When the first cyclist left the starting line and raced along the balcony of Galtier Plaza and around the elevator column, I couldn’t help wondering if mayor Chris Coleman and the tyke (his son, Aidan) trailing after him had managed to clear the course yet. The jeans-and-sweatshirt clad mayor had tentatively ridden out of the starting area 10 minutes before at a pace that revealed the alienation a bicyclist might feel while legally riding through the sedate halls of downtown St. Paul’s office buildings on a Wednesday evening.
The mayor and his son were performing the honors of a first lap on the course of the Red Bull Skyride, a first-of-its-kind bike race held February 8 in St. Paul’s skyway system.
Fused in the 1970s from a combination of beer, the availability of cheap used bikes, thrill-seeking, and a little time to kill, arriving as an Olympic sport at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, reinventing itself in the freeriding movement that was born in the coastal forests of British Columbia in the last decade, the sport has now arrived at the far end of the spectrum, perhaps the final frontier, the most artificial of environments, the skyway.
Watching a second racer sprint out of the starting area, my mind drifted again out toward Coleman and Aidan and I thought of all the blind corners on the course as it wound its way via skyway from Lowertown to the Excel Energy Center. I couldn’t help wondering how the country would react if St. Paul’s new mayor ended up in the hospital as the result of a bike collision in a skyway. Skyways are as alien a concept as ice fishing to most of the country anyway; our mayor riding through them as part of a sanctioned bike race might convince our distant countrymen that Minnesota’s thread truly does not weave into the fabric of this nation.
Another racer disappeared down the hallway and the cheering of the crowd faded. Next to me where I stood on the second floor, in front of the offices of a book publishing company, a guy with a full glass of beer made eye contact with a cop walking by and asked him politely, “Is it okay if I have this up here?”
“Probably not,” the officer responded, “But I’m not saying anything.” The cop kept walking, the drinker kept drinking. The guy with the beer was seen at the end of the night wandering through the temporary Red Bull village downstairs, a glass of ice water clutched in his hand where the beer had been earlier, bouncing off Red Bull coolers and tables, blinking at the bright lights and sharp angles of Galtier Plaza.
Lined up against the windows of the book publisher’s conference room were 40 or so cyclists. Most were guys in their 20s but there were a few women and a few people in their thirties and forties. They quietly waited for their moment on the starting line, their chance to maneuver their bicycles through the sterile, vacuous skyways.
Many of the racers lined up were swigging from cans of Red Bull, the ubiquitous sponsor of the evening’s festivities. Later, at the end of the course (described by many as the hardest they had ever raced on) piles of vomit on the Excel’s loading docks reeked of the beverage.
Another rider was announced over the P.A. and shortly dashed out from the inflatable start line. He rounded the first corners and sped down the carpeted hall. When he hit the first straightaway, the rider popped a wheelie to the applause of the spectators and disappeared through a doorway, one wheel pointed to the ceiling, barreling toward the skyway and the U.S. Bank building across the street.