To wrap up National Bike Month, I’m doing a little series on what I loved about living and bicycling in the various places I’ve lived and bicycled. (But don’t worry, even after this month, I’ll do plenty more writing about bicycling as well.)
To start with, I’ll start with the first city I lived in, the city where I started bicycling as a main mode of transport and gave up my car. Living in Sarasota, Florida from birth until the age of 22 or so, I know that city better than any other. In my opinion, it is not a very bike-friendly city. Although, it is getting better. Ironically, though, when I was guest teaching for a class in Charlottesville, Virgina a few years ago, we were talking about bikes (as I was the director of an organization that promoted clean transportation options there, especially bicycling) and a student randomly happened to say something along the lines of: “Hey, you know what a really good bicycle city is? Sarasota, Florida.” I thought, “say what?” Apparently, she had visited and biked there and thought it was great. This put the city in a slightly more positive light for me and made me think a bit about its positive biking attributes.
So, after reflecting on those and a little more now, here are 10 great things about bicycling in Sarasota, FL.
- It is flat. Unless you are really into the physical effort of bicycling, bicycling somewhere it’s flat is quite nice.
- No snow, and good weather much of the year. While it can get excruciatingly hot, Sarasota is quite a nice place for bicycling in the Fall, Spring, and even much of the Winter. And, if you don’t mind getting hot and sweaty, in the summer as well.
- The coastal breeze. Being on the water, there are many places you can escape the heat and bicycle right next to the water. That is a wonderful experience. Ocean air is so healing and pleasant (when there isn’t red tide, which there is more and more in Florida due to chemical runoff from agricultural, golf courses, and people’s lawns).
- The downtown. Downtown Sarasota has gone through a renaissance of sorts due to a strong New Urbanist influence on its design and city planning there, making the small core of this metro region quite a nice place for bicyclists. (Even before the renaissance, it had narrow enough streets and a good enough streetscape that biking there wasn’t too bad, but I think the extent of that area and new features like bike lanes have expanded the bicycle-friendly downtown.)
- The bicycle community (if you can find it). While Sarasota certainly doesn’t have the same amount of bicycling or the bicycling community of Portland, Oregon or San Francisco or Boulder, Colorado, it certainly does have a number of bicyclists and a bicycling community that you can find and become a part of if you’re interested. It is especially spurred on or made up of students and alumni of the city’s progressive state honor’s college, New College of Florida (yes, that’s where I got my Bachelor’s degree).
- “Decent” and growing network of bike lanes. Compared to European countries, Sarasota’s bike lanes are a joke, but compared to other cities in the U.S., they aren’t bad. There are quite a few (mostly in the city center, but also in other areas) that make bicycling quite a bit more pleasant and safer.
- Bicycling in Florida’s summer rain. Florida gets some pretty serious downpours most afternoons in the summer. While you might not expect me to put this on a list of positives, and I certainly don’t recommend biking in such rain on busy streets, getting caught in a summer thunderstorm on a bike is actually quite fun and once you quickly get past the idea that there is no possibility to keep any part of your body dry, it is quite liberating. Maybe not for everyone and certainly not for some occasions, but enjoying the wicked, warm, summer rain like a child does while biking through it is definitely a positive in my book.
- Getting soaked in healthy, bicycling sweat. Similar but also quite different, if you go out and bicycle a long distance on a hot, trademark South Florida day, you will get quite sweaty, but like with any good and rigorous exercise, the satisfaction you gain from such exertion is pretty worthwhile. And when you finally end your ride and get into an air-conditioned building or take a cool shower, the odd pleasure of it all is something that has to be experienced.
- Bike racks on buses. For those hardcore greenies and clean transportation lovers,
- Biking with the Amish. You may be surprised to find out, but Sarasota has quite a large Amish community. For years, I worked at a health food store in the area where they lived. And when I started bicycling to work, I ended up bicycling alongside (well, in front of or behind) a number of Amish bicyclists and tricyclists. While many may not pay much attention to such things, I found it to be a very interesting experience. (Note: I was studying sociology and environmental studies at New College — I am a little more interested in observing society and different sub-cultures in society than most….)
There are probably a few more things I could add, but that seems like a good enough list for now. Stay tuned for my upcoming lists of bicycling pleasures in the various cities I’ve lived in.
- #3 Portland, Oregon (USA): Great Bicycle City Photo Tour
- #4 Copenhagen, Denmark: Great Bicycle City Photo Tour
- #6 Groningen, Netherlands: Great Bicycle City Photo Tour
- Berlin — Bike Paradise
Photos via Robert S. Donovan ; Apollo13Ma ; Robert S. Donovan