Have Bike, Will Travel: Austin

East Austin sign
One of the reasons why I decided to spend my end-of-year holidays in Austin, Texas was because I heard that it was a bike-friendly city.

There are a lot of things that make Austin an atypical place in this state and part of the country. That appealed to me.

First Impressions

On the way from the airport to the place I was staying, I could see bike lanes scattered along main thoroughfares. However, I saw no cyclists using them. Granted it was early evening and already dark.

After setting in, I made my way down to an area that is known for its nightlife. Pubs and restaurants lined the street and outside most of them, there was a spot to lock up a bicycle. This was basically a long metal bar, so more of a bike hitch-up, Texan-style. On this night, of about 5 degrees Celsius, there were no two-wheelers waiting for their riders to return.

The bike I rented in Austin

Renting a Bike

The next day, I called around to a few bike shops to check out prices and, by far, the best deal was to be had at Longhorn Bikes on E. Cesar Chavez. For just $10/day, Rene rented out a solid chariot of tire.

What’s more, he lowered the seat and raised the handlebars to fit me, switched out the seat to a much cushier model, pumped up the tires, gave me lights and an extra tube, in case I needed it. He was a kind and fair proprietor and I would definitely rent a bike from here again, the next time I find myself in the live music capital of the world.

Cycling in Austin

Riding around Austin was an exercise in the art of trying to see everything around you and right in front of you at the same time. The residential areas were very quiet and pleasant for cycling. There were no bike lanes but I didn’t miss them given the width of the streets, which would have fit 2 cyclists and 2 cars abreast quite handedly.

On the main thoroughfares, especially where motorists are speeding up to get onto the I-35 highway, the bike lanes were absolutely necessary. I had to pay close attention and learned quite quickly that the cars didn’t give me much berth. If my bike lane ended, I wasn’t able to comfortably merge into traffic, I waited for a break as the cars were going fast and holding steady to their course.

Lady Bird Lake, Austin

The bike and running trail around the perimeter of Lady Bird Lake

I imagined what it would be like during the warmer months, with the heat radiating off the redish earth and sweaty bodies seeking respite at Lady Bird Lake, Lake Travis and the incomparable Barton Springs.

I could picture the long summer evenings, friends cycling from one BBQ to another, calling out to folks sipping lemonade on the porches that adorn almost every single house in the city. They’d ride, guitars slung on shoulders and beer cans swinging in plastic bags.

At the time of year of my visit, with the temperature hovering around 5-10 degrees Celsius, I was an anomaly on a bike. In Toronto this weather wouldn’t have put the brakes on many a cyclist but in Austin it was the height of hibernation.

More Bike-Curious than Friendly

Austin has some infrastructure for cycling on roads and pathways, many local businesses have put up bike racks for customers and cycling jives with the environmentally-conscious, down-to earth, relaxed hipster vibe of the place.

But the design of the city, with its spread-out, low-rise density and fast speeds on main drags, means that it’s still ruled by the automobile. Bike lanes end suddenly at times and the network isn’t extensive. There are no suggested routes to traverse the metropolis.

I give it a 6/10 for cycling and would like to visit in summer next time!

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