48 Hours in Austin

Austin, Texas has beckoned me for many years in the form of a college friend who has made Austin her home. Austin 6th-streetAnd 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)

Chris Riley's parking space with a Burley Travoy bike cargo trailerOnly 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.

Austin's Stevie Ray Vaughn BikesMy first full day in Austin, we put a Burley Travoy bike cargo trailer through some Austin-specific trials. Our route home that evening somehow took us to Austin City Hall. At midnight.

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. Austin Mellow Johnny's Bike ShopMuch 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.Austin Jack & Adam's Bicycles

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 clo
sing, 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.

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7 thoughts on “48 Hours in Austin”

  1. Maestro says:

    I traveled through, and spent a couple days in Austin last year while doing a bike tour. I actually took a multi-day detour to see the city after some cyclists I met recommended that I stop for a visit.

    From the point of view of an outsider without a guide or any knowledge of the city bike lanes, I was a little disappointed with what little routes I found. In fact I spent a greater amount of time navigating the perilous sidewalks.

    But I suppose this is most often the case when exploring a new city.

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      @Maestro and @Timmy: I had the benefit of one of the newly published bike maps of Austin. An excellent bit of cartography. It may also have helped that Chris led me around for a day before I hit the streets without a guide.

      One feature I really liked about Austin (as well in as other cities I’ve visited recently) is the meandering paved, tree-lined paths that follow the river. Flagstaff has none.

  2. Timmy says:

    Having lived in Austin for nearly a decade before relocating to AZ, I can sympathize with the previous poster. The Central Austin that I remember could be characterized by prohibitively narrow streets clogged with traffic at anytime of the day. Not overtly warm to the pedal-bound, but there are some wonderful routes that can get you anywhere if you know where to go.

    Shoal Creek is a great north-south connector through scenic neighborhoods with limited traffic. Guadalupe North of 45th is also good, and south of 45th Speedway will get you almost all the way down town. Once downtown, I seem to remember Lavaca being a reasonable route and Rio Grande is good if you are comfortable riding in traffic. Once to the river, the river bike path spans nearly the entire width of the city and grants access to over 30 miles of Barton Creek singletrack (and some fine swimming for after your ride).

    Damn. All this reminiscing makes me feel overdue for a trip back to Austin!

  3. Jason says:

    As someone who lived in Austin and recently moved Tucson, AZ, I’d have to say Tucson has a far better infrastructure of dedicated, painted/marked urban and suburban bicycle pathways than Austin. I haven’t warmed to Tucson as a good city in general – Austin is far better overall in my opinion, but Austin’s urban cycling infrastructure is very poor. Aside from the routes mentioned, which are fantastic recreational routes, they are not practical means of efficient bike transportation to use on a daily, commuting basis. That’s what the city really lacks. Within the city, downtown and UT on-street bike infrastructure is piss-poor. Tucson’s got Austin beat for that. There are ample wide streets and many very good north-south, and east-west routes to choose from. The Rialto River trail has no water like Town (ahem), Lady Bird lake Trail, but it is massive and very casual with a great system of bridges and underpasses. Austin has a long way to go to create a safe, daily commuting urban bike infrastructure which would compliment the lake trail and the greenbelt riding.

  4. […] style. To get a sense of what I mean, have a look at these examples of Ted’s work: 48 Hours in Austin & Cat Food Run with a Burley Travoy. Also, check out Ted’s personal musings at his blog […]

  5. […] seriously went on, and on, and on about it–as did Bike Shop Girl. (Although my gushing about the Travoy was so effusive that it […]

  6. aa says:

    Anyone know where Ghost from true capitalist radio hide out in Austin

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