Every couple of years or so I find myself back on a bicycle again. I’ll go for a while just driving a vehicle or motorcycle, but then the urge to pedal comes back and I am back in the saddle again. This is one of those times. At this point I am trying to sell my jeep and go without a vehicle so I have been practicing just using the bicycle and seeing how I do. So far, so good.
Last summer I decided to expand my revenue stream beyond stand up paddle boards and try offering bicycle rentals. No one else was doing it so I put together a few dollars, got some insurance and the license, and hit the Walmart. I picked up a half dozen cheap beach cruisers with assorted baskets, lights, locks, and helmets and started renting them out. Well, as with all good intentions, it never really panned out. The bikes turned to instant rust in the island climate, I was able to get some rentals, but maintenance and the risk of liability were making it obvious that it would not work out. So I dropped the bike rentals after a few months, gave away all but one of the bikes and left it sit until I moved down here to the middle Keys. Now, once again, I find myself riding all over the place and enjoying the hell out of it.
The bike I kept is just a simple beach cruiser, single speed. Nothing fancy other than it is bright orange so I can be seen, hopefully. I added on a basket to carry groceries and a couple of lights, and a chain with a lock. I don’t worry about the rust as rusty bikes seldom get stolen over shiny new ones. Because the island is so flat, the single speed works fine although an extra gear or two would come in handy in the wind. It’s an easy bike to ride and maintain. This week I managed to run over a spiky branch and blew out both tires. A quick trip to Kmart and about 10 minutes of work, and good as new. I will keep a small tool kit specifically for bike repairs which don’t require much work. And having done motorcycle repairs for years, a bicycle is simple.
Riding in the Keys
The nice thing about the Keys is it is quickly becoming a bike friendly chain of islands. The Overseas Heritage Trail was formed a few years ago creating a virtual non stop chain of bike paths running the entire length of the Keys. Most of the trail is done and there is still a lot of work left to finish but overall it is a well designed and safe route to ride. Many bike clubs will run trips from Homestead to Key West over a weekend period while others will offer 5 to 6 day guided tours of the entire Keys by bicycle. There are many bike rental operations along with some bike stores along the way to provide support and repairs as needed.
Here in Marathon the trail runs along US 1 all the way to the east end of the 7 mile bridge but there are several off trails you can ride. On the east end is Coco Plum Road which goes back along the beach for about 4 miles. There is a small beach which has a nice rest area and restrooms. Further south the trail runs completely around the Marathon airport. On US 1 it is newly paved and well off the traffic lanes. On the north side it is a bit more rugged but paved. You ride along the perimeter fence and there are lots of nice homes to look at as you go around. The entire loop is about 3 miles.
Further south is Sombrero Beach road which is a major shopping area on the island. There is a Publix, Kmart, couple banks, gas station, and other small businesses making it a bit congested and somewhat of a challenge to negotiate due to all the traffic. The trail splits with the main trail continuing on US1 while a secondary trail follows the beach road all the way to the end at Sombrero Beach, about 2 miles. At the beach are locking mounts for your bike if you want to go sit on the beach along with showers, restroom, water fountains, and picnic areas. It is a nice easy ride for anyone. Right behind the Publix is another road, Sombrero Blvd. which has a lesser trail. It is simply a wider part of the road with a painted lane but plenty of room. Follow it and it takes you around the city golf course. Inside the loop is the golf course, outside are big fancy houses and on the north side you go by the east end of Boot Key Harbor with all the boats anchored out. Stop at the Dockside Lounge for a cold drink, a good cheeseburger or some conch fritters, and on the weekends, local music.
Continue on south on US1 and you eventually wind up at the 7 mile bridge. The trail is off the highway but you have a lot of cross streets so watch the traffic. At the bridge you can take the old 7 mile out to Pigeon Key for a 2 or 3 mile ride over the ocean. It’s very scenic and there is no motor traffic.
The nice thing about all these trails is that just about anything you need on the island, groceries, banks, shopping, is accessible from them. It negates the need for a vehicle, saving money on fuel, insurance, and cutting back on the stress of negotiating traffic. And you might get a bit healthier in the process. Bikes themselves can be had on the cheap. If you are not particular about looks a used one can be picked up at a yard sale for nothing. Learn how to maintain and repair one on your own and save a lot. There are plenty of resources on the web and I even picked up this nice app Bike Repair on my IPad to help with some of the finer points of bike repair.
Due to the recent extended drought I haven’t had the joy of riding in the rain yet. But that will come soon enough I am sure. Overall, I am enjoying the rediscovery of bicycling once again and this time it may become a permanent habit. Now if I can just get rid of the vehicle.