Biking 101 & the Bayou City
By Kelly Howard
I didn’t do a lot of biking before BCO, most of my exercise was street skating and I kind of felt superior to bikes. (Sorry, I shouldn’t admit that but it was a skater thing). I just assumed that skating was a lot more exercise than biking. Did I learn differently!
My first foray into biking was pre-BCO when I decided to ride the MS150 on a whim. I don’t suggest that to anyone else these days, I hurt quite awhile after that one.
Next, we bought mountain bikes (see my note below about helmets? My first mountain bike was in my pre-helmet days, luckily I can still write). I spent a lot of time pushing that bike up hills and getting a dose of humility.
What I found was I liked riding even if I wasn’t any good. It was work, but on my mountain bike I was in the woods, which is where I love to be. I upgraded my mountain bike, bought a helmet and started riding more.
Enter BCO and our first MS150 Bike Team. Always wanting to keep up with the BCO crowd, I ran out and bought a road bike. Plus, spandex shorts and bike shoes with clips (At one time I swore I wouldn’t wear spandex in public, ate those words).
Road riding took me a little longer to fall in love with, but it is my go to exercise these days. I like riding the bayou trails best, away from traffic. When I am with the BCO group I do love riding the roads outside of town with rolling hills and scenery.
Oh, and if you are keeping count, I found that I needed one more bike. That in-between bike you ride around town, a cruiser bike to do the Farmers’ Market or Graffiti rides on. That bike I bought just because I thought it was so cute. Like my friend told her husband, don’t buy me jewels buy me a bike!
Got to Have Gear:
· Helmet — Wear it even if you are “just riding around your neighborhood”. Accidents happen and a helmet is the most important piece of protection you can have.
· Bright clothing. If you don’t want to invest in a biking jersey, find a shirt, jacket, vest, something with vivid color if you are riding anywhere near vehicles.
· Don’t have a bike yet? You can rent a BCycle from one of the many stations around town.
· If you aren’t ready to spend looking for something a little fancier try West End Bikes and Bike Barn — they both rent higher-end bikes.
Nice to Have Gear:
· Padded bike shorts really make a difference if you are on your bike for any length of time. If you don’t like sporting the spandex look, you can opt for mountain bike shorts (baggy) or even padded underwear, which will go under what you are wearing.
· Bike gloves do a great job of reducing hand fatigue, making sweaty palms grip, and even reduce neck strain.
· Sunglasses will help reduce glare and protect your eyes from potential dirt and debris.
When you are ready:
· Shoes and clips — If the bug bites and you want to take your ride to the next level, bike shoes and clips are a good addition. They help provide power on the upstroke and the hard soles help protect your feet from fatigue.
Where to Ride:
City Trails: Think of our “city trails” as the place you would ride your cruiser, hybrid, or mountain bike. Some of these trails work great for road bikes, some not so much. Watch for cracks and potholes! Basically, all of our bayous either have or are getting a bike trail along the bayou. Here are a few of the trails that are great to ride on, right now.
Buffalo Bayou Trail — A flagship trail for the new Bayou Trail plans, Buffalo Bayou Trail is a loop from Downtown to Shepherd. With a little extra trail on the east side of downtown. You can enter the east bayou trail either off of Sabine (you need to look for the dirt path at the bridge) or just after the railroad tracks east of downtown. Head east and you will be on a trail that few ever travel. The trail ends near the Harrisburg Bike Trail and you can then follow the Bike Route signs for a few more miles.
Columbia Tap Trail — Head out of downtown from the intersection of Dowling and Walker. You can follow the path south under the 45 freeway elevated and you will connect with the Braes Bayou Trail.
Braes Bayou Trail is a well-built cement path that is expanding every day. It’s one of my favorite trails. It can be a little confusing where the new trails are being added as you may run into a dead-end here and there and you may have to cross a bridge on the street a time or three, but all in all a well-built cement path that is expanding. Presently it goes from MacGregor Park all the way to Fondren on the southwest side (which gives you about 40 miles round trip). Early 2017 the Braes Bayou trail from the east side and downtown will connect to the MacGregor park trail. You can also take the Columbia Tap north into downtown and then connect with Buffalo Bayou or White Oak on the north side of town.
Riding the streets of Houston. Bikes are considered vehicles in Houston and are allowed on the city streets. As a vehicle, they must obey all rules of the road. This said, use caution riding on the streets. Houston motorists are not used to seeing bikes on the roads (this is beginning to change). Our Bikeways Trail Map looks a little like a multi-colored bowl of spaghetti but does give you an idea of where trail lanes and trails are.
Mountain Bikes: GHORBA.org — best resource for mountain biking in Houston, trail maps, mountain biking advocacy, and racing. Memorial Park — There are about 8 miles of trails that weave in and around the south side of Memorial Drive. The trails are “color-coded” but the color does NOT designate difficulty (think snow skiing). Also, these are two-way multi-use trails and can be very busy on the weekends. Remember that cyclists yield to both foot traffic and horses. Also, be very wary of dogs off-leash or on Flexi-leashes. Bad for both the riders and the dogs. Stephen F Austin State Park (SFA) is a hidden gem west of Houston. Though this trail does not feature any technical features to speak of, the layout and flow of the trail make for a fast ride similar to Double Lake. Swooping through the trees along the banks of the Brazos River the trails at SFA are smooth and flowy unlike the root gardens of Houston proper. (compliments of GHORBA)
Huntsville State Park — About 7 miles south of Huntsville. A moderately easy day hike through the woods surrounding Lake Raven. Special attractions: Lake, lush forest. Trailhead at Nature Center.
Double Lake — Only 1 hour away from Houston & over 18 miles of new trails. A 5-mile hiking trail leads to Big Creek Scenic Area, and there is also access to the Lone Star Hiking Trail, which offers an opportunity to see the “backcountry” of East Texas. There are many places you can jump on the trails from the roads, or go to the Group Lodge and find the main trailhead there...
Lake Houston — The Forest Trail, which does not feature much elevation change, is difficult due to its length — an 8.82-mile loop. It starts at the parking lot. Road Riding: Terry Hershey & George Bush Parks — together these two connecting parks have about 40 miles (round trip) of riding completely off roads (except for a very small connector road). They can be more congested with walkers, strollers, dogs, etc. on the east side and then thin out as you travel west. One of the best trails for road bikes in town.
There are several Club Rides around town. These rides typically leave from bike shops and average 20–25 miles plus. Be warned, if you are not an experienced (and quick) rider, you could get left behind. These rides assume the level of rider is advanced UNLESS they note it on their site. You can find them by checking the different bike shops around town. BCO does a lot of road riding and you can typically find 1–3 rides each week. We do not drop our riders, it’s just more fun not to!
Kelly Howard is a familiar face on the local outdoor and fitness scene. She has helped people connect with nature and one another over outdoor recreation and adventure in Houston and around the world for the past 18 years. As the owner of Bayou City Outdoors the state’s largest outdoor activity and social club, Kelly loves to introduce people to fitness and fun in unconventional ways. When she’s not in the office she can be found kayaking, biking, climbing, and camping.