A Cycling Guide to New Orleans

Last week we posted the first portion of our interview with Author Emilie Bahr. This is the second part of our discussion where she talks about the best places to go on a bike in her home town. Emilie's new book, Urban Revolutions - A Woman's Guide to Two-Wheeled Transportation is a great guide for any cyclist. Take notes...there are some hot tips below!

Urban Revolutions: By Author Emile Bahr

If we had one day in New Orleans with our bikes, where should we go and what should we see?

That would depend on the time of year and what happened to be going on, but generally speaking, you can’t go wrong biking along Esplanade Avenue. Esplanade is one of the grandest and most historic boulevards in the city and it runs through some of New Orleans' most interesting and beautiful neighborhoods, sights and destinations. It connects City Park, one of the largest urban parks in the country, on one end with Faubourg St. John (where I happen to live), the 7th Ward, Treme (which some people may be familiar with by virtue of the eponymous HBO show), and the French Quarter.

A couple years ago, Esplanade was “road dieted” and striped with a bike lane that is now tremendously popular among commuters, recreational riders and bike tours that pedal up and down the avenue day and night. Incidentally, it’s also got the highest concentration of female bicycle ridership of all the sites tracked in the city, which says something important about its appeal.

If I had several hours to spend beginning in the French Quarter, as many visitors are apt to do, I’d probably start in the morning by heading up Chartres Street into the Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods just downriver from the Quarter for breakfast at Cake Café or Satsuma. I’d then head into the recently opened Crescent Park for a spectacular view of downtown and the mighty Mississippi River. From there, I would weave through the French Quarter for a bit, which is a magical place to be in the morning in particular, before heading onto Esplanade Avenue. You’ll hug the edges of the French Quarter and Faubourg Marigny for several blocks before entering Treme.

Further down Esplanade, I would veer off onto the brick-lined Bayou Road, one of the oldest in the city. New Orleans is often called the northernmost tip of the Caribbean and this place exudes that vibe with its colorful neighborhood destinations, including a Rasta church and businesses like Club Caribbean, Coco Hut restaurant, and Domino Sound Record Shack. Feral chickens can often been seen strutting down the street and a fantastic reggae trio frequently plays outside on Saturdays at Pagoda Café, a popular coffee and dining spot that serves stellar breakfast tacos.

Heading up a side street to get back to Esplanade, I’d ride through Faubourg St. John (so-named for the bayou running through it) which claims 1708 as its origin date, even though New Orleans wasn’t officially established until ten years later. Pedaling a bit further, I’d pull off at St. Louis Cemetery No. 3 and meander for a bit through the neat rows of tombs and crypts, many of them from the mid 19th century and showing their age. Reading through the exotic surnames found on headstones and the years the people buried here were laid to rest, one gets a sense of the rich, complicated and at times tumultuous history of a city. New Orleans was ruled by two European governments before it became U.S. territory, and has survived epidemics, great floods, and rampant political corruption, among other challenges.

Next, I’d turn left along the bayou, one of the reasons New Orleans was sited in its precarious location, and if my stomach was so-inclined by this point, head over to Parkway Bakery & Tavern, which is, the best po-boy shop in town- for my money, at least. If I’d saved room for dessert, I would head into City Park to grab some beignets and a café au lait from Morning Call or, if it was a hot day out, to Pandora on North Carrollton Avenue for a snoball. From there, I’d ride over to Big Lake at City Park and relax beneath the boughs of the Singing Oak, named for the pentatonic wind chimes that grace its branches. I might even rent a canoe or a pedal boat and explore some of the park's lagoons. Once I was ready to go, I’d head back downtown along Esplanade or via the recently-opened Lafitte Greenway, which runs all the way to the French Quarter completely protected from motorized traffic (intersections not withstanding) in time to catch some music on Frenchmen Street.

Do you have a favorite bike shop?

New Orleans is home to an increasingly eclectic array of bike shops, and I find something special about each of them. All have served me well for different purposes at different points in time. One shop I’m especially excited about is Dashing Bicycles & Accessories, the only shop in town both owned by a woman and expressly geared toward a female clientele. One of the historic hurdles to getting more women on two wheels has been the male domination of the bicycling industry. Many women simply feel out of place at conventional bike shops, and Dashing is working to correct the balance.

Have you ridden much in other cities besides NOLA?

Two things I like to do wherever I travel are run and take a bike ride. I think you learn a lot about a place by getting to know it outside the confines of an automobile, though obviously getting around on foot or bike is easier in some parts of the world than others. Some of the most inspiring places I’ve biked in recent memory are Chicago, where I hopped on a Divvy bike and road along the lakefront all the way up to Evanston to meet a friend for breakfast; Paris, which is showing the world just how fashionable the bike can be; and Amsterdam, where the transportation paradigm is completely reversed from that to which Americans have grown accustomed and bicyclists are the unquestioned rulers of the streets. One of the toughest to bike was Houston, where I really didn’t feel comfortable riding anywhere other than a protected greenway along the bayou downtown. However, despite Houston’s extreme car-centricity, the city is making important strides toward making itself more people-friendly.

You can find out more and purchase Emilie's book here.