by Russ Lowthian
New Orleans, A Fun Biking Haven
Seeing the city of New Orleans and its parishes on two wheels can be a fun way to experience the last section of the Mississippi River Trail (MRT). So if you are a northerner like me and need a brief reprieve from the cool spring elements the upper Midwest can dish out, this is a bike destination to consider. As the area continues to rebuild from Hurricane Katrina, the city has quadrupled its miles of bike-ways making it easy for both residents and visitors to take to the streets by bike.
Even the League of American Bicyclists has recently taken note, awarding this city the Silver, bicycle friendly community designation. So, if you looking for a fun time, here are some ideas and opportunities for that #nextbikeadventure to the Big Easy.
New Orleans – Culture and Area
In the springtime the fragrance of jasmine whispering through the air. Because of this, on our last visit, we wanted to experience the city, only using bikes and public transportation. Besides the non-stop fun in the French Quarter, touring on two wheels we were able to find many other community pockets to enhance our visit. This included places with delicious meals, art, and music hotspots. Along the bike-friendly streets we rode, many were influenced by Creole and French cultures. This gave the homes in the area a wide array of tropical colors which is different from what we usually see in most northern states.
We discovered that driving your bike was the best way to see all the neighborhoods and experience, New Orleans. Thanks to the NOLA printable bike friendly map and the Big Easy Bike Coalition at BikeEasy.org, getting around New Orleans was straightforward. Besides, the miles of bike lanes, bike sharrows (painted V-shaped arrows that are stacked like sergeants stripes on a shirt sleeve that point in the direction of traffic flow of a bike route) and trails, the majority of the city is laid out with one-way streets alternating back and forth, North/South and East/West to get around.
Beginning a Bike Adventure in New Orleans
First, we downloaded Joey’s digital version of the map for planning. After that, finding a printed edition at a local bike shop or one of the tour companies listed below – was a bonus!
The bike map gave us a great chart to maneuver through the neighborhoods when the main bike routes were detoured by one of the many events going on or construction updates. Using a combination of the above map options made it convenient to go from the French Quarter: up to City Park, one day; to the Garden District and Audubon Park another day; and then across the Mississippi River and back, by ferry, to Algiers for another New Orleans bike adventure. Plus, in April, the humidity is still relatively low.
Lakeview Area and City Park
Well worth a 15-mile round trip from the French Quarter, we found the Lakeview Area breathtaking. We even spent several hours at the City Park – that turned out to be one of the highlights of our visit. Here the gardens and sculptures in the park were impressive. Plus, in April, you will find many varieties of roses and several exotic flowers in bloom in the area. Into trains? The outdoor scale model railroad exhibit in the park was quite extraordinary, detailed with authentic replicas of buildings and tracks of the southern Louisiana area.
Lake Pontchartrain Area
Also, being so close to Lake Pontchartrain, we added several more miles to our day of riding through this section of town. This part of the Big Easy is quite different from the colorful Creole-influenced shotgun houses we biked past near the French Quarters. It was picture perfect riding in the area. Riding through the high-end neighborhoods where sycamore trees shade the architecturally present and pristine lanes there an enjoyable adventure touring the northeast section of the Big Easy.
Algergers Neighborhood and the Last Section of the Mississippi River Trail
In the Algergers neighborhood, after crossing the Mississippi River by ferry, (free passage for bikers and walkers) you will find a bike trail that follows the river up steam. This is the last section of the MRT before the Gulf of Mexico. Here, riding along the river, you can view some of the big boats coming in from the Gulf and the skyline view of Downtown New Orleans. Plus, if you are lucky when passing by the warehouses along the trail, you may see some of the Mardi Gras floats – sometimes open for a tour.
A ride back on the ferry, another Creole-influenced neighborhood is the Marigny/Bywater area. This is a great place to discover the soul of New Orleans. Here you will find many artists and several hole-in-the-wall places offering great food and music. For ribs, some of the best we have ever feasted on, try the “Joint.” For other great entrees, check out Elizabeth’s on Chartres Street. And don’t forget to stop at Dr. Bob’s Art Gallery.
Dr. Bob is a New Orleans self-taught folk artist who has made the phrase “Be Nice or Leave” a part of his identity. Here we found objects many everyday objects he has transformed into his artwork. You’re sure to be interested in the eclectic mix of Southern Louisiana influenced art that you can find in his gallery of fun objects. Just pull into the double gates of the complex, pass the lumber yard, park your bike back by the trailer, and introduce yourself.
Other Areas in New Orleans
Visiting the Carrollton, Garden District, and Irish Channel Area from the French Quarter, discover the ease of riding the new bike lane on Magazine Street. Once you arrive in the Garden District, several guided biking and walking tours are available. The tours are well worth signing up for, to maximize your Big Easy bike experience. I would recommend taking one or several of these tours on the front end of your visit to maximize your time pedaling around this area. Plus, you will get the inside scoop to good places to eat and local music that showcases the soul of the New Orleans.
Bike Rental in New Orleans
If this is your first time planning a trip to the Big Easy and exploring the city on two wheels, leave your own bike at home – unless you are serious about packing on the miles. Most points of interest are less than a 20-mile meandering round trip from the French Quarter area. If you choose to rent and plan to cover more than 10-miles in a day, pay a couple of extra bucks for a bike with five-to-seven-gears. Though the terrain is fairly flat, it is not uncommon to encounter a headwind – coming or going – in or out of the different neighborhoods. For shorter distance sightseeing opportunities or when combining public transportation (bus/cable car with bike racks) on your excursion, single speed cruisers bikes work well.
Our Bike Rental Picks
I found several bike rental shops, most around the French Quarter. Rental options, I checked out and was impressed with included: Michaels Bicycle Sales, Rental and Service on Frenchman Street and Ride This Bike Rental and Folding Bike Sales on Dauphine Street. Both places had Joey’s Bike Map, were friendly, and they were helpful with tips on riding around the Big Easy.
Looking for neighborhood bike tours that include a rental (most have single speed bikes with coaster brakes?). We enjoyed a tour of the Marigny/Bywater area led by the staff of the Confederacy of Cruisers Tour Company. Not only was the tour fun, but our guide also offered many suggestions on food and music hot spots, that we checked out later on in the day and fully enjoyed.
Places to Stay in New Orleans
For lodging options throughout the city, places to eat, events and festivals to see, the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau web site is a great place to look for more information when planning a bike visit to the Big Easy – the last city on the Mississippi River Trail.