin the fastest growing sport around! Much like badminton, tennis and ping pong, pickleball is a game that people of all ages and abilities can enjoy. Created during the summer of 1965, pickleball is played on a badminton court with the net lowered to 34 inches, and uses a perforated plastic ball (similar to a whiffle ball) and wood or composite paddle.

Then kick-off pickleball in Northfield with the Southwest Metro Pickleball Club on Thursday April 3, at Bridgewater Elementary from 6 – 8 pm! Get basic instruction on how to play and enjoy a little open play. Pickleball paddles and balls are provided. Offered in partnership with the Northfield Senior Center.

There’s also going to be an outdoor pickleball class this summer at the Northfield Middle School tennis courts. Registration for that opens on April 18.

Melissa Bernhard pickleball orientation, Northfield Senior Center Paul Bernhard
I went to the orientation session at the Northfield Senior Center last week hosted by Melissa Bernhard, Recreation Coordinator for Northfield Public Schools Community Services and her husband Paul Bernhard, physical ed teacher at Bridgewater Elementary.

I’m sold.


Northfield’s new park could include a mountain bike / pump & jump park and save the city $280,000

Northfield’s acquisition of the Fargaze Meadows subdivision for a future park comes with an eyesore: a huge mound of dirt. In the May 28 Fbo Daily News: Northfield gains 40 acres from Rice County for parks and trails:

But converting the land will neither easy nor cheap. A giant mound of dirt lies on the north part of the land, which not only makes for a poor view, but also causes a lot of problems for the homes in the neighborhood. County engineer Dennis Luebbe estimated it could cost up to $280,000 just to move the dirt.

Eagan Pump and Jump Bike parkDavid DeLongBack in May after a downtown parking management meeting, I was chatting with Ward 2 Councilor David DeLong about my mountain biking adventures and mentioned to him that many municipalities are building bike parks (pump and jump parks) as an amenity for their citizens of all ages. Eagan has one that I regularly use (left photo), Maple Plain has one, and Cottage Grove starting building a big one this week.  Others are in the works for Duluth, Maple Grove, and Cuyuna and probably many more. When Dave learned about the cost of removing the big dirt mound at Fargaze, he emailed me, wondering whether some of that dirt could be used for a bike park. I replied:

The type of dirt used to build the features for these parks matters, as the jumps, berms and rollers deteriorate quickly if it’s not hard-pack dirt.  I’m guessing that mound of dirt at Fargaze is black dirt.

He replied:

Griff, I don’t know what the dirt is but I think there must be more than black dirt. If it was most likely there would have been greater erosion. Amateur opinion. The quietness and growing popularity [of bike parks] along with the age range of participation does intrigue me. Thanks for the links and following up.

Last night while riding my around-town bike in the area, I decided to take a closer look.  I was shocked to not see black dirt. So today I went back, took photos, and dug (heh) a little deeper. It appears that Councilor DeLong’s amateur opinion was correct.

First, some perspective:

Fargaze Meadows, Northfield - looking westFargaze Meadows, Northfield - looking southFargaze Meadows, Northfield - looking northFargaze Meadows, Northfield - looking north
The mound of dirt looking west, south, and north. Far right: looking north from atop the mound.

Fargaze Meadows outlined  - Google EarthFargaze Meadows dirt mound - Google Earth
Left: My markup of the Google Earth view of the Fargaze parcel. Right: satellite view of the neighborhood with the pond and the mound.

Fargaze dirt cutFargaze dirt washoutFargaze dirt mound showing dirt cuts/washouts - Google Earth
Left and center: two of several dirt cuts/washout areas that indicate that the mound is not made of black dirt. Right: the dirt cuts/washout areas viewable from Google Earth’s satellite.

Access point to Fargaze dirt moundFacing east at the bottom of the Fargaze dirt moundFacing west at the top of the Fargaze dirt mound Facing northwest at the top of the Fargaze dirt mound
Primary access to the dirt mound is at the corner of Ford St E and Brogan Dr. (left). Once on top, it appears that the mound is big enough to locate a significant portion of a bike park on top of it.  The dirt could easily be moved to build the bike park adjacent to / south of where the mound is. Or both.

