A few years ago a friend of mine came over to my house, excited to share with me that she had bought a bike. She showed it off, all shiny and proudly displayed on her new bike rack. “I’m going to start biking. You should bike with me!”
I thought about that prospect for all of about half a second and my decision was made. I was going to buy a bike. That night I pulled out my laptop and began to research the best bike for where I’d be riding. After a little bit of research, I decided on a moderately priced Schwinn Hybrid. I hadn’t really ridden a bike since it was my commuter vehicle in college, but had convinced myself that I’d ride this bike all the time. Little did I know that I had just found my true love.
I was especially eager to ride and found myself taking long rides at least a few times each week. Along the way, I learned some pretty valuable lessons and found some of my favorite places to ride. Now that spring has finally arrived and I’m itching to get back outside, I figured I’d share a little of what I’ve gathered along the way.
One of my first bike trails, which is great for beginners, is Grant’s Trail. The trail extends 8 miles from it’s trail head at Orlando’s to the intersection of Leffingwell & Holmes in Kirkwood. This is a great beginners trail because it is flat and has many short sections. You can choose your mileage by turning back at any of the mile markers or stops along the way. Because the trail cuts through the south & southwest portions of the city, you’re never far from a bathroom, drinks, snacks or a place to take a quick rest.
Many parks have great beginner trails and ones that loop, so you don’t have to keep track of how far you’ll have to pedal back. Some of the better ones that I’ve found are Creve Coeur Park and Cliff Cave Park, with approximately 3 and 5 mile loops, respectively. Of course if you’re up for a little more of a challenge, Jefferson Barracks Park has a trail that is relatively short at just shy of 3 miles but boasts a few decent hills.
As I’ve graduated to longer rides, the short trails become a little monotonous, and I’ve sought out options for longer rides. Just over the river in Illinois there are the Madison County Transit Trails, former railways converted to paved bike paths of over 100 miles. “7 Loops” have been created to mark routes of varying distances from 10 to 31.1 miles. I think I’ve ridden all 7 of the loops. This setup is great for distance, but be advised that a lot of these trails run through farmland and the cross winds can take a serious toll on your ride.
Of course there is always the famous Katy Trail which is by far my favorite place to ride, probably because of it’s close proximity to my house, meaning more time on 2 wheels instead of 4. The Katy Trail extends 237 miles from St. Charles to Kansas City. Also a former railway, the trail is not paved like many of the parks and the MCT trails, but is rather crushed limestone. The length of the trail really allows you determine your own distance and it’s a scenic ride with plenty of places to stop along the way. One of the other great features of the Katy Trail is that there are options for bike rentals. Probably the closest to St. Louis is the bike shop in Defiance, MO. Pay by the hour or rent for the day and get a feel for a bike that’s well equipped for the nature of the trail.
Regardless of where you ride, there are a couple of important factors to keep in mind:
1. ALWAYS WEAR A HELMET! As someone who has taken a bike spill, I cannot stress enough the importance of a helmet. Yes, you may look silly, but at least your skull is still in tact.
2. Respect the other riders. Take a few moments to ensure that you know the “rules” of the trail. Proper bike etiquette keeps everyone safe.
3. Always bring water. And always more than you think you need. Often times even if there are stops along the way, they don’t always have access to water and sometimes the distance is several miles before the next accessible water station.
4. Bring snacks. If you’re taking a longer ride, you’ll need to refuel along the way. Biking is serious physical activity and it will quickly deplete your resources if you aren’t prepared.
5. Sunscreen. Bug spray. Sunglasses.
6. Enjoy the ride!
Of course there are lots of other great bike trails in St. Louis and surrounding areas. You can find others at greatriversgreenway.org.