Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Velo-Nostalgia in Fargo

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I rode my first real bike in Fargo after moving there from New York in 1978. The first one was a nice Trek 910 touring rig that I purchased on layaway with tips from bartending. All black and sparkly. Took it on many excursions including one to New York in 1980. It survived a year in the Big Apple, and then got stolen from the basement of the Trader & Trapper Bar where I was working after moving back to ND. After that was stolen in the summer of 1981 I started to hang out in the Nomad Bike Shop. The Nomad was every biker's dream shop. Small and serious. The Scholz family ran the place... and I do mean family. Mom, dad, and the kids (three boys and two gals as I recall.) I'd already been an avid bike rider, but the Scholz's pushed me further in that direction. They introduced me to the competition and community aspects of bicycling.

Hanz Scholz sold me my first serious racing frame, a gorgeous "pre-owned" 1973 Eisentraut, that he'd taken in on trade and repainted himself. I still mourn over selling that thing, (though the guy I sold it to - Dave Madson - still has it.) Nomad was also home to North Dakota's only official bike racing team. I was a hanger on to that group and managed to learn a lot over the years tucking into their slipstream. Hanz went on to found BikeFriday after leaving Fargo to join his brother Alan in Portland. Alan you may know as the founder and proprietor of Burley Design - yes, that Burley. Before the famous trailers Alan sewed all sorts of bike gadgetry, originally calling the company Burley Bags. I've lost track of them over the years and not sure if they'd even remember me, but it's great to see them working together so successfully now.

I'm telling you all this because I made a pilgrimage of sorts to Fargo last week. I returned for a 30th anniversary school reunion. I drove the distance from Michigan to Fargo and used the opportunity to take my Fausto Coppi fixed gear with me. (The Coppi has S&S couplings for traveling.) I fully intended to revisit some of the old stomping grounds around Fargo where Hanz and his other brother Ian had taught me the hard lessons of the peleton and of the lonely time trial. I'll never forget Mrs. Scholz, (we all called her mom,) standing there at the finish line on a farm road in north Moorhead calling out splits to us as we passed. Best tip I ever got was using the contents of my water bottle to stop the dogs from Anderson's farmhouse dead in their tracks. The TT course went right by their place and since we were all lined up two minutes apart they'd just lay in wait for us, one after the other. I wish I had video of that now.

Another notable memory of Fargo was John Lindgren. John was a hero of sorts to me. He was a professor of economics at NDSU, and he also held the Sekai Dealership for the region. Adding to this interesting combination Mr. Lindgren was also Fargo's mayor. He could regularly be seen riding to work, rain or shine, from north Fargo on his Sekai touring bike dressed out in fenders, with his briefcase on the back. I loved that sight.

John Lindgren laid the groundwork for a community that embraces bicycling. It's funny because it's not necessarily in outward ways like Portland, OR or Davis, CA. The cues that bicycles are welcome and appreciated are subtle but many. Last weekend I put on more than a hundred miles in and around Fargo and its sister city across the river Moorhead, Minnesota. I was happy to find more trails, bike lanes, and bike racks than were there when I left years ago. I believe Professor Lindgren is responsible for starting this notion and instilling it into the thread of bureacracy and politics in Fargo. It's important to note too that this kind of payoff can take decades to create. Thanks John!

Today there's a new bike shop in town, Island Park Cycles. They moved from Island Park some time ago and are now located right in the heart of downtown on Broadway between 4th Street North and the railroad tracks. In fact the store is in the old Burlington Northern Railroad depot. They seem to be the organizers of the current bike scene there. (Thanks to "d" from Arizona for contributing that via the comment section. See him here.) Find Island Park Cycles here.

One of the very interesting applications of bike-friendly design is the way they choose to allow for bikes in the downtown area. Rather than create those scrawny little bike lanes that hug the right side of the road like in Traverse City, or the bike lanes that sit in the middle of the traffic lanes, like in Minneapolis, Fargo has chosen to simply make the entire width of the street equal purview of cars AND bicycles. The bike lane marking on the roadway is dead center of each vehicular lane, and there are signs that read, "Bicycles may use full lane." WOW! Now that's advocacy!

