your way around NOLA's Bike Community
As gas prices leap ever higher and your wallet grows ever thinner, alternate transportation options continue to grow in popularity throughout the city. As part of these cost-saving measures, biking is becoming one of the most popular transportation alternatives that residents are turning to these days, and the city is taking great measures to develop programs to make this pastime a more suitable and practical option through the streets of our city.
With growing support from numerous organizations, New Orleans was recently awarded a Bronze Medal bicycle-friendly status by the League of American Bicyclists. But even with 45 miles of dedicated bike pathways throughout the city, New Orleans' bike scene can be a bit of an insiders trade and, to be honest, somewhat intimidating. Here a few tips and resources to help make pedaling around the Big Easy a bit easier.
Where To Shop
There are plenty of shops around town that offer great benefits while supporting local business. For all you Uptowners, the GNO Cyclery on South Carrollton features custom ordering to help you find the perfect bike to fit your needs, and also offers a six-month general maintenance program to make sure your bike is well taken care of.
Is your bike in need of some fine tuning?
Uptown repair center Mike The Bike Guy off Magazine and Napoleon is a cozy little shop with a friendly, efficient staff—Mike himself is usually pacing the sidewalk outside and will personally help you park your bike in their conveniently placed rack. Mike the Bike Guy's is almost exclusively a repair shop for those of you that already have your own set of wheels, but he does carry a selection of bike accessories as well.
The Marigny offers a slew of alternative solutions to your typical bike shops, the most interesting being Plan B's Community Bike Project. A registered non-profit located off Elysian Fields with a history almost as riveting as the city itself, this philanthropic initiative came back following Katrina stronger than ever. It sells used or recycled bikes to the public in order to fund further projects through their initiative—when you purchase a bike from them you're supporting an entire community. All proceeds are directed back into the project to keep a running space for instruction and communal use of tools and supplies to help everyone's bike remain safely on the street. Set up as an open workspace for bicyclists, Plan B also offers instruction and bicycle education for the general public.
What Else You'll Need
Just as your mother used to say every time before you went darting out the door as a child…safety first! Bikes offer almost zero means of protection; however, a few preventative measures can make all the difference. A helmet is just about the only thing standing between you and the concrete. Get one. Wear it always (or least while on the bike).
Most bikers will also recommend at least a layer of material over your skin to prevent bad scrapes or bruises…but it's summer in one of the hottest cities in America, so no one expects you to wear a full sweat suit. Try using tights to keep your legs from getting scraped and riding gloves for your hands. Also, carry a good backpack so you're not trying to balance that change of non-sweaty clothing on your hip. As for night riding, you'll need a headlight for the road ahead, and a good flashing taillight to announce your presence. You should also try to wear lightly colored or reflective clothing so you're more easily spotted. Oh, and don't go anywhere without your lock, unless you don't want your bike waiting for you when you get back.
Where To Ride It has long been debated over which street in New Orleans is the worst to drive on —imagine hitting one of those potholes on a bike. It's not exactly a pretty picture (good thing you had your helmet on… right?). Planning your route on New Orleans's notorious streets is almost as important as remembering to pedal.
The debate has probably raged since the invention of the wheel and is still highly relevant to anyone sporting two wheels to this day: back streets or main streets? Though major throughways like St. Charles offer a wide berth that lets you cruise at your own speed or others like Magazine Street—with its gloriously well-paved streets—seem like the obvious solutions, others prefer to keep to the less traffic-ridden back streets.
Here's the truth: back streets or main streets, it doesn't matter which you prefer just so long as you follow the laws of the road like everyone else. If you hit the back streets, make sure you're stopping at stop signs (yes, it is annoying to stop, but you know what's more annoying? Being hit by a car.), riding the correct way down one-way streets (always WITH traffic) and making sure you're seen by cars especially in the dark. If you're riding main streets, maintain your ground on the road, you have just as much right to it as everyone else (and when you're driving, you'll do well to remember that too), use hand signals when making turns or sudden changes in direction, call out if you're coming up on fellow bikers, and always, always stop at red lights. No matter which streets you prefer, whatever you do, stay off the neutral ground.
Still having trouble deciding the best way to get around? That's where the geniuses at BikeEasy.org come in. These brilliant people have brought us some of those most inspired biking related events throughout the city, including April's Bike to Work Day and an entire calendar of other bike related events posted on their site, such as numerous bike valets and bicycle workshops. Another dedicated non-profit, this site is the key to unlocking New Orleans' biking mysteries. With an interactive mapping feature where fellow bikers can report their biking incidents and personal experiences, you can literally map out the city and which routes seem to have the lowest reported incidents.
On top of that, this feature also maps out for you the streets with those 45 miles of dedicated bike paths, streets with bike lanes, or just routes recommended by other New Orleans bikers.
Other Resources Available to You
The New Orleans bike community is rapidly expanding—it's almost everywhere. From the Krewe of Bike-us that rides every year at Carnival to bicycle second line parades (check out BikeEasy.org for more) that are growing in popularity throughout the city, it's becoming time to show your biking spirit.
With the installation of the new pedicab companies throughout town, even those of you without a bike can get involved in this eco-friendly, green transportation by hopping in one of NOLA Bike Taxi's human powered vehicles for a more leisurely ride home.
The Young Leadership Council also offers the opportunity to sponsor a bike rack through their Where Ya' Rack program, a volunteer enterprise where individuals or businesses can sponsor a rack to be installed in a general location or at the spot of their choosing—near their favorite bar or in their favorite park. A rapidly growing program, Where Ya' Rack has gone from 40 racks to a projected 250 by the end of the year, they hope to eventually have a bike rack sponsored on every corner.
This Young Leadership group is starting to see a difference in the biking atmosphere of the city. As Where Ya' Rack's Garlan White says of his burgeoning project, "It's starting to diminish, but we think that for a while that people didn't realize our racks were actually bike racks. We had a few people tell us that, and then we actually would observe people locking their bike to another object while an empty rack sat right next to them, but as we've grown we're pretty sure they've caught on to it."
As the city becomes increasingly bikefriendly, more and more of its residents should consider the "biking alternative"—it saves on fuel costs and contributes to environmentally friendly travel.