Griff Wigley, no trespassing signtruck: City of Northfield's Public Works DepartmentAn apologetic Griff Wigley
While I was there, a couple of thugs helpful staffers from the City of Northfield’s Public Works Department pulled up in a city truck to inform me that I was trespassing. I politely thanked them and profusely apologized, promising to never do it again. (Consider this paragraph to be one of these.)

As for the type of dirt needed for a bike park, a guy I know who’s working on the bike park in Cottage Grove wrote to me:

You want to be able to make a dirt ball, like a snow ball out of it. If it holds together, maybe bounce it a little to see how it holds up. If it does, that’s good. Also look for that reddish brown color. That is mineral soil.

Soil in the Fargaze dirt moundSoil in the Fargaze dirt mound Moistened soil from the Fargaze dirt mound
I scraped some some dirt from the side of the dirt cut, brought it home, mixed it with some water and made a ball. It split apart when I dropped it from a height of about a foot so it may not be perfect.  I put it in the sun and it was baked into a hard rock by day’s end. So it’s definitely promising and probably worth the money to have a company drill soil samples of the dirt mound.

I’ve begun having conversations about all this with Nathan Knutson, Chair of the Park & Recreation Advisory Board, City Administrator Tim Madigan, and Joe Stapf and Jaspar Kruggel from the Public Works Department.

Eagle ID bike park 1Eagle ID bike park 2Eagle ID bike park 3Eagle ID bike park 4
The photos above are from a profile of a bike park in the city of Eagle, Idaho that was built by a company called Alpine Bike Parks. It has some similarities to the location and height of the Fargaze dirt mound here in Northfield:

Once the community was ready to develop the park, they reached out to Alpine Bike Parks to develop the full-service public bike park facility. Mechanized construction included slopestyle downhill trails, skills development areas, and competitive mountain cross and dual slalom courses. These trails raised the public profile of the project and assisted in developing capital for future project phases, including additional skills areas, and competitive BMX and mountain bike race courses.

  • Duration of Construction: Two months
  • Scope: Master planning, trail design, trail construction, community outreach.
  • Methods: Excavators, tracked loaders and skid steers, hand shaping
  • Budget: $130,000
  • Client: City of Eagle, Idaho

Curious as to what a pump track is all about? Like swinging higher and higher on a swing with no one pushing you, it’s going around and around the track on your bike without pedaling, a foundational skill that makes mountain biking even more fun. Watch this video of instruction for a high school mountain bike team:


Lastly, I realize that neighbors in the area may have concerns about having a bike park adjacent to their property. If you’re a neighbor and reading this, please attach a comment or contact me.

Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota‘s annual meeting makes it clear: the time is right for Northfield to get its bike act together

BikeMNIn late Feb, I attended the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota‘s (BikeMN) third annual Minnesota Bicycle Summit on Capitol Hill, noting that I was “trying to get smarter about the state of bike advocacy in Minnesota…” (Blog post here.)

A few weeks later, for the same reason, I attended the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota’s Day on the Hill which led to having lunch here in Northfield with Executive Director Brett Feldman and Northfield’s First Ward Councilor Suzie Nakasian in which we explored the pros and cons of forming a Northfield area regional bicycle council. (Blog post here.) Brett encouraged us to get in touch with BikeMN’s Executive Director Dorian Grilley.

Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota‘s annual meeting, 2013Park Tool's new headquarters in Oakdale, MNSo with that in mind, I attended BikeMN’s annual meeting yesterday at Park Tool’s new headquarters in Oakdale.

During the meeting, my eyes widened as we heard details from BikeMN staff and board members about the myriad of bike-related activities, projects, collaborations that they’re involved in.  (See the Education and Advocacy pages on their website for a glimpse.)

Dorian is well-connected and versed in national bicycle advocacy issues so I was pleased to hear some of the latest news, including the repercussions from Trek CEO John Burke’s speech last fall at Interbike (my blog post here).

