Bike riders put the mettle to the pedal
New Orleans Bicycle Club members in 1970s era. French Quarter Race sponsored by La Boucherie, a popular Chartres Street bar of that time.
photo courtesy of Bob Perrin
“Oh, I still ride. I try to get in about 100 miles a weekend.”
Bob Perrin, award-winning cinematographer, has been a serious bike rider since the 1960s, when the popularity of the 10-speed bike changed bike riding into a ferocious fitness workout.
The New Orleans Bicycle Club dates its founding to 1968, (NewOrleansBicyleClub.org), but there was an earlier New Orleans Bicycle Club founded in 1880.
The 1968 resurgence of interest in cycling featured competitive events, including La Boucherie Grand Prix in the French Quarter (apparently the French Quarter’s twisting and uneven streets caused numerous spills). Another event is the “Tour de Louisiane,’ now “the oldest continuous bicycle stage race in the United States,” according to the NOBC website.
Today, besides riding for exercise, Perrin still races occasionally in Senior Olympics events. He and ardent cyclist Joseph Fuselier both have their share of gold medals.
For those who have cycled for many years, the greatest change has been in the bikes themselves.
“We started getting pricey bikes,” Perrin says. “At first, a really nice bike was about $600 and it was made out of steel. Then, it went to aluminum bicycles and now everything is made out of carbon fiber – they cost anywhere from $3,000 to $15,000.”
And price isn’t the only concern: “The amazing thing is, if you ride a bike and you race and you want to go on touring rides, you have more than one bicycle,” Perrin says.
“I have a track bike, a mountain bike and I have three road bikes – I have five at the moment, and there are people with more than that,” he says. “Some of mine are almost collectibles – I’m talking about the ones from around 1975 – but I do have two carbon fiber bikes.”
“I haven’t reached the point where my bike is more valuable than my car – but that could happen,” Perrin concedes. And, that doesn’t include padded bike shorts ($100 to $250), gloves ($40) and a helmet ($150 to $350).
Bike Easy board president James Wilson explains that his organization advocates for more bicycle infrastructure in the city. The results are good.
“New Orleans is flat, and the street grid is fan shaped: you can get pretty much anywhere and not have to use a busy road.”
The city is now eighth in the country for prevalence of bike commuters.
A popular route runs along the lakefront, there are marked bicycle lanes on Nashville Avenue and that, plus the upcoming Lafitte Greenway (folc-nola.org) will connect riders with routes in Audubon and City parks. The bike route along the levee is disrupted by construction at the moment, but when opens it will take riders far upriver.
James Wilson now commutes to his job at Octavia Books on his “Truck Bike” (see it at TruckBike.org), a heavy-duty Xtracycle with pannier-type cargo holds beside the back wheel. “I can put a couple hundred pounds of weight on it, so I can go grocery shopping or to the hardware store, and be able to bring everything home,” he says. For a Bike Easy ride at the Bayou Bougaloo, Wilson was even able to give a lift to one young rider whose bike had a flat tire.
Like most bicyclists, Wilson remembers his first solo ride.
“My first bike was a blue Stingray with a banana seat – the kind with a sort of handle on it.” Wilson says. “My grandfather was holding it, teaching me to ride, and I was pedaling along and I said, ‘You can let go now, Pop-pop’ and I looked around.
“He was standing there smiling, about 25 feet behind me.”
Finding A Place
Having the equipment is one thing, finding a place to use it for those long rides is another. And for that, information is available at BikeEasy.org. Check it out, and download a map with local bike routes.