Let the Good Times Roll
3 bike routes for leisurely exploring
Wooden pedestrian bridges and breathtaking scenery define the Tammany Trace trail section of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.
There are few more effective ways to feel like a kid again than hopping on your bike and heading out for an adventure. Better yet, grab a friend — or three or four — and don’t worry about getting home until the streetlights come on. While New Orleans still has a few miles ahead in its ongoing efforts to be a completely bike friendly city, for the past couple of years, multiple initiatives have propelled it forward and proponents, as well as officials seem committed to going the distance.
In 2017, the nonprofit People for Bikes included New Orleans among 10 communities for its Big Jump Project. A March 2017 post on the People for Bikes blog cites, that “Some cities work for many years to do what New Orleans has done since 2012.
“Almost without the rest of the country noticing, the Big Easy has rapidly become one of the nation’s leading cities for bike transportation. About one in 30 local residents now gets to work by bike, double the rate from 2007 and sixth highest rate among large U.S. cities, right between Seattle and Oakland.” With bike lanes being added regularly throughout the city, as well as trails, such as Audubon Park, the Lafitte Greenway, Crescent Park and the Tammany Trace, plus the Blue Bike NOLA bike share program, which officially launched in February, it has never been easier to bike in the Big Easy.
Whether you are a bike-to-work kind of New Orleanian or you haven’t been on a bike in years, we’ve put together three routes that are admittedly more about fun (hello, breweries) than fitness, but this is New Orleans after all — laissez les bons temps rouler!
Local breweries, such as NOLA Brewing, Urban South Brewery and Second Line Brewing offer bike racks and a place to rest and refresh before mounting up for the next leg of your ride — which often is to the next brewery.
Uptown and Brewery Bound
Biking through Audubon Park offers a nature-infused start to the day and will help curb any guilt you might have regarding the calories consumed at the end of this route. The 2.1-mile loop at Audubon is shaded by great live oaks, with picturesque ponds and sculptures and it’s easily accessible via St. Charles Avenue or Magazine Street. Be on the lookout for ducks crossing the bike path and stay on the side designated for bikes.
We recommend exiting the park on the Magazine side and proceeding past Audubon Zoo toward the river on Tea Room Drive. Next, cut through the park past the Labyrinth to Laurel Street and take a right on Seventh Street to NOLA Brewing for some brews and barbecue. Once you are fortified, pop back onto Laurel, take a right on Felicity Street, a left on Annunciation Street and a left on Market Street for a stop at Urban South Brewery. If you still want to hit one more brewery, take Market back to Annunciation heading toward downtown and hang a left on Erato Street, which will put you at The Courtyard Brewery, where there is usually a food truck on site. Gluttons will of course probably roll over to St. Charles Avenue and make one last stop at The Avenue Pub to take advantage of its enormous craft beer selection from all over the world, but if you have to bike home, you may want to skip this one.
We are assuming you have been pacing yourself and hydrating accordingly, right? If not, order a ride share vehicle with a bike rack or ample storage. Bike racks abound on this route and architecture buffs will see every imaginable style of New Orleans home design.
On bike or on foot, the 2.6-mile Lafitte Greenway is a breeze. It has community gardens, parks and workout areas, plus marked intersections at which, during our jaunt, nearly every car stopped to allow bikers to cross the street. For those without bikes, the North Jefferson Davis entry in Mid-City is the perfect starting point, with its Blue Bike Station. There are four stations along the trail. We took it into the French Quarter, tucked our Blue Bikes into the station on Esplanade and stopped at Brieux Carré Brewing Co. for a couple of beers, then grabbed a burger at the Marigny Brasserie on Frenchman.
Myriad options abound on the greenway, however, with easy access to Bayou Beer and Wine Garden and Parkway Tavern near the Jefferson Davis starting point, as well as Second Line Brewing off of the St. Louis edge by about nine blocks. Pick your favorite place in the Marigny, French Quarter or Tremé, or tool around Mid-City through City Park. The Blue Bikes come with baskets, so who are we to judge if you stop at Canseco’s Market on Esplanade for a container of “Thunder Cheese,” some crackers and a bottle of wine to enjoy on the banks of Bayou St. John?
