The Speedy Guide to Biking in Richmond

April 14, 2017

biking in RichmondRichmond, Virginia, the town Compare.com is proud to call home, has long been a super-outdoorsy city. Bisected by the James River and its wooded namesake park, Richmond is full of people kayaking, whitewater rafting, paddle boarding, running and hiking. But cycling? Not quite so much. Richmond just hasn’t been known as a bike-friendly place.

That’s all changing now. Since Richmond hosted the UCI road-racing championships  in 2015, when hundreds of world-class cyclists gathered here to compete, the city has a renewed interest in two wheels. Here’s our guide to biking in Richmond.

The best bike trails in Richmond, Va.

In the mood for a long, scenic bike ride? Hit the Virginia Capital Trail, a paved, 52-mile trail that traverses the gently rolling landscape between Richmond and Williamsburg. Completed in 2015, the Capital Trail passes by old plantations, Civil War sites, picturesque farms and barbecue joints. Another dedicated cycling/walking trail is the Cannon Creek Greenway in the north part of the city, a 2-mile stretch that will eventually be expanded.

The Richmond bike trail network within the city is patchy, but growing all the time. Look for the green “Bike Route” signs to guide your way. Some areas popular with cyclists include Bryan and Byrd Parks, Riverside Drive (which offers great views) and the Fan District, an enormous Victorian-era neighborhood in which many of the lanes are marked as sharrow (shared lanes).

Mountain bikers should explore the James River Park system, which offers about 9 miles of challenging single-track bike trails. For a grand tour, try the Tour de Fall Line route, covering 52 miles and multiple parks. “This is the ride for you if you want to tick off everything in the city,” its creators say.

Another wildly popular place to go mountain biking in Richmond is Pocahontas State Park, a nearly 8,000-acre park south of the city that has multiple networks of trails with loops, jumps, rock gardens… enough to keep riders sweating happily all day.

How to stay safe while biking in Richmond

Unfortunately, drivers don’t always do a great job of paying attention to cyclists, and biking in Richmond can be dangerous. That’s why it’s vitally important for anyone on a bike to ride defensively and wear a helmet. Here are a few tips:

  • Obey traffic rules. Road bikers get a bad name when they blast through red lights and stop signs without paying attention. On the road, cyclists should travel in the right lane, signal and obey traffic rules.
  • Make yourself extra visible. Reflectors aren’t enough, unfortunately. Wear bright, reflective clothing and equip your bike with a bright headlight and flashing lights.
  • Be extremely cautious on country roads. Richmond’s surrounded by a network of scenic, winding rural roads that beckon cyclists. These roads have no bike lanes, however, and speeding cars can be a hazard. The best way to explore these country roads may be on a group ride; check the Richmond Area Bicycling Association’s calendar to find out what’s scheduled.
  • Practice good trail etiquette. Avid mountain bikers sometimes forget they’re not the kings and queens of the trail. The opposite’s true, in fact: cyclists are supposed to yield to other trail users, such as hikers or horses.
  • Be kind to the trails. Most mountain biking trails in Richmond are heavily used and maintained at least partially by volunteers. When rogue riders blaze their own trails, or detour around muddy terrain instead of going straight through, the trails get damaged and may be closed.

Learn a few more ways to stay safe while cycling.

How to protect cyclists when you’re driving

bike trails in richmond vaCars do a lot more damage to cyclists than vice versa, so the responsibility for protecting cyclists falls on drivers. To avoid hurting them, drivers should…

  • Give cyclists at least three feet of clearance. Virginia law says there must be at least three feet of space between cars and cyclists at all times. If space is tight, slow down and wait for an opportunity to pass the rider, instead of zooming by.
  • Try the “Dutch reach.” Getting “doored” by a parked motorist is a leading cause of bike crashes. It’s tough for cyclists to avoid this hazard, especially in Richmond, where narrow streets can force bikes to ride perilously close to parked cars. One way to prevent doorings is to practice using the “Dutch reach” to exit the car: Just use the hand furthest from the door to open it, which automatically forces you to turn and look behind you.
  • Don’t park or drive in bike lanes. It looks so tempting, doesn’t it? All that empty space, right next to the curb… But if you park in a bike lane, you’ll get towed.

Richmond is becoming a very bike friendly city, which lends the question: How bike friendly is your city?

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