Nick Mason, BikeMN's Education & Technical Assistance Program ManagerBikeMN's Executive Director Dorian GrilleyAfterwards, I did have a chance to talk with Dorian, as well as with Nick Mason, BikeMN’s Education & Technical Assistance Program Manager.  Both offered their help to get things rolling in Northfield with a start-up of a local bicycle advocacy group and hopefully, one or more of their Bicycle Friendly Programs. (March blog post: Bemidji has earned ‘Bicycle Friendly Community’ status. Why not Northfield?)

And as I wrote back in March:

There are other [Northfield area] projects and developments that have a bicycle-component: the Northfield Depot; the East Cannon River Trail segment; the TIGER Trail (aka the Northfield Modal integration project); Safe Routes to School; the Gateway Corridor Improvement Plan; Northfield Roundtable’s Framework Plan; and the Cannon River Corridor recreational concept.

MORC Board members Reed Smidt and Mark GavinI also put on my mountain biking hat (helmet?) and with MORC Board members Reed Smidt and Mark Gavin, chatted with Dorian about how BikeMN and MORC could work more closely together. One idea: give communities with mountain bike trails and pump/jump/BMX parks extra credit when they apply for Bicycle Friendly Community status.

You can keep up with all-things BikeMN via their blog, Twitter feed, and Facebook page. And consider becoming a member. These guys rock.

Click and scroll through the photos either one at a time or via a slideshow. (Memo to self: use a flash when taking photos with my smartphone of people indoors.)

Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota‘s annual meeting, 2013Ron Jackson, BikeMN BoardBill Armas, Director of Sales Marketing, Park Tool

Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota‘s annual meeting, 2013Libby Shea Hurley, BikeMN Board memberPeter Breyfogle, BikeMN Treasurer

Patty Soldner, BikeMN Membership, Marketing and Events ManagerCameraZOOM-20130504113853419Natalie Gille, BikeMN's Northern Region Bicycle Friendly Community Program Manager

Michelle Breidenbach, BikeMN's Safe Routes to School Education CoordinatorMN State Senator Jim Carlson, District 51 - EaganBikeMN's Dorian Grilley and Ron Jackson

Park Tool's new headquarters in Oakdale, MNPark Tool's new headquarters in Oakdale, MNPark Tool's new headquarters in Oakdale, MN

Bemidji has earned ‘Bicycle Friendly Community’ status. Why not Northfield?

BikeMN   Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht
I attended the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota‘s (BikeMN) third annual Minnesota Bicycle Summit on Capitol Hill on Monday, as I’m trying to get smarter about the state of bike advocacy in Minnesota and who the players are.  I became a BikeMN member a couple weeks ago and am impressed with all that they’re doing and how well-organized Monday’s Summit was.

Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht (@BemidjiRita) was one of the featured speakers, talking about Bemidji’s new designation as a Bike Friendly Community. From the BikeMN blog in October:

The city of Bemidji was granted the bronze Bicycle Friendly Community (BFC) designation by the League of American Bicyclists(LAB) on Monday October 22, 2012. The award was the culmination of persistent efforts by many community leaders and advocates including Mayor Dave Larson, Parks & Recreation Director Marcia Larson as well as health, tourism, bicycling, law enforcement, transportation and environmental representatives from the community. BikeMN has been involved along the way and helped in preparing the BFC application.

I think the timing for mounting an effort to gain formal Bicycle Friendly Community designation is right:

Those two items are providing some incentive to figure out how Northfield’s downtown streets should be best managed for bicycling, part of the discussion going on this week on the Parking Management Plan blog.

What’s not clear to me is what city board or commission would be best to consider taking this on. The City of Northfield created a Non Motorized Transportation Task Force (NMTTF) back in 2007 that I think sun-setted a couple years later. Might it be time to create something similar but specifically for bicycling?