If you live on the North Shore, you have a treasure at your fingertips. The 31-mile Tammany Trace trail was originally a corridor of the Illinois Central Railroad. It was purchased in 1992 by the St. Tammany Parish government, which transformed it into an asphalt hike-and-bike trail. Replete with quaint wooden pedestrian bridges and breathtaking scenery, this section of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is a must-visit. We entered at the Mandeville trailhead and biked to Covington. Towering pine trees and charming cottages abound and bike rentals are available if you don’t live in the area or don’t have a bike rack for your car.
The Old Rail Brewing Company in Mandeville, the Abita Brew Pub, Abita Brewery and Abita Mystery House, as well as the Covington Brewhouse and Columbia Tap Room and Grill are all easy stops from start to finish. This part of the trail is about 24 miles round trip. Be prepared to spot lots of wildlife from birds, squirrels and raccoons to turtles, fish and snakes (we narrowly missed one that slithered out onto the trail). Once in Covington, wander the charming downtown area ducking into boutiques, restaurants and watering holes, or just taking in the historic homes and scenery.
Whether you prefer to bike in urban environments or areas that are a retreat into nature, there are countless choices in and around the city.
Each one of these routes can be as leisurely or challenging as the biker intends, as evidenced by the countless serious-looking lycra-clad cyclists that whizzed past us on each one. We encountered walkers, including families with strollers, on both hike-and-bike trails, confirming that these well-tended public trails are built for all ages and abilities.
With the mostly flat terrain and easy to navigate grid, New Orleans is a natural place to bike for fun or transportation. As the city, and its Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Advisory Committee, continues to make improvements and build awareness, New Orleans increases in bike friendliness and safety. It’s common for festival organizers to include bike racks in setup and information for bikers on the websites and in promotional literature and biking during Carnival season with its road closures is just about the easiest way to get from point A to point B. (Backpack cooler or bike trailer recommended.)
New, permanent racks are popping up all over the city every month as a result of the work by groups such as Bike Easy and Where Ya’ Rack? (a project of the Young Leadership Council), as well as the city. Residents can join bike clubs (visit nolasocialride.org for events and group information) or take to the streets solo and it’s as easy as — well, riding a bike. Just watch out for those potholes.
Biking is a fun, economical and eco-friendly way to get around, but it doesn’t come without risk. Be sure to put safety first by wearing a helmet, using lights and reflectors, going with the flow of traffic, mapping out the safest routes and using the correct signals. Visit BikeEasy.Org for classes, tips, maps and activities. Also, with bike theft on the rise, experts recommend locking bikes in well-lit areas, preferably on racks (or use a bike valet) and employing both a U-Lock and a cable lock. Use the cable lock on the front wheel and the seat and the U-Lock to secure the frame and the back tire to the rack.
NO BIKE? NO PROBLEM!
There are various bicycle rental companies around New Orleans, including American Bicycle Rental Company and Free Wheelin’ Bike Tours at 318 N. Rampart St. (neworleansbiketour.com); Bike NOLA at 1209 Decatur St. (bikenola.net) and City Park Boat & Bike Rentals at Big Lake Trail (neworleanscitypark.com). The average price is about $6 to $10 per hour. In Mandeville, Shack deVille (shackdevillemandeville.com) offers bike rental, as well as concessions. Bikers-to-be can rent online or in person from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
Blue Bikes bike sharing (bluebikesnola.com), sponsored by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana, offers several payment options, including pay as you go for 13 cents a minute, $15 a month ($10 for college students) and reduced fares for qualifying New Orleanians. Users are not charged when the bike is docked and locked at a station and they can reserve bikes in advance. There are additional fees for locking up at public racks and for locking outside of the system, so be sure to read the fine print.
BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE!
This piece, of course, only touches on three potential routes for biking around town. There are a lot of other options however for your cycling pleasure. Here are a few to put on your list:Crescent Park, 1.4 miles near the French Market District
Lakeshore Drive, nearly 15 miles along the lakefront
St. Charles Avenue, a little over 4.5 miles from Uptown to the CBD
Mississippi River Trail, 25. 7 miles along the levee beginning near Audubon Park