What’s your favorite way to tour a new city? Share your thoughts either in the comments below or by sending us a short video explaining your choice. We may publish our findings.
What’s an avid biker to do when touring to a city without bikeshare?
To me, renting a car to explore a city seems akin to donning an astronaut’s space suit. On past trips, when roaming the streets in a Hertz or Avis, I have always been left feeling unsatisfied, asking myself questions like “What’s that smell?” and “When can I escape this numbing bubble and really feel the city?”
Last year, on trips to Richmond and Omaha, I told myself “Enough is enough, no more stale rental cars!” In both cities, I sought out a bike for rent, and both times I had wonderful, wind-in-my-face, the-city-is-my-oyster experiences. Beyond basic sightseeing (yes, my friends, there are sights in both Richmond and Omaha), I used bikes to traverse the cities to my favorite destinations – independent coffee houses – on my never-ending quest for the perfect latte.
My first bike rental city was Richmond. I arrived for a conference via Amtrak at the beautiful Main Street Station. After checking into my hotel and attending a few sessions at the conference, I was ready for my two-wheel experience. The friendly folks at Carytown Bicycle Shop lived up to their slogan: “We are owned by cyclists. We are staffed by cyclists. We exist for cyclists.” And they made me very happy with a brand new Cannondale Hybrid.
With my bike, I was ready – and the city of Richmond was ready for me! (Walking in Richmond is also a very worthwhile experience, as my colleague Paul Mackie wrote about here.)
Wonderful rides through the Fan district, down Monument Avenue, and up Church Hill past the church where Patrick Henry proclaimed “Give me liberty or give me death!” (Such a bold cry for unbound living leads me to think that our man Patrick would surely be a cyclist today.)
As I continued riding, I found that Richmond has a funky (not to mention tattooed) vibe. In Monroe Park, I could feel the energy emanating from Virginia Commonwealth University students soaking up the sunshine – some playing Frisbee and some actually studying. I saw the historic city without peering through bird-poop on a windshield and could hear the James River rapids even before I saw the river. Most importantly: my favorite Richmond latte was found at Lift on Broad Street. Iced or hot were both delicious.
A few weeks later, I found myself in Omaha for my cousin Jared’s wedding. My most important task was to get my mom (Jared’s “Great Aunt Lois”) to this major family event, but I also wanted to try out my new bike rental/latte strategy in the city that my Nebraska relatives and Warren Buffett call the “Big O.” Luckily, I found Green Street Cycles on the north end of downtown, where the nice people rented me a new Specialized hybrid. Bingo!
As the eastern terminus of the transcontinental railroad, Omaha has been a transportation hub for nearly 150 years. I pedaled past neat old train stations and cool art deco buildings. To be honest, Omaha is a decidedly car-centric city and walking seems to be a passing fancy in small pockets of town. However, there are some really awesome bike trails, particularly along the Missouri River.
The city’s not-to-miss feature for walkers and cyclists alike is the Bob Kerry Pedestrian (and bicycle) Bridge, which spans the river to a great trail network in Council Bluffs, Iowa. When I arrived at the bridge, it was a beehive of activity and a great symbol for “build it and they will come.” My favorite latte in Omaha was a tough pick, but Blue Line won out. It was worth pedaling uphill for, from the lower banks of the Missouri River. As I neared the shop, I simply followed the scent of the bean. How great is that?
So, there you have it. Bikeshare or no bikeshare, this biking enthusiast found that I can tour new cities to my heart’s content. Sans car-box, I could actually see, smell and hear urbanity – and feel my happy heartbeat with an extra jolt of caffeine.
Again, what’s your favorite way to tour a new city? Share your thoughts either in the comments below or by sending us a short video explaining your choice. We may publish our findings.
Oh, and has anyone tried Spinlister? My colleagues at BikeArlington called Spinlister the “AirBnB of bikes,” where individuals post their bikes for renting by the hour, day or week. I need to give it a try!
(Worth noting, since my visit, Omaha has joined the growing number of bikeshare cities. Check them out Omaha B-cycle!)
Photo by Patrick Luckow