Austin, Texas has beckoned me for many years in the form of a college friend who has made Austin her home. And in those years, the only footprints I’ve left in Texas have been carbon–airport layovers, and marathon road trips (where the state was regarded as an enormous obstacle between me and my ultimate destination).
Austin has been lauded as one of America’s best bike cities by Bicycling Magazine, and is ranked Silver by the League of American Bicyclists for its engineering, education, enforcement and encouragement of cycling.
Here are some more reasons why:
- Austin is ranked 16th among major US cities for bike commuting
- 9th safest major US city for cyclists
- The city has adopted plans to increase bicycling, while decreasing bicycle fatalities
- 12 full-time city staff dedicated to bicycle and pedestrian programs
- 236 miles of on-street bike lanes
- 140 miles of multi-use paths
- 142 miles of signed bike routes
- Every city bus has a bike rack
- Lower than the national average rates for overweight or obese adults, diabetes, asthma, and hypertension
(Source: Alliance for Biking and Walking)
Only last month did I finally arrive in Austin, by Greyhound bus, to visit my friend Denise and her partner, Chris Riley. Right off the bat I was put on a bike: a black, single-speed Firemans Texas Cruzer. We rode right into the middle of the madness of Austin’s 6th Street, known for it’s restaurants, bars, and live music. And on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, 6th Street is blocked off to motor vehicles.
Riley is on Austin’s City Council. His bio describes him as “an avid bicyclist.” That’s a Texas understatement. Chris’ campaign platform contained more words on cycling than any other issue. (I counted them.) Apparently it worked. He got elected.
Chris took the opportunity to brag about highlight some of the lesser known ways he and the city nurture it’s cycling culture, beginning with his bike parking space in the underground parking garage. Riley had a bike rack installed where he’s entitled to park a car.
City Hall provides three bikes for it’s employees who need a vehicle during the day, but who may have arrived to work by non-biking means. The names of these bikes are Stevie, Ray, and Vaughn, after the legendary Austin guitarist.
I’d hoped to meet with Elliot McFadden, the blogger and cycling advocate behind Austin on Two Wheels, but he was on vacation. Instead, I had a day to myself in Austin, and decided to visit a couple of bike shops.
The first stop was Mellow Johnny’s, the bike store concept created by Lance Armstrong. Much has been written about this store, thanks to it’s famous owner. The clientele I observed struck me as well-off cyclists, perhaps hoping to get a little bonus celebrity prestige with that logo jersey. That, admittedly, is a snap judgment. Not everything at the shop was expensive, nor did everything have Lance’s name and/or face plastered on it. Significantly, Mellow Johnny’s offers free coffee and showers to bike commuters. Offers them to anyone–prestige seekers or not. You only need show up with a bike. Those are ideas I’d love to see emulated by more bike shops.
I passed by Jack & Adam’s Bicycles, and witnessed with my own eyes a refutation of every Texas stereotype I might have internalized after seeing Supersize Me. There were dozens of ripped men and women out on a hot and muggy day, doing sit-ups in the parking lot. I took a picture to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. Then I continued on my way. I am not worthy.
My final stop was at Bicycle Sports Shop. Finally, a bike shop for the common cyclist. They had bike trailers, e-bikes, and accessories for the utility cyclists (as well as high-end, and high-performance equipment).
With the afternoon heat finally waning, and all the bike stores closing, I made my way back to the home of my hosts, Denise and Chris.
Austin certainly deserves its reputation as a great cycling city. I know I only scratched the surface. I likely covered fewer than 20 miles by bike–and those 20 miles would make any city proud, but there are hundreds more.
I know a couple of people who are considering making Austin their home. To them I say, Go, take a bike, and keep your guest room ready. A couch will do too.