by Trevor Dickerson
Richmond’s seven hills and its crown jewel, the James River, offer picturesque views of a town chock full of history and southern charm. But there’s nothing like seeing from a bicycle at a nice, leisurely pace.
It's an experience all its own, with rolling hills, hidden trails, and some of the most gorgeous architecture in the country. I've had the opportunity to watch riders see the city this way through a free bike meetup group I helped start called Breakaway RVA.
Wherever you choose to go, take it slow. You’ll see things you never saw in a car, and develop a love and appreciation for the unique and quirky things that make Richmond so wonderful. Here are a few places to start.
The James River Park System -- 550 acres abutting both the north and south banks of the James River -- encompasses some of the most pristine and beautiful spots in the city. You can access Belle Isle by a bike-friendly pedestrian bridge suspended from Route 1. It offers winding gravel trails, a bike skills course and plenty of natural rock formations from which to take in the scenic city views.
If you’re into mountain biking, the North Bank Trail, right across the river, provides a fun and challenging route with steep embankments and access to Hollywood Cemetery. It also offers breathtaking river and skyline views. The stark change in elevation and banked wooden bridges provides a thrilling experience for mountain bikers of all levels. Be careful, because pedestrians often use the trail as well.
Check out the T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge (better known as The T-Pot, for short) -- the newest of Richmond’s riverfront pedestrian bridges. You’ll discover amazing city views, access to the top of the city’s Flood Wall and a variety of bike trails suitable for beginners and pros alike. Wherever you go within the park, you’ll get lost in natural beauty that might even make you forget you’re in the midst of the city.
Richmond’s Fan neighborhood boasts some of the most beautiful architecture in the country, and it’s just hard to take it all in speeding by in a car. One of the coolest things about touring The Fan by bike is the way you’ll appreciate the detail and unique character of each stately home.
From handsome Queen Anne and Italianate to Tudor and Art Deco designs, you’ll see well-maintained late 19th- and early-20th-century homes. Gold plaques on many of the homes indicate when they were built.
You’ll also notice granite carriage steps in front of many homes’ sidewalks and quaint carriage houses in many alleys -- many of which have been converted to apartments.
As Richmond’s oldest neighborhood, Church Hill is chock full of history. Cruise down East Broad Street and make the rounds on the grounds of Historic St. John’s Church, the site of Patrick Henry’s famous “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech. wPedal across several blocks of rugged cobblestones to Libby Hill Park to see the view for which Richmond was named -- for a view similar to that of Richmond on the Thames in England. And be sure to check out the 22nd Street Overlook for an expansive view of Richmond’s skyline and a 180-degree view of historic Shockoe Bottom.
Trevor Dickerson is a creative marketing professional, editor of RVAHub and vice president of the Scott’s Addition Boulevard Association. He also enjoys helping plan events for Breakaway RVA, a monthly bicycling meet-up -- a great way to discover new and unexpected destinations around town. The group, which meets from April until October, leads attendees from one of five neighborhood starting points to a secret end destination with a surprise activity. It could be a brewery, a food truck, lawn games, or a history tour–you never know what you’re going to get.
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