Jerry Bilek is gearing up for the Arrowhead 135: a mind- and toe-numbing experience

Jerry Bilek and his Mukluk. Photo by Bill Nelson.Jerry Bilek and his Mukluk. Photo by Eric Johnson.Jerry Bilek and his Mukluk. Photo by Eric Johnson.
Northfielder and Monkey See Monkey Read bookstore owner Jerry Bilek is competing in the Arrowhead 135 this weekend.  As you can see from the photos sent to me by Eric Johnson and Bill Nelson, Jerry is going to use his Salsa Mukluk fat bike for the race. Other winter ultra-athlete racers compete on foot and skis.

Here’s a peek on what’s he’s in for:

MPR, January 27, 2012:  ‘Carnage’ a draw for some Arrowhead 135 ultra-marathoners

Frostbite. Sleep deprivation. Harrowing descents in pitch blackness. It’s all part of the strange allure of the Arrowhead 135: an extreme ski, bike or foot race in far northern Minnesota that begins before dawn on Monday morning.  It’s one of the nation’s craziest endurance races, and a huge challenge for participants.

Strib, February 9, 2011: 135 miles: Do or die

For the next three days, they will haul themselves and their survival gear 135 miles through Minnesota’s North Woods — from International Falls to Tower — in the most mind- and toe-numbing endurance race in the lower 48 states.

Trekking the equivalent of St. Paul to Iowa while dragging a sled behind you on 30-below nights might seem a sadistic death sentence to most. Relocate the quest to Minnesota’s most remote wilderness in the midst of a bitter winter — with rescue an iffy proposition — and you’ve got a race that’s irresistible to some

Winter mountain biking in Minnesota: locations, conditions, equipment, group rides, events

 fat bike on a packed trail: excellentregular mountain bike on a trail with little snow: excellentregular mountain bike on a trail with moderate snow, not packed: difficultfat bike on a trail with deep snow, not packed: difficult

I attended Freewheel Bike‘s 2nd annual Winter Bike Expo ("the world headquarters of winter riding fanatics") on Saturday at their Midtown Bike Center.  (I blogged about the event on my Mountain Bike Geezer blog here, including my photo album).  While the event had offerings for bike commuters, the bulk of the action was aimed at mountain biking in winter, using fat bikes especially. QBP’s brands Surly and Salsa each had a big presence at the event, as both offer a number of fat bike models.  (They’re sold locally by Mike’s Bicycle Shop here in Northfield and Milltown Cycles in Faribault.)

I’m doing some consulting work on the 2nd Annual Fat Bike Winter Summit & Festival coming up at the end of January in the West Yellowstone area, so I’m locked in on the trend. And the Expo gave me a picture of how much enthusiasm there is here in Minnesota for fat biking.

I don’t (yet) own a fat bike. Last winter I didn’t need one, since we had so little snow. My hardtail 29’er worked fine just about everywhere I went. But with a solid 8 inches from our weekend snowstorm, things are looking up for a decent winter.  And more and more of Minnesota’s mountain bike parks and other trails allow mountain bikes.

So let’s use the discussion thread attached to this blog post to discuss winter biking locations, conditions, equipment, group rides, and events.

Bicycle helmet redux: Carleton College students digging deeper on the research

Neil LutskyI got an email a couple months ago from Carleton College psychology professor Neil Lutsky inviting me to speak to his fall class, Measured Thinking: Reasoning with Numbers about World Events, Health, Science, and Social Issues, about the bike helmet issue that I’ve raised here on LoGro this year. (See all my bicycle helmet-related blog posts here.

His idea was to have his students take a close look at the relevant research that’s been cited to support or oppose my contention that the promotion of helmet wearing for around-town bicycling is bad for public health.

Neil Lutsky, Psych class Griff Wigley speaking to Neil Lutsky's Psych class 
I spoke to his class on October 5 and yesterday asked him for an update.  He wrote:

The class is divided into four groups investigating the questions listed below.  They will have reports addressing these ready at the end of the term. That’s where things stand at the moment. 

By the way, if you have any suggestions for the question list (which the students are also modifying as they get into their research), please feel free to share those.

I suggested to Neil that I post the four groups of questions here on LoGro and invite suggestions and discussion from interested citizens. 

