New Orleans is a magnificent city by bicycle. It’s flat, temperate for much of the year, has lots of streets with slow or no traffic, and, as reported in the Times-Picayune, a growing number of bike lanes (about 30 miles and counting). To tap into the local biking scene, start with the Metro Bicycle Coalition. From there you might check out the monthly New Orleans Critical Mass ride, and the racing group New Orleans Bicycle Club.Rent some wheels from any of several services throughout the city. I got a comfy coaster bike from Joy Ride Bike Rentals (504-982-1617). $30 gets you a bike, helmet, and lock-all delivered to and picked up from your hotel or other location anywhere in the city. That was the cheapest and most convenient of the services I looked into, but others include Mike the Bike Guy in the Touro district (4411 Magazine St., 504-899-1344); or in the Faubourg Marigny district, there’s Bicycle Michael’s (622 Frenchman St., 504-945-9505).
Now, what to do once you’re on your bike? There’s ample information online about the city’s famous French Quarter, Garden District, and other areas. For information on these and other districts, visit NOLA.com, or check the comprehensive listings offered by the alternative weekly Gambit New Orleans. That said, let me highlight a couple less well-trafficked neighborhoods, both of which happen to be just north of more famous and touristy areas.
Cruise around Central City (just north of the Garden District) and look for signs for the “I-Witness” project. Dial the main number on the sign (504-265-1116), punch in the code for that spot, and you’ll hear a story from a local about what the neighborhood used to be like, or maybe a jazz funeral that took place there. Stumble upon stories at random, or check the website for a map. (I must reverse myself to say just one thing about the Garden District. A lazy trip on the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line, which runs through the district, is one of the most sublimely pleasant experiences I’ve enjoyed in the city. You might consider taking the streetcar-or your bicycle-all the way out St. Charles Avenue to Audubon Park, which is also home to the city’s zoo.)
Just north of the French Quarter, it’s fun to cycle around the Trem (“Tre-MAY”) district, which is the setting for the HBO series of the same name. I’m a fan of the Backstreet Cultural Museum (1116 St. Claude Ave., 504-522-4806), a house museum about the Mardi Gras Indians and other black New Orleans traditions. Just a few blocks away is the New Orleans African American Museum, with small but strong art and history exhibits (1418 Governor Nicholls St., 504-566-1136). A short ride north of that is a veritable gallery of murals (commissioned by the African American Museum) painted on the pillars supporting the I-10 overpass, on North Claiborne Ave. between Orleans and St. Bernard Avenues. After your exertions riding around, go have a po’ boy sandwich or the all-you-can-eat lunch buffet at Li’l Dizzy’s Café (1500 Esplanade Ave., 504-569-8997).
A ride to the gorgeous City Park is well worth the effort (northwest on Esplanade Ave. from the Tremé, or zigzag on smaller streets). Take a relaxing ride or stroll among the oak trees that populate the park, or take a boat ride (weather permitting), or visit the New Orleans Museum of Art. For cheap eats, visit the Parkview Café. If you’re in the mood for something more upscale, try Ralph’s on the Park (900 City Park Ave. 504-488-1000), a pleasant spot for drinks (I had their tasty lychee margarita) or a meal.
New Orleans, of course, has ample festivals for bicyclists to ride to. Check complete listings here. The Mardi Gras season kicked off on Twelfth Night, January 6, and continues through Fat Tuesday, which falls on March 8 this year. Throughout the season, there are parades and parties for nearly every taste (not just those drawn to the famously raucous French Quarter). For complete Mardi Gras coverage, go here.
Eager to get deeper into the city’s culture? For a street-level look at New Orleans (and some inspiration about places to ride your bike), be sure to pick up one or more of the excellent books published by the Neighborhood Story Project, available online or at many bookstores and other shops throughout the city.
For the soundtrack to your trip, tune in to New Orleans’ “Jazz and Heritage” station, WWOZ, 90.7 FM. For safety’s sake, don’t listen on headphones while biking. Instead, check the website for listings of live music, and don your safety gear for a ride to clubs where some of the city’s superlative musicians will transport you beyond where your bike can go.