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New Orleans’ Carnival Season is best experienced on two wheels.
For many people, New Orleans, LA, is synonymous with celebration. From Mardi Gras to Jazzfest to the smaller French Quarter Fest, the balmy Southern city certainly knows how to throw a party.
Perhaps the most famous of these is the annual Carnival. Celebrated in the weeks leading up to Mardi Gras, the last day of feasting before Ash Wednesday, the Carnival season sees thousands of festival-happy travellers flock to New Orleans from all over the world to participate in the revelry. Daily and nightly parades, live music, and revelers in elaborate costumes fill the city’s narrow streets with festive energy.
But while thousands of people make for a great party, they also make for a very crowded city. New Orleans during Mardi Gras can be overwhelmingly congested.
To avoid the hassle of trying to find parking or waiting in long lines for a crowded streetcar, most locals and many tourists opt to take in the festivities by bike. “If you’re going to go Carnival, you’ve gotta do it by bike, that’s the only way,” said Marin Tockman, owner of Dashing Bicycles & Accessories, a boutique bicycle and accessories shop located on Rampart Street in the infamous French Quarter.
Tockman has been riding her bike around New Orleans since she moved there five years ago and says she wouldn’t have it any other way. “I really enjoy biking along all of the side streets that interconnect the neighborhood. The pace, the history, the colorfulness and the richness of our streets is my favorite part about biking.”
With an approximate downtown area of 35 miles (56 kilometers) and a mostly flat topography, New Orleans is one of the most bikeable cities in the US. It achieved Silver-level status as a bicycle-friendly community from the League of American Bicyclists in 2013 for its 100+ miles (160+ kilometers) of bike lanes and 3.5 percent bicycling modal share. During Carnival season, ridership is even more pronounced. “During Carnival you’d see the city and you’d think we were in Europe,” said Tockman. “Basically everybody’s on a bike, young and old and in between.”
Festival-goers in elaborate costumes will often dress up their bikes to match their get-ups. Cruising from uptown to downtown in ten minutes allows riders to catch multiple parades in one evening, while the ability to quickly nip in and out of side streets means not getting stuck behind a parade route where a pedestrian or driver would.
When all that pedaling works up an appetite, New Orleans has more great places to eat than anyone possibly could hope to try in a week. Traditional Cajun and Creole cuisine is always hot at some of the country’s oldest restaurants, while a slew of pop-up shops and food trucks serve up everything from fish tacos to falafel.
Jeff Shyman from Confederacy of Cruisers, New Orleans’ oldest bicycle tour company, said that narrowing down the best places to eat in New Orleans is all but impossible. “Liuzza’s by the Track does an amazing crawfish étouffée, an amazing gumbo, BBQ shrimp drowning in butter and fried eggplant … a bit of everything that should all be eaten, and at a bar with frozen schooners of Abita.” He said Elizabeth’s in Bywater fries the best oysters in town and has “decadent brunches to cure any hangover.” Or head uptown past the historic American mansions to Casamentos. “In a city that fears change,” said Shyman, “Casamentos is perfect. Since 1919 it’s oysters. Raw, in a a stew, or especially their oyster loaf. Oysters and more oysters.”
Confederacy of Cruisers offers a culinary bike tour of New Orleans, as well as a cocktail tour and a Creole New Orleans tour to help newcomers orient themselves in the city.
For anyone traveling to the Big Easy for Carnival, hopping on a bicycle is a must. Tockman’s Dashing Bicycles & Accessories has a large fleet of city cruisers from San Francisco’s PUBLIC Bikes for anyone looking to ride the city in style. While the shop offers bike sales and repairs for “all bikes for all people for all ages,” it is also the first bike shop in New Orleans to cater specifically to women, carrying a range of clothes and accessories for female riders and offering a space that is comfortable for women to ask questions and try out new products.
For rentals, head right next door to Crescent City Bike Tours & Rentals or back to Confederacy of Cruisers for a single-speed steed.
While New Orleans is a great place to visit at any time of year, Carnival season is definitely worth checking out if the opportunity arises. “It’s such an enjoyable time for the community, to be creative, to be out on the street together,” said Tockman, “Whether its a parade rolling down the street or a marching band practicing, the whole city comes alive, more than alive, it’s just bursting at the seams with energy.”
Cover photo by Akasha Rabut, cropped by Momentum Mag to fit page specifications.