Welcome to the third installment of our series on bicycling and transportation culture in New Orleans by former Portlander and BikePortland contributor Erin Greeson. Erin currently lives in New Orleans. Read the rest of the series here.
Part III: Rich Community, Gumbo Culture
New Orleans’ traditions of art, music, creativity and festivity translate to its bike culture.
At the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, seasoned locals lock dozens, if not hundreds, of bikes near the entry gates (pictured below). They know to avoid driving anywhere near the scene, which draws music lovers from around the world: topping out at over 425,000 attendees in 2013.
There are bicycle “second-line” parades organized by Bike Easy, which put a two-wheeled spin on a deep-rooted New Orleans tradition. There are colorful, quirky bike groups. Thursday night meet-up rides feature themes reminiscent of Portland’s “Pedalpalooza” rides, New Orleans-style. NOLA Social Ride hosts a signature Thursday ride and other rides throughout the week. Bikes are often incorporated into costumes and parades; costumes and festive attire are commonly worn in New Orleans, not just for Halloween and Mardi Gras, but for occasions ranging from Saint Patrick’s Day to Saints games.
New Orleans even houses a biker gang. Not the motor-powered kind that initiates the hero of Tim Burton’s bike classic, “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure,” but rather, but a friendly gang of men on hand-built custom man-powered choppers (pictured). They blast hip-hop and bounce from mounted sound systems, their fabricated bikes flashing with neon and chrome. Some boast thematic builds, including a shiny blue Bud Light-themed bike.
(Photo by Scott Golante)
On another point of the spectrum, there are spandex-clad cyclists and bike racers in New Orleans. The NOLA Bulls are avid cyclists and vibrant citizens, including founders of the annual San Fermin in Nueva Orleans and crossover members of the Krewe of the Rolling Elvi (like the 610 Stompers profiled in Part 2, a locally beloved Mardi Gras krewe). Serious about both revelry and community, Team NOLA Bulls were the leading fundraisers for the annual MS 150 ride, raising over $52,000 in 2013 with 10 team members among the top 100 fundraisers (pictured).
The Semi-Tough Cycling Club is working hard to cultivate a competitive cyclocross scene in New Orleans. The Semi-Tough group also hosts road rides, from fast criterium practice “loops” around City Park to early morning training rides around the city and on the levee.
Just as bike groups are booming, small businesses increasingly cater to New Orleans’ growing bike culture. On Decatur Street, Bike Nola hosts tours and rents bikes with “AAA-style” roadside assistance included as part of the deal. If a renter becomes stranded with a flat or mechanical issue, repair service is offered 24/7. Some tourists prefer to bring their own bikes to New Orleans, such as Fabian Dettling and Isabel Ziegler of Switzerland. I greeted them as they rolled into the French Quarter on a well-seasoned tandem, part of an epic adventure northward from Mexico.
This list and series only begin to touch upon New Orleans’ vibrant bike scene. There are countless creative minds, advocates, passionate cyclists and everyday citizens commuting by bike, shaping and gradually changing the nature of the city’s road culture. For more in-depth perspective, visit the beautiful Crescent City to experience its bike offerings first-hand.