In addition to this there is permissive language used in other control signage. What I mean by permissive is that subtle difference between using the word "no" and using more positive suggestive language.

On the sidewalks downtown, rather than the common "No bikes on sidewalks," the paint says: "Walk bikes on sidewalk."

Finally the bike racks are not positioned on the sidewalk, but on the road surface in what would be a vehicular parking spot. Again it's subtle but demonstrates the importance of bikes and that at least here they are equals to cars. These are subtle lessons in psychology that other communities might learn from.

I rode most of two days in and outside the city and found the roads and trails to be well planned and maintained. This includes a trip to the airport which had a bike trail going the full distance from town to the terminal. I cut across the NDSU campus heading north and just had to cross one street to get to the trail. The trail ended at a place where traffic had calmed considerably (Old Highway 81) and where it felt very safe to enter the roadway.

Riding on this road was a nostalgic joy. Hanz and the boys used this route to start most training rides. It heads north to Harwood, ND, a farm community with a large grain elevator visable from north Fargo some nine miles away. The land is so flat here, nothing can hide. I then took a turn east heading to north Moorhead and around in a big forty mile loop.

There's something about that wide open land that fascinates me. Especially while riding a bike. The view is relentless, and if there's a wind... watch out! The Nomad crew used to joke about doing hill training. That came when there was a strong headwind directly forward, typically from the North. At one point someone in the front of the pack would turn his head and yell "hills!" That was the cue for all of us to drop into our fattest gear and go into the wind standing up as far as we could. It was always a grueling experience that started and ended with laughter and cajoling. On windy days that grain elevator sat in the distance it seemed forever. While riding north of Fargo last week I snapped a series of pictures for a panoramic view so you could get a sense of it. Click the thumbnail at the top of the section.

On the way back from the big ride, I came down through north Moorhead and downtown. As if to accentuate the full experience of living here I got caught by a Burlington Northern Sante Fe Railroad (BNSF) train. This is a part of life here. There are several rail tracks crisscrossing the Fargo/Moorhead community. All things stop for them. I used to have an apartment right off the tracks in downtown Fargo. The trains would rumble by all day and all night. I learned to sleep through the quaking and horn-blowing. Now, some 30 years later, the sound is comforting to me.

So that's my little journey to Fargo.



Island Park Cycles

Fargo-Moorhead Tourism

Fixed Gear Gallery

All photos by Bill Palladino © Copyright 2008 Bill Palladino and All rights reserved.


Anonymous said...

I read this post with fond memories. I cut my teeth on serious cycling in the F/M area while attending Concordia in the early '80's. I spun many a mile on the flats of the Red River Valley - working part time at Nomad while trying to figure out who else we could recruit to join Great Plains Cycling Club.
Ahhh- to be young and fast again is but a memory.

-d said...


That's great that you posted on the Fargo bike culture! I was born and raised there and since moved to Boulder, CO then Chandler, AZ. Everytime I go back to visit, I'm amazed at how much the bike culture has evolved.

Island Park Cycles has been there forever and just moved into the old Great Northern Railroad station:

They offer organized group rides, time trials, and mountain bike trips.

There are also guys that will bike commute year round (yes, even in 40 degrees below zero!)




Leon Webster said...

Thanks for this piece. I grew up in Minot, and drove to Fargo to buy my first bike from the Scholz family when they were still selling bikes out of their basement. Dr. Scholz was an prof at NDSU and the state rep for the League of American Wheelman. It was a Peugeot PX-10 type E. What I wouldn't give to have that bike back. I took the bike to Concordia in the fall, where it was hung in effigy after I wrote an editorial about initiation practices. In the early 70's the saturday am ride was to Hawley, MN where there was a hill (!) and a bakery. What more could you want?

Fixed gal said...

Nice work, Bill. I really enjoyed reading this!

See you next week?

tjl said...

I road and raced with GPBC as a junior in the early '80s on my 1975 Eisentraut (which I still have) which I bought used from Scott Flick(?). Many fond memories of the Nomad, learning to ride in a group, and the long rides on the flats.

LostGears said...

TJL: I wonder if my used Eisentraut was one of Scott's as well. Though I think mine was a '73. I've since met Albert Eisentraut and wish I still had that frame.