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Mardi Gras and the joys and hazards of Big Easy biking

Mariposa Stormer
Easy Biking in the Big Easy

Whether you’re on four wheels, two wheels or bipedal; the urban terrain of New Orleans does not lack in diversity. However, biking around the city is a unique experience. It’s not everywhere a commute home from work is interrupted by a marching band practicing for Carnival.

In early February I was biking home when I heard the distinct sounds of a marching band. A slow smile spread across my face as I approached, hopped off my bike and danced up the street to spectate the low brass blowing their hearts out. This happened, unsurprisingly, while I was biking through the French Quarter. What better place for high schoolers to get their performing chops then in the small streets of the Quarter, brimming with eager tourists as an audience?

As a motorist, there is an unspoken rule about driving in the quarter – don’t do it. The streets are lined with parked cars and pedestrians in various states of intoxication. It is not uncommon to spend half the journey going 5 mph behind a horse and cart. As a cyclist, the experience is much more pleasurable.

I do often bike through the Quarter on my way downriver and enjoy the city all the more for the pleasure. The place is alive with music. It comes tumbling out of bars and cafes and the street music resonates beautifully off of the historic brick buildings. No playlist on my ipod can compare to this.

Another major perk of being a NOLA cyclist happens this time of year, during Mardi Gras. Traffic in the city becomes so unpleasant that avid drivers exchange their car keys for bike locks and head to the festivities with a messenger bag filled with all the Mardi Gras necessities.

I’ve complied a small list of essentials for Mardi Gras by bike.

1. Helmet: Not just for Mardi Gras, but something as necessary to biking as peddles. The drunk drivers will be out in full force during Mardi Gras and there will be many more tourists behind the wheel; please consider safety over fashion. Mardi Gras is best enjoyed outside the emergency room.

2. Bike Lights, front and rear: Same as above – this is a year-round accessory. There is no excuse for biking at night without them. Get into the Mardi Gras spirit and “pimp” your bike with glow sticks, feathers, glitter, neon paint and anything else that makes you visible at night. Want more lights? You can buy them with a battery pack and lead everyone to your favorite Mardi Gras destinations.

3. Bike Lock: Again, this ain’t just for Mardi Gras. A U-lock is the bike lock of choice for most bikers. Since my bike is an older model, the lock cannot go around both my bike frame and my front tire. This is why I have a second bike lock. It is a chain that goes around my front tire and provides a little extra security. It is heartbreaking to have your bike stolen, and while no bike lock is totally theft proof, if you lock your bike up properly, the bike thieves will most likely move on to an easier target.

4. Cup Holder: There is nothing worse than having to leave to catch a parade after you’ve just cracked open a cold one. Once you’ve installed your cup holder, no problem! Just pop your beverage of choice into the coozy (included with purchase!) and take off. You never know what kind of obstructions your Mardi Gras costume will have. Why take up valuable hand-real-estate holding your drink when your bike can do it for you?

5. The Mardi Gras Bag: You will need to carry some items on your person. There are a few things you will need in said bag. Items include: wallet, ID, fully charged phone, bike pump, patch kit, tire levers, wig (because you’re wearing you helmet while biking, right?), flask and make-up (for retouching during the day.) I feel all of these items are self explanatory and will not go into further detail on their importance. Keep it lightweight and make sure it doesn’t clash with your costume.

Unfortunately, while there are many biking perks, there are also a few drawbacks. Two hazards I would like to mention are potholes and being “doored.”

Doored -verb
1. When an motorist does not look for traffic before opening their street-side car door and an oncoming biker smashes into it and launches off the bike.
Example: “Troy was doored last night and his arm is broken.”

Being doored is not necessarily something that a biker can prevent. If the car door swings open and there is no time to swerve, a collision is inevitable. Bikers can look out for parked cars that have people in them, but they are not always easy to spot. This is a particular problem on some of the city’s narrow streets. When sharing the road with traffic on the left and parked cars on the right, there is not always space to get around an open door.

Another hazard of biking the city are potholes. These are a problem for every form of transportation on the road, but presents unique problems for bikes. A pothole-filled street, unpleasant in a car, is much more dangerous on a bike. Bike tires are thinner and cannot handle the same terrain as car tires.

For various reasons, potholes are worse at intersections and at the side of the road. When you see a bike weaving along the edge of the road, do not assume the biker is inebriated — he may be carefully avoiding potholes. Hitting a pothole the wrong way can lead to a wipe-out and a biker lying in the way of oncoming traffic. These rough road edges make it very difficult for bikers to stay as far right of traffic as they would like. Drivers may not like bikes on the road, but bikers do not enjoy being forced off the road and into dangerous gravel either.

So please, stay safe this Mardi Gras. You knew the joys of biking, now you know the hazards and you can enjoy the festivities without having to plan around all the traffic. Happy biking!


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