Black Friday along the Buffalo Bayou
For my Black Friday ride, I convinced a few family members to grab their bikes and go explore the Buffalo Bayou bike routes near downtown Houston.
My mother has not ridden a bike in over 10 years, even though my dad and 3 of us 4 kids have been into rallies, triathlons, and bike culture. Her dad and mom did significant bike rides… I have a map of the USA with my grandfather’s bike routes marked from Kansas City to Portland, Oregon. Yup, you read that right. Significant.
But knowing that she hasn’t ridden in awhile, I promised her that we would go very slowly and only ride on routes that she was comfortable with. Exploring the Buffalo Bayou was on her “Houston Bucket List”, so she was happy for the chance to cross that off her list. We loaded up and set out for the bayou.
Where to Start
In my experience, the most difficult thing about exploring recreational bicycle routes is finding the best place to “put in” and which directions to go for the best experience. Imagine the first time you tried to find the White Rock Creek Trail or the Katy Trail. How would a stranger know to start at an obscure park north of 635 and go south to loop around the lake? For that matter, how would a stranger even know that the trail actually connects to the lake? The first time I explored the White Rock Creek Trail, I was happy to ride along with someone who knew all these details.
The Buffalo Bayou seemed to be no exception to this difficulty. We unloaded our bikes at what seemed to be a reasonable spot. However, we weren’t really sure which side of the bayou to be on. Google Maps optimistically suggested that the bike route is equal on both sides of the bayou for half the way, then a few bridges would get us across to the other side to continue to Memorial Park.
However…. Google Maps completely failed to mention the significant construction, and the lengthy sidewalk-only sections along Memorial Dr. Afterwards, I joked that we should have brought mountain bikes instead. I’m sure once it is complete it will be lovely. But right now, be prepared for dirt and gravel segments that appear quite suddenly.
End of Trail?
Halfway along our ride, the trail dumped us onto a sidewalk that ran in front of businesses, apartment buildings, and minor roads. I stopped to explain that we would need to proceed very cautiously on the sidewalk, or we could ride on the road until the trail re-emerged. Given my mother’s comfort level, she said she’d rather just stay on the sidewalk for a bit. I lead the group and we slowed or stopped at all of the major risk points. But then, just a few blocks from Memorial Park, the sidewalk completely stopped. Apparently we should have been on the other side. I asked the group if they would mind me leading us for just a bit on the road. We proceeded comfortably all the way to the park.
On the way back, I gave everyone the option of road or sidewalk, at first the group decided sidewalk. Then, after having to negotiate passing a few joggers, a passing cyclist, and a few vehicle pull outs… my mom asked if we could just ride on the road. I happily obliged.
My mom has had zero exposure to CyclingSavvy, except for knowing that I teach it and I spend a lot of time on it. Yet, while we were riding on Memorial Drive she said something that could have come straight from my mouth… “there’s two other lanes for everyone else.. they can just go around us.” I laughed and nodded in agreement. Everyone that passed us was friendly and courteous. When the trail re-appeared, we merged back on and continued to enjoy our tour.
The power of cycling education is not that you have to ride on busy, fast, or scary roads all the time. Instead, a day like this shows that I can safely choose between the recreational trail, the sidewalk, and the road. When the recreational trail doesn’t go where I want to go, or suddenly ends, I’m not stuck or feeling uncomfortable on a type of road I’ve never been on before. And I can also ride relatively safely on a sidewalk if that’s more comfortable for my mom.