Pedaling away the day
Take these directional suggestions for spending the summer on your bike—even if you’re no Lance Armstrong
When people brag about our city being a “bike town"—such as Bicycle Magazine, which picked Chico as America’s Most Bicycle Friendly City in 1997—the picture that’s painted is of muddy mountain bikers exploring bootleg trails in Upper Park, or the day-glo bike shorts of Chico Velo Club members pumping up the Honey Run Road incline.
The truth is, for many Chicoans a more accurate picture is a big front yard with a pile of beach cruisers leaned up against a tree for a summer BBQ. This is a picture that I am familiar with.
I am not a bicyclist. But when the weather is nice, I ride almost every day. My bike is your basic cruiser—bulky frame, fat tires and an even fatter seat. And it has only one gear.
Chico is, of course, a perfect city for my kind of bicycling. It is fairly small and almost completely flat. And on those rare days when there’s nothing I have to do, I’ll point my bike toward downtown with no plan other than staying out till sunset.
In the 18 years I’ve lived in Chico, I’ve moved 10 times. As I get used to a new corner of town, favorite routes for getting downtown develop. I usually shy away from the typical bike routes, especially bike paths. Too boring. My requirements for good day-trip routes include staying in the shade as much as possible and having plenty of places to eat, rest and explore.
The smart route to downtown from the East Lassen Avenue area is the straight shot of the bike trail. But that is one hot, boring ride.
My preference is to scoot down Lassen to the short and windy El Paso Way. It’s a quick cut through to East Avenue, and you avoid the bike trail and the equally hot and boring Esplanade and Cohasset/Mangrove. Plus, for an early cool-down, El Paso leads you right by Fantasy Game World, with its dusty outdoor Pepsi machine.
Avoid staying on bleak East Avenue too long by taking a left after a couple blocks at McDonald’s onto Connor Street. After dog-legging to the right, Connor is a shady shortcut to the back of the glorious Thrifty Bargain store, home base for a nice cluster of summer diversions.
Right across The Esplanade is El Grullo, the “taco wagon” masquerading as a restaurant. For cool-down time, go one block down to the mighty A/C and arcade of Orchard Lanes.
To get downtown, you have to ride on the sidewalk. Esplanade is way better than the nightmarish Mangrove, but it’s still a tight fit. Once you cross the bridge after the gigantic Miller mansion, you can cut down to one of the frontage roads that run along either side of Esplanade. Right away, you have U.S. Market if treats are needed, and across 11th Avenue is the Tacos Puerto Vallarta truck if El Grullo is too busy.
The frontage road is well-canopied by the Esplanade trees and there’s usually very little auto traffic. Take care at all crossings—Esplanade drivers turn off like cranked-up jackrabbits. Next, cut through the impressive mansion neighborhood at West Frances Willard and hop off your bike at the university.
Fastest route home: Esplanade to the bike trail.
Coming from streets in the high-teens and 20s, it’s tempting to take the well-shaded and slow Salem or Normal streets.
My personal preference is Broadway—you’re still off the main drag of Park, but close enough to cut over for food or to investigate dusty treasures (though it’s worth taking a detour to 15th and Chestnut for the coldest can of soda in town from Korner Market). Plus, Broadway has some huge, beautiful homes.
There’s a water fountain and shade all day at the picnic tables in Rotary Park at 16th Street, and of course Broadway will take you right up to the big Salvation Army for thrift-shoppin’ and eventually to the Fosters Freeze on the edge of downtown.
Fastest route home: Try Salem Street.
For the past three years I’ve lived right across the street from Bidwell Park, way down Vallombrosa Avenue, so my bike route is a no-brainer.
One hardly needs a tour guide to explain how to spend leisurely time in the park, but my pet spots include the creek under the bridge that cuts over to Cedar Grove. The water is shallow enough to sit in, and there’s an ongoing rearranging of rocks in the spot every summer. But, for real relaxation, nothing beats the cluster of redwoods at campground 37.
For the last stretch, I like to cut through the park at the Sycamore Pool bridge and take Woodland Avenue to Fifth Street into downtown.
Fastest route home: Back through Bidwell Park.
I’ve never lived on the west side of town, and I never go there except to eat somewhere or to hit the levee and head out of town. So, instead of a favorite downtown route from there, I’ll share my favorite side trip to there.
I like going down bustling Fifth Street when heading west. There are, of course, plenty of choices for adult libations along the way, but I prefer to push on through to Orange Street, take a left and look in on Orange Street Consignment—three giant aluminum warehouses that run together, filled to the rafters with collectibles and antiques.
Stay on Orange, but instead of turning right at Eighth to get over to Walnut/ Dayton, stay headed straight. Cross Ninth and take a hard right at the ancient tiny bridge over the creek (it’s actually Dayton). You’ll have to get all Stand By Me-like and walk along the railroad tracks for about 50 feet and then carry the bike across the tracks to get to the tiny road that runs into the back of Tacos Cortez, the former taco wagon turned restaurant.
Consume one giant Coke with lots of ice and a beef chimichanga, then find yourself a shady spot and fall into a summer coma for a couple of hours.