In 2010, Bicycling magazine rated Memphis one of the worst cities in America for cycling. Two years later, it was rated one of the most improved. Just seven years from our low point, Memphis has made dramatic progress in becoming bike-friendly, and thanks to city planning and grassroots efforts, biking is now a realistic and enjoyable option for everything from work commutes to weekend adventures. Whether you’re a confident rider or just getting started, there are always new ways to get rolling.
First things first: “You don’t need special clothes, a new bike or particular skill,” says Sara Studdard, president of Explore Bike Share, treasurer of Bike Walk TN and host of The Bike Nerds podcast. Sara recommends making small personal goals to get started.
“Not too long ago I used to drive to the Greenline or a park to bike. I was terrified of biking on the road – fear of safety, fear of not looking cool, fear of embarrassing myself,” says Sara. “I challenged myself to bike one block from the house, and then two blocks, and then ask people that biked what routes they used, and then biked three blocks, and so on.”
If you’ve heard references to the Greenline and the Greenway, but don’t know one from the other, we’ve got you covered. Each offers a different biking experience — the Greenline, a direct, paved ride from Cordova to Midtown; the Greenway, a more circuitous path along the Wolf River.
One of the most inspiring elements of these trails is how they’ve been embraced and expanded by the community. The Greenline officially ends at Tillman Street, but a community-funded project extended bike lanes to reach Overton Park via the Hampline. A group of East Memphis neighbors also worked together to get funding to build an additional Greenline access point. Construction of the South Memphis Greenline is underway, also stemming from a neighborhood planning process.
If you’ve been downtown lately and noticed the fun, new blue checkerboard patterns on certain streets and corners, you’re seeing the first phase of the Great Streets Pilot Project, a one-year test to make downtown’s public spaces more enjoyable for pedestrians and cyclists. While biking to the riverfront, you can also stop along the Peabody Place promenade to rest and relax on Great Streets’ public plaza, outfitted with furniture donated to the project by IKEA.
Once you’re refreshed, head over to Big River Crossing to enjoy the incredible views as you ride over the Mississippi River (and possibly a trip to Pancho’s once you reach the other side). And if you’re really wanting to stretch your legs, you can connect to the Big River Trail, a 70-mile path along the river levees that extends from Marion to Marianna, Arkansas. The trail will also soon feature a seven-mile loop on the Arkansas flood plain.
If riding downtown isn’t quite your speed, or you’re looking for varied terrain without heading to the edges of the city, the Bikesmith’s Pump Track in Midtown provides a 4,500-square-foot contained dirt track for riders of all levels. The Bikesmith also has a mobile repair truck, so if you need to get your bike in order, they’ll come right to you.
Sometimes the best way to get started is to take it slow. The Memphis Medical District Collaborative has hosted two seasons of Freewheel, a series of intentionally relaxed group rides that feature historic and culturally relevant sites in the city, and they plan to announce their next season soon. New startup City Outpost offers weekend bike rentals at Big River Crossing and Overton Park. They also work with group planners to coordinate outdoor group events and downtown guided bike tours. Dwayne Jones also leads a slow ride in Orange Mound called Bike Ride 901, and the Memphis Hightailers keep a monthly schedule of group rides for varying levels of intensity.
Parks and Rec
From Tom Lee Park’s riverside path to Overton Park’s old forest trail to Shelby Farms’ newly expanded resources, parks throughout Memphis provide an easy and accessible way to try biking in a variety of settings. And since many of these parks are now connected through the Greenline, Great Streets and other projects, biking to a park is easier than ever.
Education and Support
Even with all these places to ride, getting back on the bike can be a challenge for many, but a number of local groups are working to make biking even more accessible and equitable. Revolutions Bike Co-Op not only sells rehabbed bikes and offers workshops to teach people how to rehab their own, but they also host rides and classes aimed specifically at adults wanting to get more comfortable with city biking, as well as a monthly Women’s Bike Chat. The aforementoined Memphis Hightailers boasts more than 20 league-certified cycling instructors, and they offer monthly classes. The Memphis chapter of Black Girls Do Bike seeks to support and grow the community of black women and girls who are passionate about cycling. If you’re interested in making biking part of your workday, Commute Options Memphis is a great guide.
On the Horizon
Memphis is in an exhilarating and innovative stage of its biking evolution as we prepare for the launch of Bike Share, which will bring 600 on-demand bikes to Memphis in 2018, and support the ongoing efforts of the Mid-South Greenprint, an ambitious 25-year plan to create 500 miles of greenway trails and 200 miles of bicycle paths connecting the three-state region surrounding Memphis, as well as other recreation areas and amenities to improve the area’s overall livability and sustainability.
With our increasing number of cyclists, how you bike in Memphis is as individual as you are. “Today biking is a huge part of my life — how I get groceries, work out, socialize with friends and an option to get to work,” says Sara. “That being said, if at the end of the day, you want to just bike in your driveway or put your bike in your car to get to a green space, you do. Biking doesn’t define you. You define it.”