St. Louis Solo, On A Single Speed
The title for this ride came to me long before I started it, and for weeks the details unfolded before me, creating the template of how I would achieve it. I am riding my single speed road bike from my home in the suburbs all the way into downtown St. Louis using only pedal power. Although the destination is important, I want to highlight the journey to show that safe transport by bicycle can take place on the streets shared by automobile traffic.
I feel that bicycling can be an expensive activity to get involved in, and that can put a strain on those who would like to ride but feel they cannot afford to. I have good news for you: I regularly find great deals on gear by shopping in second-hand outlets. I read the same magazines and books as the mainstream user does, but my gear closet grows solely with merchandise from thrift stores.
I know it may seem completely nuts to ride a single speed, but in doing so I hope to learn a great deal about my own limits. The thought of riding something so inherently simple on a ride of such complexity is appealing. I am using a second-hand steel road bike with a 42-tooth chainring and a 16-tooth cog on a converted free hub. This allows me easy gearing changes with minimal tools, and the ability to coast when I wish to. As for my camping gear, I chose a messenger bag to carry my eleven-pound load. I've been fascinated with bikepacking and ultralight setups, so I chose to make my load as light as possible. The bulk of my gear consists of a bivy sack; a down sleeping bag; a stuff sack with extra clothing; a food bag with granola bars, nuts, and dried fruit; and an air pump and various tools, plus three inner tubes, a rain jacket, and waterproof socks. In my inside pocket I carried two additional water bottles, I.D., and a spare pair of eyeglasses. I omitted my sleeping pad, DSLR camera, and bicycle lock to save space in my bag and weight on my back.
June 7th, 3:30 a.m. I awake early. My mind was a kaleidoscope of thoughts last night, so I slept lightly. My first plan of action is to start eating everything in sight to further stoke my furnace for the full day of pedaling that stands before me. Brisk 60 degree weather awaits me when I step onto my porch in shorts and a T-shirt at 5:00 a.m. My gear tightly strapped to my back and my helmet snuggly fitted for safety, I warm up quickly pushing myself over the first set of hills on Lucas and Hunt Road on my way to West Florissant Road. There is something very surreal about riding on streets typically frequented by relentless traffic, at an hour early enough to render it a new experience. I have the full lane to myself for the first 45 minutes of my trip and, just as planned, sunrise greets me as I arrive at my first stop.
As I stand at the corner of Scranton and Riverview memories flood my mind of the months I worked alongside the late Bob Cassilly and the "Cassilly Crew" at Cementland.
I learned about adaptive reuse, operating construction equipment, and the tireless efforts of many to build environments that foster a youthful spirit. Each day was something new and unique. Each project tested the crew in ways that challenged us to learn and grow. Suddenly, riding a single-speed through the city with camping gear on my back seems like a good personal challenge. Bob Cassilly left behind a legacy for his family and whimsical art for everyone to enjoy, all because he wasn't afraid to do things differently.
Allow me to show you St. Louis from a different viewpoint.
To my back just beyond the trees is the Missouri Riverfront Trail, which will take me into downtown St. Louis. As I turn around, I'm greeted with the harsh reality of flooding that has lingered in the area; sadly, the trail is submerged in water.
Luckily, I have a Plan B. Hall Street is frequented by heavy truck traffic and isn't the first choice a bicyclist would normally consider for travel. But I decide to take it because it is the most direct route, and offers fewer stoplights than Riverview Drive, which runs parallel to it.
Coming out of the first turn just beyond the bus terminal I find a $20 bill hanging on for just the right person to free it from the clenching hands of cracked pavement. Few things register so quickly as free money. A quick glance over my shoulder to check traffic and I return to collect it. I stop once more to take a break before continuing at a steady cadence on my way to Grand Avenue.
A leg of the Gateway Arch.
Once I arrive in downtown St. Louis I stop by the Gateway Arch to take some photos. Moving along Broadway I stop at Soulard Farmer's Market, then onward to Anheuser Busch Brewery.
Soulard Farmer's Market.
I decide to visit the old Lemp Brewery complex next. It covers roughly eleven city blocks and in its day was the dominant beer maker in St. Louis, brewer of the Falstaff brand. The story is actually pretty sad and includes the use of guns in enclosed spaces and the debilitating effects of prohibition on a company that couldn't diversify its business fast enough to survive. Anheuser Busch, on the other hand, stayed afloat by making non-alcoholic and near beer beverages, opening three high-end restaurants, and manufacturing a host of other products. It is a business model that appears to be working well for them to this day.
Almost torn down!
Temptation gets the better of me during a visit to the local bicycle shop, where I purchase a lightweight lock. I read about the good deeds of strangers all the time in bicycle touring circles, and I have to say they are a common occurrence. As I question where to eat lunch to regain some additional energy, a young man in an apron walks in and presents me with a buy-one/get-one-free coupon for a new sandwich shop down the street. Consuming calories to fuel the machine is essential to the efficiency of every bicyclist. Two sandwiches and a 24-ounce smoothie later I'm ready to take on the world, again.
St. Louis Cardinals great Stan "The Man" Musial.
I'm pedaling in circles again, on my way to Busch Stadium, home of our St. Louis Cardinals baseball team. I arrive at the main doors to the gift shop, when I pause staring only at the statue of Stan "The Man" Musial. He passed away on January 19th, 2013, at the age of 92. Hundreds of people sent him off with prayers and a gratitude of thanks for his dedication to baseball, and for living a life of integrity and humility. I believe we should all, like Stan, aspire to achieve greatness without losing sight of what matters most.
For the next few hours I weave a interconnected web of destinations spanning St. Louis City, the downtown business district, Soulard, Lafayette Square, and The Gateway Mall.
My legs propel me into Midtown, home to our Arts District and St. Louis University. I admire the unique buildings which elevate my view up to architectural details often missed while safely ensconced in a moving vehicle. My viewpoint shifts back to street level, admiring the people who call St. Louis home. Continuing down Lindell Boulevard to Forest Park, I feel my rolling testament to bicycle advocacy is clear. I really can do more with less, and so can others.
I'm saving up for monster quads.
The road is filling like clogged arteries. Now I have to turn my attention to evening rush hour as my mind is beginning to spell out the word "stop" distinctly in my line of vision. It is 5:30 p.m., and time to start bringing my day-trip to a close. Fourteen minutes and $2.25 is all I need for my light rail angel to take me home. For my first overnight I have chosen to camp at the most comfortable location that I know of: my own backyard. I wait until darkness has fallen completely before setting up camp. After dinner I put on my remaining clothes and hat and slip into my bivy. The hum of distant aircraft and memories of my day carry me to sleep.
Read about the author of this story, Julian Hadley, by clicking here.
Tip for this adventure: You can take the most unlikely of bikes and ride the most unlikely route into the city, forgoing all gasoline-powered vehicles with minimal gear and have the time of your life. Take a day trip and discover something new in your own backyard!