I Have to admit that throughout the three and half years of Bike Jax there is one section of town I have neglected. That being the area of town known as "The Beaches." While all of it is within and included as part of Jacksonville. The Beaches are three separate municipalities that are made up of Neptune Beach, Atlantic Beach and Jacksonville Beach. All of which ironically could boast without any doubt or argument as the area of the city with the highest use of bicycles as transportation.
Why have I so rudely forsaken the beaches? Mostly because it's just a pain in the ass to get to and away from. For those of you that are unfamiliar with Jacksonville and its size. It is flipping huge and the largest city in the US for land mass. Just for some perspective, If Jacksonville were a country it would rank 176th out of 233 countries in land mass. Getting anywhere within Jax takes time. Taking a bus from Downtown is 2+ hours roundtrip. Driving while much quicker, at only about an hour roundtrip means traveling down Atlantic or Beach Blvds. Both of which will cause the most calm and subdued of drivers to gouge someones eyes out by the time they arrive at the beach or for the return trip home. Biking to the beach and back? Forget about it. Your only road option for cycling the 19 miles to the beach is Beach Blvd.. It is the only roadway to the beaches that has a bridge with cycling/pedestrian accessibility to cross the Intracoastal Waterway. And if driving on Beach Blvd. isn't a challenge enough for you, try doing it on a bike.
While all the above are valid reason for neglecting the beaches inclusion in Bike Jax. They really don't make up for my laziness and unwillingness to venture out to the beach and enjoy its bike culture.
This weekend I finally got off my ass and made the trip out to the beaches for the inaugural ride of Cycle Chic Sundays hosted by Katie of Cycle Chic Jacksonville. It was not only a bit of culture shock seeing so many bikes in use. It was like a euphoric male dream come true to see so many women on bikes wearing such a wide variety of styles and states of dress.
We met up at Champion Cycling on 3rd st. where I was shocked to not only find bike a shop open on a Sunday, but also packed to the gills with customers. I guess that explains why there are something like 8 bike shops within 2 miles of each other. Bicycles are big business at the beach. And despite my feelings of guilty for doing what I consider as the dumbest thing possible, (but is a necessary evil with Jacksonville's size and lack of planning) driving somewhere to ride a bike. Katie and the rest of the crew of Champion Cycling made me feel very welcome.
Jacksonville Beach should be the bench mark for area planners. They have done just about everything right to make the use of bicycles the best option for transport. The have narrow gridded streets with very low posted speeds (15 - 25 mph) which is heavily enforced. They divert the automobile traffic at certain intersections allowing only bikes and pedestrians to continue and they have very limited public parking which deter the use of cars. I wish the rest of Jacksonville would learn the lessons taught by Jax Beach. If you make the use of the automobile less desirable, people will choose other options in the form of bicycles, walking and mass-transit.
About 20 people showed up for the ride with about half being male. The ladies (thankfully) more than made up for the guys lack of chic. We rode and talked while getting better aquatinted for about an hour and then ended the ride at The Lemon Bar. That is where I got my second big culture shock of the day. Bike parking. It was available everywhere. Outside of the beaches you're very lucky if you can find a bike rack. But at the Lemon Bar alone they have 5 large racks packed full of bikes. I think there were somewhere around 200 bikes attached to just about anything that would hold still long enough to throw a lock around it. And that was just for this establishment. Each business I saw had some sort of bike parking available. What a freaking breath of fresh air it was to see.
There is one more thing I noticed about beaches biking. No culture of fear. I saw only one rider wearing lycra and a helmet. Not once did I get the stink eye or questioned because I wasn't wearing a helmet myself. The beaches with its laid-back lifestyle has it figured out. The only thing you need to ride a bike is a bike... and a place to put your beer.... and few pretty girls or guys to ride with. And that's all you need.
To see all the Beaches Style Cycle Chic goodness, Click HERE.