How to Have Fun and Explore Your City By Bicycle! (And Not Die Doing It)

I first picked up cycling while I was going to college at JMU in beautiful, rural Harrisonburg, VA.

JMU is almost always listed as one of the most fun schools (ie: party schools) in the U.S., but it is definitely not known for its bar scene. Downtown H’burg is eclectic and friendly, and although it is growing, it is not an urban area at all. 

The lack of hustle bustle made it an AWESOME place to bike, however. It usually only took about 2 or 3 miles to get out of populated regions. Then, it was bliss…

Harrisonburg is located right in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, between 2 mountain ranges, so roads in and right outside the city were hilly, but not killer mountains or anything. It was a quick jaunt to get to the mountains, however, if one wanted to climb and kill themselves (but the views are worth it….). Most of the county that surrounded Harrisonburg was Mennonite farmland, which meant that there weren’t very many cars either. Only horse buggies 🙂

Mountains!

Mountains!

Also- ponies!
Also- ponies!

Yup, biking around Hburg was pretty sweet riding.

Last summer, I graduated and sadly had to move on from my fave place on earth.

WHY?

Because I got into grad school at VCU! Let me tell you- Richmond is fairly close to Hburg (~2 hours) but it is completely different in so many ways!

Hipsters, fixed gears, coffee shops, homeless people, busy streets, financial districts, a dirty river, Civil War history memorabilia everywhere….It was mind-boggling. I didn’t own flannel or drink PBR or own a fixed gear. AAAAH! 

Also, with all these cobblestone streets, how in the heck was I supposed to ride my road bike? How was I to commute to class without getting hit by a crazy driver?? Do I wear my helmet at all times?? (the answer is yes!) What was with all these one-way streets?

Eventually, I learned slowly but surely my way around a city on a bike without getting shot, hit, or banged up too much. The journey to that point could be a whole other post…it was such a learning experience…

For now, I’ll leave y’all with these tips for how to successfully bike around an urban area:

1. As mentioned before, WEAR A HELMET.  I was hesitant to wear a helmet while commuting to class (duh, had to look cute), until I saw with my own two eyes a guy get hit by a car while on his bike. He was right in front of me, too. Scary stuff.  For your brain’s sake, wear a helmet.

2. Find a group to ride with. Somehow, group rides ALWAYS seem to know the back roads and shortcuts that will take you out of the city itself and onto the quiet rural roads. Also, it is an easy way to meet people with your same interests (biking!) plus you get to ride with cute boys in spandex. Score!

3. Get Lost. I am guilty of being the planning type and mapping out routes before I embark on a ride. Sometimes, however, it is almost more fun to get lost, find new places to ride, and then figure out my way back home.  Tip: bring a smart phone with a mapping app with you in case you actually get really lost.

4. Save Money. In a smaller, but busy city like Richmond, it is often quicker to commute by bike than by car.  Why spend money and time on a car when you can get fit, save money and time, and do good to the environment by riding your bike? Many urban areas have a bike path/route system, that are easy and safe for commuting purposes if you want to avoid busy roads. ALSO, something super nice about commuting everywhere by bike is that you don’t need a DD when going out to bars or parties. Thank. The. Lord.

5. Explore. What better way to learn about your city than by exploring it by bicycle?? Find a friend and have fun visiting historical sites (Richmond has a LOT of battlefields just outside the city, for example), trying out coffee (or pie) shops, and/or seeing beautiful views of your city,  while enjoying a fun AND cost-free date 🙂

I actually somehow gathered the energy to do a 2.5 hour exploration ride  in the 95 degree heat today.

Why it rocked:

  • I deepened my biker tan lines! So unfortunate looking, but I can’t help but be proud of them 🙂
  • I didn’t die from heat stroke. Always a plus in my book.
  • And, I got to explore a little bit of Richmond that I hadn’t really noticed before:
Mini Statue of Liberty in Richmond? FREEDOM BABY!

Mini Statue of Liberty in Richmond? FREEDOM BABY!

Country Roads, take me home

Country Roads, take me home

Civil War Hospital!

Civil War Hospital!

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there”– Lewis Carroll

What are you doing? Get out there!!

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About kathleen228

Recent grad from James Madison University. Obsessed with all things to do with biking, mountains, bacon, and beer.
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