Pedaling in Peace
Local group welcomes newcomers to cycling
by Zach Kayser, staff writer | Photography by Jillian Gandsey
They call themselves “the Pedaling Ninjas,” and each Thursday evening in the warm months of the year they gather in Bemidji to ride together with people new to biking.
Natalie Gille, whose day job is with the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota, founded the group in 2013 to give beginners and those interested in a more relaxed atmosphere a chance to enjoy biking.
“We’re not necessarily the racer crowd,” she said. “(We) just wanted to be able to explore around Lake Bemidji, see birds, look across the lake… really enjoy nature at a casual pace, and get together with friends.”
The first year only saw several people participate in each ride, but the introduction of the Nice Ride bikeshare last year helped invigorate the casual crowd to participate in Pedaling Ninjas rides, Gille said.
“Nice Ride really helped that group grow,” she said.
Diane Pittman, another Ninja, described the relaxed atmosphere the rides take: the location and duration will change depending on what the group is feeling like at the moment, but the riders usually meet at Paul and Babe and typically go for about an hour at a leisurely pace before stopping for drinks at Bemidji Brewing or some ice cream at Big River Scoop.
“The idea is, we’re not trying to break any records, we’re just trying to get out and really enjoy the trails, enjoy the weather, enjoy each other,” she said. “Just get out and move, and enjoy biking.”
Nice Ride has partnered with the health clinic Pittman runs, True North Health Care, for a program called “Wheel Being” (a pun on “well being”). Physicians and other healthcare professionals will essentially be able to prescribe a bicycle for patients who need more physical activity.
The patients receive free Nice Ride bike rental from May to October, and they pledge to ride the bike at least twice a week and at least four social rides such as Pedaling Ninja events during the summer.
Pittman hopes to have 20 people prescribed bikes, she said.
“I’m really excited about the program, and Pedaling Ninjas is just a perfect venue,” she said.
Wheel Being has never been done before in Greater Minnesota, although it was successfully piloted last year in the Twin Cities, Pittman said.
It could be a bit more difficult to find a group like Pedaling Ninjas outside of the state lines.
Transplants to Bemidji from Las Vegas, Mindy and Craig Clark began bicycling with the group this spring. The pair experienced some positive culture shock because of the vast difference between bike culture in Nevada and Minnesota, Mindy said. It’s all too common for Las Vegas bikers to be injured and killed by reckless drivers, she said, but in Minnesota, there are a wealth of bike trails where riders can pedal in peace.
“It’s shocking,” she said of the Bemidji atmosphere. “It’s so neat to be able to ride knowing that if you obey the rules and stay alert, you’re pretty safe.”
The great variety of people who number among Pedaling Ninjas has helped the Clarks meet new people in their new home, she said. They’ve met young and old, professors and small business owners united by their mutual bond with the sport.
“It’s just been fantastic to meet so many different people in the community that all love to bike,” she said.
The Pedaling Ninjas were featured in the Summer 2015 issue of inMagazine.