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Many Austinites are giving new meaning to “life in the saddle.”
By Scott Cannon
Not only is Austin a liberal-minded and beautiful city, it is also blessed with a relatively temperate climate. Lance Armstrong hails from here, as well as the South by Southwest music and film festival and this year Austin hosts the North American Handmade Bicycle Show.
The social cycling scene in Austin is incredibly rich. There are multiple rides every day and newcomers are never left without a chance to hop on two wheels and meet new faces. But what this city has going for it above all else is a diverse and friendly cycling population. Roadies, hipsters, commuters, tall bike hooligans, BMX riders and students share and litter the roads at every turn.
Even though it’s the state capital, Austin retains the charm and familiarity of a smaller city; you’ll probably see the person you biked past on the street today at a local coffee shop or bar in the near future.
“What makes us (Austinites) different is that we’re definitely a community of cyclists that look out for each other,” said Natalie Goforth, owner of Texas’ first track-specific bike shop, Fast Folks Cyclery. “We ride together, we hang out together.”
Over the last three years, Austin has seen a boom in both ridership – there are now 6,000 daily commuters, not including students – and bike infrastructure. There are 193 miles (311 kilometers) of bike paths. Austin is the first city in Texas to have reverse-angle parking in conjunction with a bike lane. Plus, the city is one of five in Texas that has a safe passing law.
Though not known for its hills in the same way San Francisco is, be prepared to climb. Austin is set in a river valley in the middle of hill country. If you’re in the mood for an easy, breezy ride, there are many hike and bike trails throughout the city that will give you a break from climbs and that have beautiful views of the green side of Austin. The trails around Ladybird Lake are some of the best maintained and most often used. Then there’s the newly added Lance Armstrong Bikeway, which provides a cross-town ride almost free from hills and traffic.
More improvements to infrastructure are in the works. Annick Beaudet, the head of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Program, said the city will take huge steps to make outlying areas more bikeable by adding more bike lanes within the next three years.
At the outreach level, there is the Yellow Bike Project, which equips people with the tools to both learn and teach others how to repair bikes. And the League of Bicycling Voters (LOBV) and BikeTexas advocate on behalf of cyclists at the city and state levels, respectively.
Gilbert Martinez, president of the Austin Cycling Association – Austin’s longest running and largest cycling club – is proud of the varied and effective voices cyclists have in Austin. “I think we’re lucky to have these active cycling groups,” he said. “Together we work hard to represent the interests of all cyclists.”