Nashville Is (Bike) Friendly!

Nashville is known for many things: country music, Southern gentility, comfort food, and Nicole Kidman sightings. Cycling is not among these distinctions.

Tandem at Halcyon Bike Shop - Trisha and I need one of these!!

Tandem at Halcyon Bike Shop - Trisha and I need one of these!!

When people speak of bike friendly cities in the US, they speak of Portland, Seattle, Minneapolis, Boulder, Davis, San Francisco, Madison, and Chicago. I am quick to extol the virtues of Chicago’s efforts to promote cycling. Does it follow that Chicago is bike friendly? Usually I think so, at least for North America, but riding in the chaotic and congested city is often stressful and occasionally scary.

Group Ride

Group Ride to Brunch at Fido

Back to Nashville. In contrast to Chicago, there are very few efforts to accommodate cycling. Maybe three bike lanes, virtually no bike parking, barely any other cyclists, and a population that never considers cycling as transportation. When riding around in a car, the roads are intimidating and crowded with fast traffic. Does it follow that Nashville is not bike friendly? Not so fast. During my visit last weekend for our friend’s wedding, I had an eye-opening experience. Once I got on a bike and followed Trisha around to brunch and a couple of shops, taking her secret back routes, it hit me that Nashville can be great for cycling.

Peaceful Nashville Street

Peaceful Nashville Street

Rent a bike in Nashville!

Rent a bike in Nashville! $30 a day at Halcyon Bike Shop

The secondary streets are totally peaceful, with very little traffic and practically no parallel parking (the bane of my Chicago cycling existence). Cars give a ridiculous amount of room when they pass, perhaps not knowing what to do with a bike on the road. Finally, although not nearly as dense as Chicago, the distance from place to place is not so bad.

5-31 Trisha dahon 1AA the bat

I always wear my helmet in Chicago and I was really surprised by how safe and comfortable I felt riding around Nashville without one (let’s not debate helmets right now, m’kay). Granted, I rode on a Sunday and I know it’s not always so peaceful, but the experience made me rethink what I consider a bike friendly city. The main ingredient missing in Nashville is people cycling (and boy does Trisha stand out with her flowing hair and flapping skirts!).

So what do you all think? Do you consider your city bike friendly and what makes you say “yes” or “no?”

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26 thoughts on “Nashville Is (Bike) Friendly!

  1. anna says:

    Hm, it’s difficult to say what bike friendly means. I guess Vienna is bike friendly, because cycling is not that dangerous although some of the bike lanes are. People are aware of cyclists most of the time, but one has to be very very careful at intersections. The biggest problem for me are not cars though, but pedestrians. There are a lot and especially tourists are not aware of bike paths and such. While walking people don’t think about bikes. I had some very dangerous moments when pedestrians suddenly jumped on the road without looking (even at red lights, e.g. to catch trams). Although you can by now see cyclists everywhere, you can’t hear them and that’s what makes them kind of invisible too.
    I feel safer riding in my hometown without any bicycle infrastructure. Just because there are less cars and the ones that overtake give plenty of room. We also don’t have any traffic lights, but people seem to know the traffic rules better and respect them (less problems with somebody taking my right of way). Pedestrians are also more careful, and not so many. More people cycle themselves and I think that’s what makes the difference too.

    • Dottie says:

      Interesting to hear that you have the same experience of feeling safer in a city with less cycling infrastructure. To a certain extent, a big city is a big city, with the accompanying problems, no matter how many bike lanes you throw at it (Amsterdam, Copenhagen, etc. aside, of course).

  2. Ghost Rider says:

    I wouldn’t go as far to say that Tampa is bike-friendly…but we’re making strides toward that — good advocacy groups in the area and slow but steady infrastructure improvements.

    However, for the very reason you mention — the secondary streets and “secret routes” — I find riding around our city to be quite enjoyable. No one ventures off the main roads, so by going a couple blocks into a neighborhood on a parallel street means that I can get to every place I need to without fighting hordes of inconsiderate motorists!

  3. Erich says:

    Lansing is perhaps surprisingly bike-friendly. We have a gorgeous river trail that takes you to all the major locations along a 15+ mile route. The roads seem to be getting more and more bike lanes lately, and I’ve noticed much more bike parking than in other cities, though there are of course many dead zones.

    That said, I’d say the attitude of drivers is pretty poor here, and few think bikes belong on the road. This is near the motor city after all, and people love their big cars. But really, for a small-sized city in Michigan, it’s almost har to believe Lansing is as good with bikes as it is. The only nicer city to bike in Michigan would probably be Ann Arbor.

