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A guide to biking

Love in the wheel world

Starting a cycling hobby might sound like a wheely big commitment, but with new initiatives by the Regional Planning Commission, state, city and nonprofit organizations, this eco-friendly pastime is enjoying heightened popularity in New Orleans. And Dan Jatres of New Orleans Regional Planning Commission’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Programs office says New Orleans’ pedestrian and bicycle projects are just starting to get rolling.

Since New Orleans has received money to resurface damaged roads courtesy of the South Louisiana Submerged Roads Program (funded by Federal Highway Administration emergency funds),     the city can reallocate a portion of its already-set-aside road resurfacing money to incorporate improvements – such as bike lanes – into road projects. So, Jatres explains, “for less than 1 percent of the total project cost, the city is getting bike lanes.”

This is only part of the master plan, though. The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, the Federal Highway Administration, Regional Transportation Planning Commission, and the New Orleans Department of Public Works are teaming up to plan further improvements, Jatres says.

Jatres says further improvements will be seen down the line in areas such as Gentilly, CBD streets (including Camp, Magazine and Gravier), and the Carrollton area.

New Orleans doubled the length of the city’s bicycle routes in 2008. In just a year, miles of bike trail in town jumped 10 to 20 miles, and more are on the way.  A map from the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission shows the following completed, dedicated bike routes:

  • West End Boulevard, from Polk Street to Robert E. Lee Boulevard
  • Robert E. Lee Boulevard, from West End Boulevard to Wisner Boulevard
  • Marconi Drive, from Robert E. Lee Boulevard to Lakeshore Drive
  • Wisner Boulevard, from Lakeshore Drive to Esplanade Avenue to Moss Street to Jefferson Davis Parkway and ending at Washington Avenue
  • The levee path, which (roughly) follows Leake Street along the river, from Monticello Avenue to Audubon Zoo and the Fly, continuing upriver through Jefferson Parish, ending in St. Charles Parish at Ormond Boulevard
  • Audubon Park loop
  • Chartres Street from Poland Avenue to St. Ferdinand Street
  • St. Claude Avenue, from Elysian Fields Avenue to Delery Street
  • Algiers, from the ferry dock at Morgan and Bouny streets to the Pontchartrain Expressway/Crescent City Connection, to Whitney Avenue, continuing upriver to the Gretna Ferry

Now that you know the routes, it’s time to pick the perfect bike and get on the road.

Mike Federer, owner of Mike the Bike Guy shop on Magazine Street, has been a bike mechanic for about 20 years, and was ready with recommendations for casual cyclists. Federer recommends cruisers for folks looking to pick up cycling as a casual pastime.
“The streets of New Orleans are flat, but bumpy,” he says. That is why Cruisers, which have large tires, bigger wheels and greater shock absorption, are a good choice for casual riders traversing New Orleans’ pothole-riddled streets. Also, Cruisers are easy to secure to bike racks.
Charlie Doerr, owner of Bayou Bicycles Inc., has a different recommendation, a hybrid style (part mountain bike, part cruiser) bicycle. But he says the intended use of the bicycle is an important factor.

“An off-road bike,” he says for example, “is built specifically to ride on dirt trails and makes for a heavy, overbuilt city bike.”

Tim Eskew, assistant general manager of Bicycle Michael’s, agrees that a hybrid bike is a good choice, recommending a city-style mountain bike for New Orleans cyclists.

If you’re on a budget, a select few shops in town sell refurbished bicycles. Gerken’s Bike Shop, for example, sells refurbished bikes starting at $100. You can even ride it out the door – the St. Claude Avenue bike line runs right past the shop.

Still too much commitment? A few shops, such as Bicycle Michael’s, rent bikes. At Bicycle Michael’s, customers can rent a bicycle, with lock, for $25 a day, $100 for five days or $130 per week – helmet rental is $5 per day, maximum charge $25.

Depending on the time of year, Bicycle Michael’s Tim Eskew says, bike rental is between 10 and 15 percent of the store’s business.

For the super industrious, there is the New Orleans Community Bike Project, a collective of cyclists offering super cheap used frames, and new and used parts. The catch: you build the bike from parts. Members will help you learn how to put things together, but there are no paid mechanics. However, if you’re successful, you’ll get a couture bicycle of your own making for between $35 and $75 bucks.

If you really want a gentle start to cycling in town, jump on a bike tour. You can test your skills and get a feel for the roads around town without the commitment of purchasing a bike – you might even learn a few fun facts about your hometown.

“We are all about exploring and telling the stories of the Creole neighborhoods that most tourists don’t get to see,” says Jeff Shyman, owner and guide for Confederacy of Cruisers bike tours.

Shyman’s tour route begins at Washington Square Park in the French Quarter, then cyclists ride through the Bywater to City Park, down Esplanade Avenue and finally the Tremé, with sites including Ernie K-Doe’s Mother-In-Law Lounge and St. Roch Cemetery.  The Confederacy only books tours in small groups to make sure everyone gets to see what they want.

“Walking is too slow, and it’s hard to see things,” he says, “and we [COC] think sitting in a van with air conditioning is not the best way to see a city.”
For the tours, COC provides a guide, bicycle (a classic cruiser), ice water and a helmet for $45 per person, with a minimum of two and maximum eight people. Advance reservations are required.
Just for a little lagniappe, here are a few extra bits of advice from local bicycle professionals.

nTim Eskew of Bicycle Michael’s says: “Obey the laws of physics;” “Be visible to cars;” and “Don’t take on the big cars.”

nCharlie Doerr of Bayou Bicycles says: “Ride in the same direction as traffic – just the opposite of what Grandma taught you!”; never assume cars will stop properly at the crosswalk; and never assume cars will stop at red lights.

nMike Federer of Mike the Bike Guy says: Use a blinking taillight and headlight for nighttime riding; “Always wear a helmet!”; Keep an eye on parked cars – “The most common accident is when a parked car opens a door into a passing cyclist;” Always carry a tire patch kit,  spare tube, tie lever and any necessary repair equipment, especially on long, solo rides; never ride on the opposite side of the road; ride defensively; and obey laws as if your bike were a vehicle – as with cars, “it is illegal to ride a bike on the sidewalk.”

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