Bike You Very Much, Savannah

I had one of those amazing life experiences the other day that I just have to document so I won’t start wondering if it really happened.

I stopped in Savannah, GA for a day and a half on the way home to Florida from North Carolina, because it’s right on the way and I hadn’t been there in a few years. I drove instead of flying so I could make stops like that.

Monday night, I got in town and after stuffing myself at Paula Deen’s restaurant, I wandered around the streets looking for something to do since it was too early to go back to my room. There wasn’t much happening on a Monday night, but a neon sign caught my eye so I went to check it out. It turned out to be a famous 90-year-old ice cream shop. More food was the last thing I needed, but then I noticed a bike shop next door. It had closed hours earlier, but I noticed a sign mentioning rentals, so I mentally filed that and kept walking.

I bought a bike a few months ago and got seriously into it, but I hadn’t been on it for a couple weeks for various reasons, and it was killing me to not ride for that long.

This doesn’t really have anything to do with business, right? Or does it?

The next morning I stuck with the plan of taking the bus tour around town. That lasted 90 minutes, but included the option of getting on again all day long. It was time for lunch so I started walking toward a restaurant I saw from the bus that is famous for being famous and very old. It was a hike to get there, and the route just happened (or did it?) to go right by the bike shop,so I stopped in to get the details on that. The walk also took me by another shop that does bike tours and has a lot of nice testimonials posted on the window. So on the way to lunch I started debating with myself about renting a bike by myself vs. taking a tour with a guide.

Although the weather was perfect, sunny and 70s, my phone was telling me it was going to rain around 4, and the hourly weather on a phone is never wrong, is it? So I had a third option of assuming it would rain and doing nothing because some app said so.

The nect bike tour just happened to be scheduled for 4, so I nixed that idea and went back to the bike shop. I was disappointed that the only bikes they rent are single speeds with baskets on the front that make them look like something Pee-Wee Herman would ride. I hadn’t been on a one-speed bike since I was about 12 and big enough to ride a real adult bike, which means at least 10 speeds, right? But I figured why not, since it was only $10 for 3 hours, so if I hated the bike it wouldn’t cost me much.

 

bike

I was expecting a leisurely ride, because it was on city streets with things like intersections and cars to slow me down. I’m used to riding on bike paths and roads where there are often no traffic lights or stop signs for miles, not a downtown, grid-style street system.

Savannah is famous for its squares, which are little parks with one-way streets wrapped around them, like roundabouts, but bigger and less round. They look nice but are a pain to drive around.

The first time I got the bike into a square, it took me about a quarter turn to realize that if I rode on the left of the lane instead of the right, I could go around forever without anything crossing my path except “stupid is as stupid does” pedestrians.

Then it hit me that this was not a sightseeing opportunity, but a cardio one. I started hauling ass around the squares, riding as fast as I could until I had to stop and catch my breath before doing it again.

Sometimes I had the square to myself and was surprised to see how much I was leaning into turns and so on. Pretty soon it didn’t matter if I was riding right next to a large tour bus that could barely navigate around the square, or anything else for that matter. Total Third World bike rules in effect (which means almost no rules beyond don’t hit anything).

When I got tired of going around in circles (or actually, rounded squares), I would just slingshot myself over to another square or ride straight down a street for a bit.

After an hour my legs were killing me and I had the bike for two more hours. Excellent.

I wsa wishing the bike had a speedometer and odometer so I could know how fast and far I went. It had to be 20 miles or so, and I would kill to see a map of my route, which reminds me that I have an app on my phone that does that, if I had remembered to use it. Doh!

This was my first time riding a bike around horses. There are a lot of horse-drawn carriages around town, and at first I tried to follow them around the square, not wanting to spook them. I always thought of horses as fast animals, but it turns out they’re trained to walk pretty slow, slow enough that riding behind them on a bike is a challenge. Riding really slow is one of the hardest things to do on a bike.

Those horses aren’t easily spooked since they’re so used to cars and busses going by them, and they’re definitely smarter than the pedestrians. So pretty soon I was riding right past the horses like that was an everyday thing.

The whole time it kept hitting me that all this fun was only costing me $10. Ten bucks, less than my pirate-themed lunch, cheaper than just about anything else I bought, but the most fun I’ve had in a long time and one of the best workouts.

I alomost felt bad for people I saw who paid five or six times as much to stand on a Segway for an hour and not see much. Might as well just take the bus tour since it’s a lot cheaper and there’s no dorky helmet involved. Which reminds me, I signed a bunch of forms saying I didn’t want a helmet, because why start now? That would have totally ruined the experience.

It was tempting to keep the bike until the shop closed at 6, but traffic started getting heavier and the IQ level of the pedestrians kept dropping as their numbers increased (as if there is a total IQ divided among all of them)… so as much as I hated to, I took the bike back at 5.

It was an intense, self-guided, crash course in urban cycling. My biking skills, everything from turning and banking to balance to riding with horses and busses, got a lot better fast, because they had to. I can now turn my head completely around to check for traffic, like Linda Blair in The Exorcist.

It was also like being in a life-size video game, except there are no extra lives, so you have to max out the one you have.

I went back to my room to get fresh clothes and ended up taking a deep two-hour nap like I had been chloroformed.

I was glad I didn’t make the bike tour, because that would have just slowed me down. There’s no way they were sprinting laps around the squares like I was.

The rain didn’t show up til I was deep into my nap, and it was over by the time I woke up and went out again.

Ten bucks. And I almost didn’t do it.

Think about it.

5 comments… add one
  • Looks like it would have been a fun workout. Similar to NASCAR, but for bikers. Left, left,left,left,left,dodge pedestrian,left,left,left.

  • Hey Chris
    I’ve also been to Savannah (last time we met actually I went there afterwards!) and its quite pleasant, not to mention full of atmosphere. I stayed in a hotel where the original Coca Cola bottling plant was located (factoid!) Remember the squares vividly, but it adds a whole different picture with Chris Lockwood using it as an urban gym! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Janice

    Chris, I love the pictures you painted for us of your bike ride through
    Savannah. What fun ??!!$%*>&$#
    I’m glad to see you didn’t lose your sense of humor riding over those
    brick streets.

    Great story.

  • Thanks for the fun journey we took with you in your article it was like i was there. I got to enjoy the fun even if I never get to go to a great place like that.

  • Chris

    Like NASCAR if it had some horse-drawn vehicles and buses on the track, which would make it more interesting.

    If only the pedestrians were as smart as the horses…