  4. Cyclin Missy says:

    Grand Rapids, MI is not bicycle friendly in my opinion. We have zero bike lanes, fast traffic, most roads without shoulders and motorists that are un-used to and impatient with bikes.

    However, we’re beginning to see change. There is a growing cycling community, the mayor supports cycling in the city and the city continues to add to a relatively extensive multi-use paved trail system. We also had our first bike summit this spring. It’s going to take a lot of time and work, but I have hope for this place!

    I agree with Erich that Ann Arbor is probably the best city for cycling in Michigan right now.

  5. Trisha says:

    Yay, Nashville! Funny thing is, we saw a lot more cyclists Sunday than I usually do on weekdays. Still nothing compared to Chicago, though. Would say, as you did, that both cities are bike friendly in different ways.

  6. Kaitlin says:

    I live in Minneapolis, so yes. I have a 5 mile commute and well over 4 miles of it is completely out of traffic on a dedicated bike trail. That said, the winter is brutal and the weather leaves behind some gigantic potholes. I’m sure I’ll go flying off my bike one of these days after hitting one.

  7. Matt says:

    While i agree that there is a lack of bike parking in nashville, i disagree about the “three bike lanes” and “barely any other cyclist”. There are over 100 miles of striped bike lanes plus numerous greenways with bike paths. My commute takes me from east nashville to hillsboro village on the west side. A 5 mike trip. it is rare that i don’t see at least one other cyclist in those 5 miles. once at the office, i watch at least 25 cyclists go by my window everyday (including trisha). the weekend you were in town there was a slow seven mile charity bike ride on saturday that took place two blocks from Halcyon bikes. the ride raised money to plant trees around nashville. there was well over 100 cyclist there. i’m glad you left with a more positive view of cycling in nashville than what you came in with but i think if your weekend was planned slightly different your view of cycling in Nashville would be even more positive.

    The Nashville Planning department and the Mayors office along with community groups have worked very hard to improve conditions for cyclist in Nashville. here is a recent article about how bicycling in nashville has changed over the last ten years.

    • Trisha says:

      Nashville has a growing bike community, but it’s still nothing like Chicago’s…which I think is what Dottie meant. Charity and group rides there attract hundreds, and you can’t ride six blocks without seeing another cyclist, let alone a mile (or five).

      Glad to hear Bikes for Branches got such a good turnout; we were at the aforementioned wedding and had to miss it. Nashville has a ton of potential and I’m so happy that Karl Dean is making bikes a priority. Our city is getting there slowly but surely (just like me on my way to work!).

  8. jj says:

    I live in Portland, so I’ll just leave it at that ;)

    As far as cycling in Michigan goes, it’s obviously nowhere as big as GR or A2 or Lansing, but Traverse City is a delightful place to bike around in (in the summer at least!). There are multi-use paths around town and the TART trail for recreational riding. I’m always amazed at how many people I see out and about around town on bikes there when we’re there.

  9. sara says:

    I hate parallel parked cars too. They line the bike paths that New Haven does have & I know I have to be extremely vigilant of drivers pulling out, opening doors, etc. b/c for the most part, I don’t think drivers are thinking too much of the potential cyclists in the bike lanes right next to their parking…

    However, it has been so fun to see the numbers of cyclists on the streets of New Haven grow exponentially as the weather turns warmer & warmer.

  10. Jen says:

    I live in a city that has a bike trail but it’s located outside of town. Mostly for recreation because it really doesn’t help commuters. My city is not bicycle friendly so I use back roads to get around. The drivers that scare me are usually behind the wheel of a large pickup truck. They tend to be very aggressive. Not to say all people that drive pickups are aggressive but I seem to have the most problems with them.

    As far as bike lanes go, I have mixed feelings. We had them where I lived in Florida but they tend to collect a lot of litter making them a bit dangerous at times. I do think that they help drivers become more aware that they do have to share the road.

    Hopefully, together, we’ll all start a trend and get people to think of bikes as a form of transportation and not just a recreation.

    • Ghost Rider says:

      That’s my experience with the few bike lanes here in Tampa…they become repositories for roadkill and broken bottles, and they’re all on pretty major streets. Just by cutting a few blocks in, I don’t have to worry about debris OR traffic!

  11. Johnny says:

    In Baltimore, the city government hired a bike planner who’s doing a great job of getting bike infrastructure (lanes, racks, etc.) put in place to encourage people to get on two weeks. It’s working pretty well, too. I guess that with the government work, Baltimore is literally becoming a bike-friendly CITY, LOL.

  12. Boston is only beginning to seriously integrate commuter bike lanes into the city structure, whereas Vienna is pretty well covered — but somehow Boston feels safer. Out of my handful of friends in Vienna, three have been in serious cycling accidents.

