Some Minnesota Twins players pull up to Target Field in gleaming luxury rides. Emerging ace Joe Ryan? For almost every home game, the pitcher pedals into 1 Twins Way on a vintage Schwinn. A professional athlete biking to the downtown ballpark might seem conspicuous, but Ryan isn’t concerned.
“I’m definitely not recognized,” the Twins rookie says with a chuckle. “So it’s very nice.”
Depending on who you ask, Minneapolis is the nation’s top-ranked city for biking. (Don’t ask our bike-crown rivals in Portland, Oregon.) Of course, very few of our city’s cyclists happen to be Major League Baseball players, with one notable exception: “I’m all about commuting via bike,” Ryan says.
Ryan came to the Twins last summer via a trade that sent beloved-yet-aging slugger Nelson Cruz to the Tampa Bay Rays. GM Thad Levine waited for him to return from the Tokyo Olympics with a silver medal, and then gave him a couple AAA starts with the St. Paul Saints. Ryan would debut as a big leaguer at home against the Chicago Cubs, looking strong despite the team’s 0-3 loss. The highly touted rookie was great in four of five starts last fall—he even enjoyed a perfect game through 6+ innings during his second career start.
Ryan carried that early success over into 2022. Through seven starts, the electric righty has posted a 4-2 record with a 2.39 ERA. It’s early in the season, but if he maintains a statline anywhere close to that, he’ll be a frontrunner for American League Rookie of the Year or even the AL Cy Young Award. His eye-popping numbers are also benefiting the planet: Ryan recently promised to plant 50 trees for each strikeout he records this season. So far, with 36 Ks, he owes 1,800 saplings.
If Ryan does start getting noticed around the North Loop, he has a plan.
“Right now I’m sporting a mustache,” says Ryan, who chopped off his floppy locks ahead of this season. “Next time, it’ll be maybe super long hair. Who knows, maybe I’ll get wigs.”
A native of northern California, Ryan wasn’t aware of Minneapolis’s consistent top five cyclist-friendly reputation before his trade. Now that he’s getting settled in the Twin Cities, he’s starting to take advantage of the metro’s bike lanes and off-road trails. Whenever the schedule and weather allow, Ryan commutes to work by bike.
Ex-Twin Francisco Liriano drives a Maserati Gran Turismo. Dee Strange-Gordon, brother to current Twins infielder Nick, owns a Range Rover Supercharged. Another ex-Twin, Hall of Famer David Ortiz, rocks an Audi R8 Spyder. For Ryan, the vehicle of choice is a restored 1946 Schwinn road bike. He says it’s not much of a topic inside the clubhouse, though.
“Everybody lives in different spots so they’re going to need to drive,” Ryan says. “So I don’t think there’s much of a difference. Once we’re in the door there’s not much time spent looking at people’s cars or what they’re showing up in.”
At least one teammate, German-born outfielder Max Kepler, shares some of Ryan’s love for biking. Twins PR guy Dustin Morse adds, “The Peloton is the rage in the clubhouse,” and that former player/manager Paul Molitor was a noted bicyclist.
“Kep and I were riding a bunch in Spring Training,” Ryan says of rides outside the Twins facility in Fort Myers, Florida. “He had a couple cruisers and a Salsa Warbird gravel bike, and we were zipping around to the beach and we got some good rides in there.” Kepler has a Surly-brand bike in Minnesota, Ryan reports, noting that he’d like to get one, too.
Ryan’s interest in biking traces back to his youth in Marin County, the birthplace of mountain biking.
“I’ve always been around it,” he says. “My dad was riding early on, was doing races a couple years into mountain biking being famous, so I’ve been around it my whole life. I guess I don’t really know anything else.”
His favorite bike remains the Yeti ASR 5 he bought in eight grade. “I’d saved all my money, all my birthday money, all that, from like third grade on,” Ryan remembers. He didn’t save up quite enough, but a friend’s dad owned a bike shop and cut him a deal. He rides it around the Bay Area to this day.
Ryan’s contract doesn’t prohibit him from mountain biking—as many pro-athlete contracts do for skiing, boxing, wrestling, or skydiving—but he’s cautious enough to avoid any major risks, so he only mountain bikes occasionally. “I’m a pretty technical rider, but I don’t want to be pushing limits too much,” he says. Instead he focuses on gravel riding in Minnesota, which provides nice cardio workouts. Ryan doesn’t lug bikes to away games, but that doesn’t stop him pedaling through opponents’ streets.
“If the city has [bikeshare] bikes that you can go pick up I’ll usually go pick up one of those,” he says. “Last year in Chicago I spent frickin’ probably eight hours of the off day riding all around Chicago.”
For Ryan, cycling, infrastructure, and environmentalism are all intertwined. Once, while cruising through Los Angeles on a rented bikeshare bike, Ryan noticed he was zipping past vehicles. “In L.A. even, which is known for cars, not known for public transportation, not known for anything, there’s a possibility there for a biking community, or a biking city, because it’s not that large of an area,” he says, adding that the U.S. should emulate some of the infrastructure of highly bikeable European cities. He thinks the extra boost provided by pedal-assist E-bikes, relative newcomers to the cycling marketplace, could help expand access to bike culture.
“It benefits you in a lot more ways than just the green side, it’s going to make people nicer, too,” Ryan says. “The future of riding for me will be exciting to see; I’m excited to keep learning and add some more bikes along the way too.”