Sunset at Prien Lake Park

Sunset at Prien Lake Park

Monday, September 7, 2015

Bicycling in Lake Charles, Louisiana

I’ve always enjoyed bike riding. I graduated from a tricycle to a bicycle when my parents bought me a two-wheeler for Christmas when I was five years old. The bike was two sizes too big for me and I didn’t grow into it until I was seven, but then I rode that same bike throughout the rest of my childhood.

Me at age 6; too big for the trike, too small for the big-girl bike.

I forgot about biking through most of my 20s, until I met a guy named Bob, an avid cyclist who re-introduced me to biking and then became my husband. When we dated, I knew I had to get a bike or I’d rarely see the guy. So I bought a purple Trek 720. I love that bike – still ride it today.

When our twin sons were babies, we refused to let kids stop us from bike riding. So we bought a tike trailer and Bob towed them.

When they outgrew that, we bought a tandem bike and attached a tag-a-long behind it.

And then we moved to Louisiana, where biking is different than in the northeast. Here there are headwinds instead of hills. And (at least for me) the riding season is fall, winter, spring instead of spring, summer, fall. Read my post on bicycling in SWLA here.

All that to say I met a cool group of bike enthusiasts here in Lake Charles. They call themselves the Slow Spokes. They ride for fun and friendship more so than fitness, but there’s nothing wrong with that. They meet up most Friday evenings, riding a different course each week that could be considered a pub crawl on two-wheels.

Pre-ride socializing.

And we're off!

Group shot at the lakefront.

Check out this video of our ride last Friday.

They also strive to bring awareness of the biking community to lake area citizens. When you’re on a bike and riding the roads, motorists can be scary. They often are not looking for bikers and tend not to see them. Or they don’t respect the fact that the roads belong to bikers, too. Or they are distracted.  And some drivers are not aware of the rules regarding bicyclists. For example, when passing a bicycle, a vehicle must stay at least three feet away from the bike. If the biker can reach out and touch the car as it passes, the car is probably too close.  For a complete list of Louisiana bicycle laws, see this website. The Slow Spokes will be happy to learn that DUI laws do not apply to bicyclists!

As bikers, certainly we want the  motoring community to be aware of us and to help protect our safety. There are also many things we bicyclists can do to make bicycling a safer sport for ourselves. Here’s a list of tips I’ve learned over 25 years of grown-up biking.
  • Wear bright vibrant clothing to make yourself as visible to motorists as possible. And never wear dark clothing if you are biking after sunset.
  • Speaking of being visible, make your bike as visible as possible also by adding reflectors and blinky lights. The more able motorists are to see you, the less likely they will hit you.
  • Follow the rules. If we can share the road, we also share the rules. Stop at stop signs and red lights. Use proper hand signals for turning. And so on.
  •  It may seem counter-intuitive, but if a road is narrow, don’t necessarily hug the side the road too tightly. This invites motorists to pass you even though it may not be safe. If the lane is narrow and you ride close to the middle of the lane, a motorist will simply have to wait until it is safe to pass you in the other lane.
  • Always ride WITH the flow of traffic. Physics dictate that you will incur less injury if you are hit going with the flow of traffic rather than head-on. If you want to see what is behind you, get a rear view mirror. I couldn’t ride without one.
  • If you are riding with other bikers, communicate and warn them about hazards such as potholes or gravel.
  • My number one safe bicycling tip this – Wear a helmet! The law may only apply to bikers age twelve and under, but shouldn’t we adults set an example of safety to youth? Example aside, we need to protect our noggins. In the event of an accident, wearing a helmet can potentially mean the difference between a few scrapes and/or broken bones and a seriously debilitating brain injury or death. I see too many bicyclists in southwest Louisiana not wearing helmets. Yes, I’ve been to Austin. I thought they were crazy, too. I’ve been to other progressive trend-setting cities like San Francisco and Seattle where wearing a helmet is more the norm. Lake Charles’ bikers, let’s be southern trend setters! Wearing a helmet while biking isn’t un-cool. It’s smart.
Southwest Louisiana has terrific bike riding opportunities. Lots of quiet country roads to get lost on. There are a couple bike shops on Prien Lake Road with employees who can assist with your questions and biking gear. Check out Capitol Cyclery and Bicycle Superstore. They sponsor weekly rides and other events. For more information on the Slow Spokes, find them on Facebook here.

Lake Charles has a lot of work to do to make the roads safer for bicyclists, for example building in bike lanes and creating trails. I’d like to think they are working on it. But they need to see and hear biking advocates. Let your voice be heard. Get out on your bikes and ride!

Where is your favorite place to bike ride?

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