“And it’s not even close to exercise….”

Just last weekend, after a meeting of the Central Division of the American Philosophical Association, I did a bike tour of New Orleans with the Confederacy of Cruisers. It was a lot of fun. But I was amused by their slogan, and that it’s necessary. “Not even close to exercise!” Heaven forbid.

And it’s true that it wasn’t “exercise.” That’s a word I think we might need to stop using. (See Is it time to ditch exercise?) We covered 6 miles, very slowly with lots of stops, in 3 hours. But I’m not sure that I needed their reassurance.

I love bike tours as a way of seeing new places. In the past, I did two in Amsterdam with Mike’s Bike Tours. In both cities the fat tire bikes are good for avoiding tram tracks. Slow biking is also just about the right speed to see the neighbourhoods of a new city. Walking tends to take you along main roads, as the fastest way to get from place to place. Cars go too fast and you miss the feel of street life. But biking through neighbourhoods with locals on their bikes feels just about perfect to me. Both tours had great hosts who talked up a storm about the history and culture of the cities.

Here’s a brief blurb about the New Orleans tour, which I’d definitely recommend. And the picture to the right is of the cruisy style bikes we rode. Wide tires, step through frames, single speed, and coaster brakes. Fun.

“New Orleans is home to beautiful architecture and an incredibly colorful past, with a history and culture unrivaled in America. What makes it so interesting is that on every street the past is interwoven with the present; In the Marigny, you’ll bike past people walking their dogs on land that a plantation owner lost over a lifetime of craps games. Or, a few blocks away, you may get waved at by local folks sitting on porches next to bars that have been there for generations. The neighborhoods are filled with historic houses with all the beautiful archtiectural detail that comes from our Creole past. The neighborhoods are filled with restaurants; both decades old and newly renovated, parks, and monuments that hold amazing stories of the city’s past. We will bring you close up and into the heart of it all, and we’ll bike the way all of us locals do – on classic cruisers with overstuffed spring seats and upright handlebars, no multiple speed bikes here…we only have one: casual.

Starting down-river from the French Quarter, we will cruise the narrow streets touring the Faubourg Marigny and the Bywater,  early 19th century New Orleans suburbs. Originally home to the Creoles and Free People of Color, and later the Irish and Italians, this neighborhood now belongs to the art galleries and musicians, although the bars haven’t changed through all of that. The decorative facades of traditional shotgun houses and corner stores set the perfect backdrop to begin our journey. Continuing, we wind our way along the oak-lined beauty of Esplanade Avenue, peddling past antebellum mansions towards the Treme, home of the largest settlement of Free People of Color in the pre-Civil War era, today still the residence of traditional brass bands and social clubs.

Sound good?  Well, that is only a small taste of what we may share: local heroes like Ernie K Doe; the musical culture of the Treme and  neighborhood parades and Jazz funerals that fill our streets will be explained.  Local sights and oddities will be seen and plenty of stories will be shared. There is so much to see in New Orleans, and we customize each tour on the spot based on your mood, your interests and questions, the weather, even if you are in the mood for a Bloody Mary, or Abita beer at one of our many neighborhood bars, we can make that happen; the tour is yours.  At the rest stop (conveniently located at a classic New Orleans neighborhood bar where you can cool off on hot days and warm up on the cold ones, the important subject of what and where to eat, drink, and see music will be covered as we make sure the time you spend after our ride is as good as the ride itself; we are New Orleans hosts, this is what makes us happy.  This sounds like a lot, and it is, but the neighborhoods are close and filled with sights. We promise, you will not be bored. And it’s not even close to exercise.

We only ride in small groups so you can truly see what you want, and we cover about 6 miles so we can take it easy with a chance to enjoy it all. See a house with intriguing architecture and a beautiful paint job that you want a picture of? Just say the word. Want a refreshing raspberry snowball to help beat the heat, that can be done, too. A cold Abita on a hot day. We hope to offer an opportunity for you to discover and enjoy New Orleans to its fullest. And when we’re done, you can return home finally knowing the difference between a Y’at and a Who Dat.

We supply the friendly guide, tuned-up bicycles, safety helmets for those who want them, and an encyclopedic knowledge of the colorful past of the Big Easy. We’ll even supply bottles of ice water…you needn’t bring anything but pedal power.”

cycling · family

Cycling holidays, Part 1: Rail trails

Some of my favorite holidays have involved bicycles. No surprise really. Riding a bike makes me happy. I feel like a kid again. Zoom! Whee!

As summer starts to seem like a possibility again–days are getting longer, sun is getting stronger–I’m starting to think about some of my favourite vacations. Rail trail cycling holidays are fun, affordable, family and beginner friendly. I highly recommend them.

We’ve done four rail trail holidays, unsupported, where we carried our own stuff. Two of them were in Quebec on the Petit Train de Nord, a 200 km rail trail through Quebec ski country. Families used to take the train from Montreal up north to the ski hills but no more. Now people drive and the railway was abandoned. It’s been remade into a terrific cycling/cross country ski trail through some lovely little towns and beautiful countryside. The third was in New Zealand on the Otago Central Rail Trail. And when the kids were younger we mucked about for a few days–no big distances–on the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail in North East Victoria region of Australia. Each trip took three-four days.

These were perfect holidays. Easily affordable, just a very minimal fee to register on the trail, and in Quebec the camping option was easy. These aren’t bike trips you do for speed or big distances.  Riding on the trails away from cars is very safe and relaxing. There were lots of families doing the trail both in Quebec and in NZ.  And in Quebec there’s no shortage of ice cream, coffee, and beer (if that’s your thing) along the way. They’ve remade the train stations into little depots that offer services to cyclists and cross country skiers. Some even have bike shops. In NZ the trail was tough enough that you really needed a fat tire bike but I happily did the Quebec trail on my cyclocross bike and the sections closer to the city are paved.

Also, note to others, rail trails are pretty flat. The steepest grade is the grade a train can manage which, after all that coffee and ice cream, thankfully isn’t much. So there are some long slow climbs (you know the sort where, if you’re not thinking about it you wonder why you’re going so slow) but no real hills. Also, there are tour companies both in NZ and in Quebec that provide bike transport to the end of the trail so you can ride in one direction only. Again, that makes the distances more manageable if you’re doing it with kids and/or beginners and you want to see the whole trail.

I’ve also done some longer bike trips, organized by tour companies, without children along, with different degrees of luxury and comfort and I’ll post about those another time.

I’d love to do more of these short trips but there aren’t any converted rail trails here in Ontario and the camping options are often too far apart. I’ve heard Manitoulin Island is an easy place to do a self supported bike tour. That might be next for my daughter and me.

I’m happy camping or staying in bed and breakfasts. Have you had any short bike holidays you’ve organized yourself? Let me know how they went…