1. Bicycle accident overview

  • What is the overall risk of injury in cycling?
  • Who is injured?  Where or under what conditions are injuries more or less likely to occur?
  • How does this risk and injuries sustained in accidents vary as a function of helmet wearing?
  • Is correct helmet use related to injury outcome?
  • Do helmets make injuries worse (considering rotational head injuries vs. concussions and
  • What are these accident numbers like in cross-national comparisons?  

2. Helmet use promotion

  • What laws and programs exist to promote helmet use?
  • How much helmet use is there?  Do people wear helmets correctly?
  • Do government policies have an effect on helmet use?
  • What evidence suggests the suggestion or imperative to wear a helmet inhibits cycling?
  • What are common attitudes toward helmet wearing?

3. Helmet wearing and rider and driver safety

  • Is the density of ridership related to cyclist safety?
  • Do cyclists wearing helmets behave in a riskier fashion?  Is this due to helmet use?
  • Are drivers less cautious when encountering cyclists with helmets?  If so, why?

4. Health and inactivity

  • What are the health consequences of inactivity?
  • What are the health benefits of cycling? 
  • Does cycling make a difference to physical health and the health of the environment?
  • If people weren’t cycling, what would they do?  What alternative forms of exercise and transportation are there?

Dance/roller skating as a public activity: if NYC can do it, why not Northfield?

dance skating in NYC's Central Park dance skating in NYC's Central Park

dance skating in NYC's Central Park dance skating in NYC's Central Park dance skating in NYC's Central Park dance skating rules, NYC's Central Park
While strolling through New York City’s Central Park when we visited there in late July, we came upon a section of the park cordoned off for dance skating, run by the Central Park Dance Skaters Association:

Every Saturday, Sunday and Holiday from 2:30 to 6:30pm from mid-April through Halloween. The CPDSA sets up a sophisticated sound system and plays music for all dance skaters. The event is free and is supported by the membership of the CPDSA. Our Circle is attended by hundreds of skaters and enjoyed by thousands of spectators each weekend.

It not only drew a large group of dance skaters but an even larger crowd of onlookers because the skaters were pretty entertaining, if not for their skating ability, acrobatics and various antics then for their outfits.

It occurred to me that something similar could easily be done on and around Bridge Square in downtown Northfield.  All it would take would be some local organization (YMCA? Community Ed and Rec? NDDC?) to take it on for a season.

See this 30-second video:

StarTribune columnist Jon Tevlin on bike helmets

Jon Tevlin visits the GBM in Northfield Jon Tevlin

StarTribune columnist Jon Tevlin (crappy 2007 photo with Tracy and Ross at the GBM above) covers the bike helmet issue in his column today, Bike helmet debate hits evocative fork in road:

In a Star Tribune story earlier this week, Minneapolis Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator Shaun Murphy was photographed on his bike, without a helmet. He told the reporter that he doesn’t always wear a helmet because he doesn’t want the activity to appear dangerous or scary. "I just want it to be seen as something that a normal person can do," said Murphy.

As you might imagine, comments posted online and letters to the editor took Murphy to task. After the story ran, Murphy was told by supervisors that he now has to wear a helmet on the job. But at least one Minnesota bike advocate is on Murphy’s side, presenting some counter-intuitive data that is stirring up controversy on two wheels.

That advocate would be me.

"The studies out there are irrefutable that wearing a helmet is safer than not wearing a helmet," said Bufton. "The cost is low and the return is high. We’re not militant on it and we’re not at the Legislature asking for mandatory helmet laws."

Bufton misses my point.  The cost is low for an individual person but from an overall public health impact, we’re inadvertently paying a high price by such over-zealous promotion of helmet-wearing for casual biking.

Wigley is happy about that. Meanwhile, he will continue to ride his bike and wear a helmet, but he sure won’t tell you what to do.

Not quite. I no longer wear a helmet for around-town/casual biking.  I do wear a helmet at all other times.  And if you’re a public official, I will tell you what to do: for the sake of public health, set an example like me.