Neil & Marie Johnson

While Dr. Neil Johnson owns a car and bicycle, his favorite way to get around is a one-of-a-kind contraption straight out of the world of Dr. Seuss. Johnson's custom-made bike, which family and neighbors have affectionately dubbed "the minivan," measures nearly seven feet long and comfortably seats six.

This unique cycle, now a regular site in Edina's South Cornelia Neighborhood, began life in 2005 as a fairly conventional tandem two-wheeler. "On my fifth date with my now-wife, Marie, I thought it would be fun to go bicycling," Neil recalled. "We dusted off and tuned up a tandem my family had had since I was in middle school. We really liked it ... this led to a tradition of us going on tandem bike rides everywhere."
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In fact, the Johnsons enjoyed the new hobby so much that when they began planning an intercity move from Robbinsdale to another Twin Cities community several years ago, they landed on Edina in large part because of the biking opportunities and destinations it offers. Favorite destinations include Centennial Lakes Park and nearby eateries, the Edina Aquatic Center, and, closest to home, the playgrounds and open fields at Cornelia School Park.

"Growing up in North St. Paul, I never imagined living in Edina," Marie said. "But in the three years we have been here, it has proven to be the safest, friendliest, and most enjoyable place I've ever lived."

As Neil and Marie's family grew, so did their tandem bike. "We certainly had no grand vision to build a minivan of a bike," Neil laughed. "It evolved [incrementally.] Our firstborn, Clara, loved riding on a seat in the front. When our son Aben came along next, he loved it, too, so we bought a special attachment so that they could both fit with us."

In its present form, the bike seats six - with an extra seat for a visiting goddaughter or neighbor friend, plus a basket on the front for the family's four-month-old Cavapoo puppy, Toby. At full capacity, the bike is truly a sight to behold. "We get smiles from everyone we ride past," Neil noted. "After all, how can you not laugh at a whimsical, family-sized bike - as often as not with a cute puppy on the front, and a preschooler in the back belting out ‘Let It Go' from Disney's Frozen?"

"Sometimes people even pull out their phones and start filming us, or ask if we can stop for a photo," Marie added.

While the "minivan" may have no room left for further additions, the Johnsons believe that the City of Edina has room yet to improve in terms of biking amenities. "Some areas are great, but Edina still needs more bike lanes. It's clear to see if you look on Google Maps and select the bicycle mapping option," Neil explained. "I would really like to see more new sidewalks and bike lanes, like along 70th Street."

Measures to ensure the safety of non-vehicular traffic are equally important. Citing one example the Johnsons know well, "I worry about the speeds in front of the elementary school along Cornelia Drive," Neil said. "In our busy lives, it's so easy to go over posted speed limits in slow zones. Installing something like mini speed bumps would be a helpful reminder to do what we know is right, and slow down where there are kids."

One thing that won't be slowing down anything soon is Neil and Marie's energetic young family. And while six-seater tandem bikes may not exactly be the wave of the future, the Johnsons fervently hope that their fun inspires others, and that biking will continue to gain favor as an alternative way of getting around in Edina.