  13. I think that attitude of the people in communities can have a big effect on how safe it feels to ride a bike. Infrastructure is important but I feel much safer when the drivers are aware that I have a right to the road, too.

  14. Melissa Hope S says:

    I do not think that Aurora is bike friendly. Things are far away from eachother, the roads are narrow (no bike lanes, ever), and sidewalks will often end without warning. We do have a nice bike path, but they go far from any towns because they are mostly for leisure.

  15. E A says:

    Chicago has the bike lanes, but that parallel parking is an issue. Myself and two other cyclists got caught waiting for a car to parallel park this morning, along with the cars. The driver was half in the bike lane/half in the roadway… so we all got stuck. And then there’s the threat of getting doored.

    But… I love that I can get around town on my bike.

    When I go out to the suburbs, I don’t feel quite as welcome on a bike … Usually there are only main roads and they are clogged with fast moving traffic. Unless there’s a trail…. it can be scarier out in the burbs.

  16. meligrosa says:

    you all are so darn adorable!!! I bet the weather is great.

    and YES sf-is a big yes, because I bike evryday. there’s HUGE room for improvements, yet cant really complain much at all.

  17. 2whls3spds says:

    The area I live in is not particularly cyclist friendly. It is semi rural, full of lollypop subdivisions (the ones that only have one way in and out) the roads are narrow with no shoulders and drivers average 7-10mph over the insane posted speed limit of 55mph. There are very few if any parallel routes, in the larger city nearby most of the retail has been shoved to the outer edge of town and it is only accessible by massive 6 lane+ roadways, again very few parallel routes. The few that exist quite often don’t go through because they were dead ended to stop pass through car traffic. But we ride anyway and hope for the future.


  18. Carolyn says:

    Prince George, Canada, is becoming more bike friendly. We have some bike lanes and some bike paths. But they tend to have cars parked in them, or garbage, glass, etc.., so I tend to bike on road. Most drivers are good, but some aren’t so nice to cyclists. Still, our City has a long way to go to really be bike friendly.

    Our new Mayor is very bike friendly, he sometimes bikes to work. Our City had a Bike forum this past March, and also just had it’s first Bike to Work Week, which was VERY successful. So, there is hope!

    Kaitlin, from MN, I know about Potholes, I almost went through a big one today, thank goodness that I didn’t.

  19. betty says:

    Looks like an awfully friendly place to ride a bike if you ask me. Love the tandem bike pic too! I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for a sweet two seater :)

  20. I don’t Nashville, but i think every city has the potential to be a bike city if the people living in it makes an effort promoting bike as a way of transportation.

  21. Ken says:

    I know this late, but I live in Nashville too, and wanted to comment.

    My frustration is that many of the bikes lanes here suddenly end when you need them most – at a busy intersection with no alternative route. One minute you’re happily riding along, then you come to one of those “end bicycle route” signs. Wow, thanks.

    And where I live in Bellevue, it’s dangerous to ride a bike to any of the main shopping centers. The traffic is fast, and no room or tolerance for bikes. There ARE some designated bike lanes here in the residential/condo area, but they take you in circles, and end just when you need them most. (read above)

  22. Redeyedtreefr0g says:

    I just moved to Klamath Falls, Oregon, from the Palm Coast area in Florida. We got here in June and it’s now September, getting chillier. I’m excited for and at the same time very nervous about the coming winter.

    As far as cycling: I love it here! There is a paved rails-to-trails path, and though it tends to have several large cracks which sometimes has me easing up to stand on the pedals a bit, it goes right to downtown. Very good positioning in that regard, I can go from home to downtown with only a little neighborhood navigating to get to it.

    I just started commuting to the school bus yard on the 6th, 3 miles from home, 4 times a day. I use fairly common car roads to do it, a slightly curvy course from the neighborhood to a busy road, then a side road to the other busy road. The curvy one has wide lanes and passing is generally easy, as well the speed limit is low, though I know that most cars speed. The more traveled roads are straight and have a bi-directional “suicide” lane in the center, so passing is again easy for cars around me. I almost always have plenty of room. My side street is a little gravely…

    Cars give plenty or room usually, and I’ve only been honked at once all month, when I was on 6th street which is THE major artery here, the car route to downtown. The outside lane is very wide (I think two cars could fit in there, much less me) and I was going straight when there was a right turn lane. I guess a car behind me didn’t like me being in the very-right of the straight lane (because I wasn’t turning).

    It is 6 or 7 miles from home to downtown, I love it here!

  23. […] 2009 This month, Dottie discovered Nashville by bike and secured an exclusive interview with Gram Bev. We talked about the best skirts for cycling, […]

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