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Secret Places are what a visitor to a city or town gets to experience when they ride a bike with a local. The local takes you not only to the best tourist places, but also to those really great spots that only the they know exist. A bar, a restaurant, a beautiful riding route or a local event are the secret places that make a visit memorable especially if you have people. My people were #3 son Brandon and his riding friends.
Austin was one of those visits and was such great getaway that provided a bundle of highlights beginning with my bike rental. Most visitors rent bikes from Mellow Johnny’s, a shop that boasts Lance Armstrong as one of it’s owners. Because I had people in Austin, I was taken off the beaten path to Austin Bikes where the owner Saul Frost, provided me with a new Scott 40 comfort bike, that was perfect for riding around the city with a camera, at a rate that was more than generous. Renting a bike was a priority that preceded checking into my hotel.
Brandon left me at the Austin Motel to give me time to get settled and take a nap before returning with his bike to give me a tour of the city. A visit to Mellow Johnny’s for coffee and a bit of shopping before meeting his lady at work. She also rides, and the three of us rode to dinner at G’Raj Mahal Cafe on Rainey St. Put this place on your list during your visit to Austin. Brandon works on Rainey St so we also did a bar crawl to meet some of his fellow bartenders and bar owners. We road back to the hotel after midnight and that was very cool on Austin’s bike friendly streets.
A few short feet from the Austin Motel sits Joe’s Coffee. This is a very popular spot that has a perpetual line standing at the outdoor order window. One taste of their cappuccino was enough to make Joe’s my go to first morning coffee, joint.
Brandon showed mid morning for our 3 mile ride to breakfast at the Counter Cafe. The more time I spend in Austin the more I felt like I was in Boulder, Colorado. Both are very hip, athletic comfortable cities. Any city with a vibrant bike culture sits very high on my list of desirable destinations.
After a healthy meal, we mounted our bikes for the six mile ride to the Austin Botanical Gardens, the jewel in the heart of Austin. As a bonus, we had to ride in the area of Austin City Limits festival grounds. The festival is two weekends of great music that is often featured on PBS. Watching ACL on PBS is how I got to know performers such as Robert Earl Keene, Delbert McClinton and a few others that would have not been part of my playlist without ACL.
Mellow Johnny’s, bar crawls on Rainey St., the LBJ Libraray, great restaurants, Austin City Limits, rides through parks along the Colorado River, gardens, and coffee shops by bike make Austin very sweet. I got to do this because I had people. On Thursday night those people provided the highlight that paled all the other wonderful things we did in Austin. The Thursday Night Driveway Series Bike Races.
I got to ride the seven plus miles with a few of the pro racers from Mellow Johnny’s to the venue. Our route was side streets and bike paths at a reasonable pace that allowed me, on my rented comfort bike, to keep up and take pictures.
The Driveway was much better than I had expected. It was minimally controlled chaos because of the limited time caused by the dwindling daylight. There were three races, senior riders, Cat 3,4, and 5 and the last to start were the CAT 2-1 and pro racers. The chaotic part was that as soon as one group passed on the bell lap, the gates would open and the next group would roll onto the track. Some riders were still crossing the finish line across the field, when the next race would begin. Riders who were really far behind, were SAGed off the track before beginning the last lap to insure the next group would not catch them.
Bike racers proved to be a friendly group we found when, on our ride home in the dark, (an Austin bike culture theme), a group of racers called us into a convenience store lot to share, stories and their beer.
There are some really special places to visit. Austin, Texas is surely one of them. But if you have people to show you the secret places, that special place can become so much more.
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