We've reached the halfway point in the year, and H-town residents have been enduring the scorching heat since mid-spring. Still, now that summer is in full swing, taking a ride on your bike can be a great way to explore the outdoors and get some much-needed fresh air.
Riding your bike in Houston can be a breeze; with all of our sunshine and blue skies, it’s an excellent and eco-friendly alternative means of transportation. But as a city that is always hustling, Houston also presents challenges for cyclists. Those native to the area know that many of Houston's roads and highways can be hazardous to navigate on four wheels, let alone two.
However, over the past few years, the city has been implementing new developments to make the Bayou City more bike-friendly. In April 2018, BikeHouston launched the Build 50 challenge to stimulate the construction of 50 miles or more of bike facilities, with an explicit goal for Houston to become a "gold level bicycle-friendly" city by 2027. The City of Houston Capital Improvement Project allocated $1.1 million per year for five years toward bicycle infrastructure in the same year.
Those efforts are starting to get recognized. In a recent analysis of data by Anytime Estimate, Houston ranked number 29 among the top 50 bike-friendly cities. The study, comparing the most populous metro areas in the US, used a methodology based on the percentage of workers who bike as a means of transportation and the number of biking trails, bike shops, and bike-share docking stations per 100,000 residents. Other data considered included Google search trends related to bikes and the number of days the city experienced unsafe air quality and precipitation. Overall, the Bayou City comes up second in the Lone Star State behind Austin at No. 16, but we nosed out San Antonio at No. 30. (Dallas, of course, came in last among ranked cities at No. 50.)
Even though Houston might be playing catch-up compared to other bikeable cities, sizable steps have been taken to make it safe and accessible for bikers. Another analysis of data conducted by Lawn Starter ranked Houston second in the top 5 cities with the most bike trails. Clearly, improvements in Houston’s pedal power are afoot, so how can locals best experience it?
If you're new to the city or to biking and want to get your cycle on, or you're simply looking for new routes to take, here are a few tips that can help make your biking experience a more satisfying one:
Be knowledgeable on biking hand signals and rules of the road
Knowing the rules of the road and how to properly communicate to other travelers can help every cyclist avoid disastrous accidents. If you are planning on making a right or left turn, extend your right/left arm approximately 100 feet before you turn, pointing in the appropriate direction. To indicate you are making a stop or slowing down, extend your left arm and bend it down to a 90 degree angle with your hand open. And remember that although you are on a bicycle, you must still obey all traffic laws, signs, and signals — those aren’t just for cars.
Understand the importance of bike lights, reflectors, and helmets
When riding, the helmet takes the responsibility of protecting the head and brain from any external or internal damage caused by hazards or accidents. Texas does not have any state laws requiring bicyclists of any age to wear one, but it is important for injury prevention. Reflectors and lights are visibility aids, especially for those who choose to cycle at night or early mornings. Reflectors bounce light back in the direction of its source — most notably, a car’s headlights. Bike lights also help increase your visibility to others, day or night, and enhance your ability to see everything around you.
Keep a bike repair kit handy
The city of Houston is massive — we rank as the nation’s fourth-largest city by population and fifth-largest by area (excluding Alaskan cities) — so you don’t want to begin your biking excursion on the wrong foot. A bike repair kit is the must-have essential on any cycling trip, just in case you snag a flat tire or need to lube your bike chain. Yours should contain, at minimum, a patch kit for flats, a spare tube, disposable gloves, first aid supplies, duct tape, a mini pump, cash or change, and tire levers to remove a tire.
Rent a bike through any Houston BCycle station
Stop at one of the 150 stations located throughout the city, and rent a bike for $3 every 30 minutes. Riders can also sign up for memberships priced at $13 monthly and $79 annually, and students/staff can sign up for $60 a year. You can also download the mobile app to view the station map and know how many bikes/docks are available.
Build your custom bike to your liking at any Trek Bikes Houston location
Whether it's for the road, mountain trails, hybrid, or electrical, create your own masterpiece. The staff will help you make the perfect bike — catering to your needs of navigating long miles of pavement, off-road trails, or suburban neighborhoods. Plus, Trek Bikes can align with your fitness goals or provide an easier way to commute to work to evade Houston traffic.
Make sure your wheels are ready for the pavement at Blue Line Bike Lab
Accidents are bound to happen, but you don’t have to wait until that moment comes to make sure your bike is in tip-top shape. Operating since December 2005, this local-sibling-owned bike shop is dedicated to everything it takes to tune up your bike, from lubricating chains to adjusting brake pads and replacing spokes. Don’t be afraid to let them polish your ride so that you shine along the trails.
Ride in comfort with the best cycling threads from REI Shop
Although you may want to go for a ride in whatever you pull out of the closet, if you want to ride in comfort you should invest in dedicated cycling clothes. This shop offers all apparel items for men, women, and kids: moisture-wicking biker shorts, sun-protective cycling jerseys, and cycling shoes, just to name a few.
Take a 15-mile scenic ride through Buffalo Bayou Park
Stretching over 160 acres, this park has so many attention-grabbers along its route. Cycle through a refreshing mist at the Wortham Foundation Grove, say hello to a squirrel or even a bird or two as your journey through the Green Tree Nature Area, or bring along your furry companion for a trot at the Johnny Steele Dog Park.
Bask in the Greenery of Brays Bayou Greenway Trail
Stretching 33 miles, beginning in Fort Bend County and flowing east toward the Ship Channel, this trail takes cyclists on a tour through Houston's rural and urban landscapes — a perfect greenway for those with the energy for long distances.
Staying hydrated during your trip is a must
Temperatures will only continue to rise during the summer months, and catching a gust of wind while riding may not be enough to keep you cool. Make sure to drink water an hour or two before you head out, especially on the hotter days. For the ride, bring water in whatever desired drinking container, an electrolyte drink, or both. And don’t wait until you’re thirsty or feeling dizzy to take a water break: plan time to pull to the side, catch some shade, and rehydrate your body.
Don't be afraid to go outside to beat the heat. Whether it's a solo trip or with family, friends, or neighbors, pull your bike out of the garage, take it for a spin, and let the breeze flow through your helmet (because, of course, safety first!).