Biking in Athens: A guide to routes, groups and safety
Ohio University and the city of Athens have worked to make cycling a viable option for off-campus students, faculty and staff who live in the city or in the surrounding towns as well as community members who want to save on transit costs. The Athens Campus is also bike-friendly for those living on-campus who want to use their wheels to travel to class, work or the dining courts. For the past five years, Athens has been named a “Bicycle Friendly Community” by The League of American Bicyclists, and Ohio University has been named a “Bicycle Friendly University” since 2017. Overall, Athens County has nearly 1,000 miles of paved and gravel roads for bikers to use, and it is a welcoming community for new cyclists.
In addition to being a lower-cost and environmentally-friendly transportation option, biking helps with blood flow to the brain, which can improve memory. “Cycling is a lower-impact, aerobic exercise and a great way of maintaining your physical and mental health. Between the mostly-flat Bikeway and all of our hills, people with a variety of fitness levels and abilities can enjoy the well-being benefits of biking,” said Mark Ferguson, the executive director of Campus Recreation. Going beyond the streets and bike lanes uptown and exercising in nature, such as riding on the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway, can decrease stress and boost emotional health.
Where can students bike?
Depending on their comfort level, skill and where they want to go, cyclists have several options for where they can bike.
The Hockhocking Adena Bikeway is an unintimidating first ride since it is paved, relatively flat and entirely free of cars. The Bikeway is 21 miles long and is also used by runners, families, in-line skaters, nature lovers and dog walkers. It spans from Athens all the way to Nelsonville and goes past several bike repair stations, public bathrooms and water fountains as well as neighboring towns.
If a cyclist feels comfortable enough, they can bike on the city roads. There are several streets with either specific bike lanes or wide shoulders on Columbus Road, North Lancaster Street, Mill Street and parts of Richland Avenue. Bikers can ride on other streets too but should be extra-aware of drivers. It is also legal to ride on the sidewalks, with the exception of uptown streets in the Walk Zone, but be mindful of walkers and people exiting buildings.
Adventurous OHIO students also have access to multiple mountain bike trails. Mountain bikers can access these trails from Sells Park, Strouds Run State Park and Lake Hope State Park. A list of biking locations and resources can be found on the Athens County Visitors Bureau website.
Who can students ride with?
Whether you are looking for advice from more experienced bikers or want friends to go on longer rides with, there are several biking groups in the community you can join.
The Athens Bicycle Club leads weekday evening group rides in and around Athens and organizes several longer bike rides throughout the year, including the Race to the Hills Mountain Bike Race, Tour of Zaleski and Tour of the Hocking. They are also a member of the International Mountain Bicycling Association and host Sunday mountain bike rides at Lake Hope State Park.
Sports cyclists should check out Team Athens Cycling Club. Bikers of all ability levels are encouraged to join these challenging rides. The club often bikes different sections of the Rim of the World bike route and has time trials on Thursdays. During most weeks, rides leave from Peden Stadium at 5:45 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but interested students should visit their Google Group to confirm if there are additional trips.
Black Diamond Bicycles, a local shop on West Union Street, offers group rides for cyclists with different interests and ability levels. There are mountain bike rides, a group that meets up with Team Athens Cycling, a Ladies Night Out, beginning and intermediate rides on Saturday morning and a back-roads ride on Sundays. Check with the shop for schedule changes.
Finally, Athens Bicycle has paid, one-on-one skills coaching, ride alongs and group lessons. Students can become more confident cyclists with Bicycling 101 and Mountain Bike Skills Instruction.
How can students stay safe while biking?
“Stay aware,” said Ohio University Police Department Community Relations Officer and biker John Stabler. “Awareness is vital for all bikers because we’re not always seen.” Cyclists should always stay as far to the right as possible when biking on a road, ride in the same direction as traffic and follow the rules drivers do for stopping, turning and passing. They should wear helmets, bring their phone and ID and consider having a repair kit.
Students should also register their bikes with the Ohio University Police Department. All they have to do is bring their bike into the OUPD, who will note its serial number, description and the student’s contact information. This can be incredibly helpful if the bike is stolen or needs to be moved.
Officer Stabler also recommends locking your bike at an official bike stand. He estimates that 90% of thefts happen when bikes are not secured. However, Stabler asks that students not lock their bikes to rails because it can make ramps and pathways less accessible for those in wheelchairs or who have extra mobility needs. If an officer sees a bike secured to a railing, they will first check to if it’s been registered with the department. If it has been, OUPD will call the owner to move it. Otherwise, they will cut the lock.
Biking can be great for students’ mental and physical well-being, and Athens is a great place for cyclists, no matter their experience level. Explore the variety of options available for those who want to bike as a means of transportation, leisure or social connection and always keep safety in mind.