As Austin consistently ranks as one of the most bike-friendly cities in the U.S. I was curious to give it a spin during a short November visit and while under gray, gloomy skies that hid a few scattered showers riding the compact state capital’s sights in dedicated bike lanes and miles of scenic trails it’s easy to see how the honors were earned.
Austin: The Most Bike-Friendly City in Texas by Streetfilms is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 International License.
I’d considered renting a bike and exploring Austin on my own but as it’s more fun and informative joining a guided tour I stopped by Austin Bike Tours and Rentals converted shipping container located just off Congress Street, the city’s main downtown thoroughfare, and found Austin’s Lakes, Springs and Bridges tour in need of one more person to go ahead that afternoon so signed up for this leisurely two-hour spin. The tour is USD$49 and may be booked online in advance or in person but in low Winter season is subject to availability.
The tour moves from the historic heart of Austin down the Third Street dedicated bike lanes through the nearby Rainey Street Historic District, a colourful cluster of bungalows many of which have been converted to lounges, bars and restaurants.
After leaving leafy Rainey Street the tour cycles onto Butler Trail, a 10-mile trail network that loops around the Colorado River and Lady Bird Lake named for the wife of former American President and Texas political icon Lyndon Johnson and boasts some excellent spots for downtown skyline photos.
This skyline has changed dramatically as the city of Austin’s population has doubled to 920,000 in the last 30 years largely as a result of an influx of high tech companies such as Dell, IBM and Samsung.
When the Congress Avenue Bridge opened in 1980 engineers had no idea crevices in the concrete designed underneath the structure would prove to be an ideal refuge for millions of bats but that’s what has come to pass and the furry flyers have become a local tourist attraction through the Summer month as crowds gather around dusk every night to watch the swarm of up to 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats emerge from their roosts.
As my visit was in November there were no bats to be seen as they fled to warmer locales in Mexico.
The last stop on the bike tours is at Barton Springs, the oldest spring-fed pool in Texas whose waters stay at a constant 68 – 70 Fahrenheit or 20 Celsius making it warm enough for year round swimming. The brown Colorado River waters gave way to blue waters as we rode alongside the creek the springs feed.
Despite the quick shower that force our small tour group to shelter under a sprawling oak tree at Barton Springs the tour was very much enjoyed and tour leader Hannah was excellent in highlighting Austin’s history, its changing skyline with the tech boom in recent years and the expanding pedestrian and bike network that makes this flat, compact city core so easy to explore on two wheels. The Austin’s Lakes, Springs and Bridges tour is a great mix of urban and parkland trails but there are other general tours such as the Austin Icons Tour as well as specialty tours like the Texas Craft Beer tour and Music Icons tour to offer enough choice for almost everyone. Some tours may not operate in the Winter off season so it’s worth checking in with the very friendly staff at the kiosk just off Congress Street as to availability.