Big City Bike Tours That Rock: Cycle New Orleans, Portland, Honolulu and Vancouver

woman riding bike

Looking for a green way to explore a city (even your own)? Check out these creative bike tours. 

We all know that riding a bike is a green and healthy way to get from Point A to Point B. Now, imagine pedaling in between eating, drinking (within limits, natch), or checking out art installations in one of North America’s coolest cities. If the idea of sightseeing aboard a cruiser or commuter up your alley, check out these innovative bike tours.

Holoholo Bicycles, Honolulu While in Honolulu in September, I was shocked to learn that this laid-back city recently ranked number one for the nation’s worst traffic. Fortunately, you don’t need a car to discover the best parts of Honolulu (and there are many), but the city doesn’t have a dominant bike culture of the kind you find in the Pacific Northwest, Brooklyn, or the Bay Area. Fortunately, a new company is putting bike tours on the local radar.

Brandon Reid and Nicole Maryott launched Holoholo Bicycles out of a historic, exposed brick space adjoining their Chinatown restaurant, Manifest, in July. The charming young Honolulu-born and –raised couple are part of a progressive new breed of local entrepreneur who are inspired by the green urban development and tourism found in pockets throughout the Mainland.

Explains Maryott, “Our mission is to liberate the modern traveler from environmentally unfriendly tourism in Hawaii. We see bike tours as a carbon-free way to experience the location, culture, and people of Honolulu. We also believe that given the choice, visitors want to be healthier, more responsible, and more informed about this paradise that is too often commercialized beyond recognition.”

Despite having lived in Hawaii, I’d never taken an organized tour of Honolulu. The thought of being crammed aboard a double-decker bus heaving with tourists makes me shudder, and left to my own devices, I usually opt for one of the outer beaches over the (very excellent) Bishop Museum.

couple riding in downtown Honolulu

Image: James Ramsey

This is one reason Holoholo’s bike tours are ingenious. Combining sight-seeing (on shiny Trek Allant 7 commuters; max group size is five) with outdoor activity is an appealing way to turn visitors on Honolulu’s lesser-known historic and cultural treasures. The company focuses on three different itineraries: Chinatown Modern, Downtown, and Historic Honolulu.

I opted for the latter, which includes a diversified two-hour exploration of the spots like the burgeoning Kaka’ako Waterfront and Development District (think industrial ‘hood turned funky restaurants, live/work spaces, shops, and studios, with a dynamic street-art backdrop); Aloha Tower; Hawaiian Mission Houses; Hawaii State Capitol; the Queen Lili’okalani statue; ‘Iolani Palace, and Chinatown.

Reid plays tour guide to small groups, talking about the cultural and historical significance at each stop, and shares anecdotes. For those who are leery of city riding (that would include me), not to worry. Safety is paramount to Holoholo’s philosophy, but you don’t feel like you’re on training wheels. Rather, I found myself discovering sides of the city I’d never explored in-depth (with the exception of Honolulu’s Chinatown, which I love for its charmingly decrepit buildings, fascinating history, excellent restaurants, and colorful residents: it’s definitely not a tourist-trap).

Getting an inside peek at Honolulu (think: views of Diamond Head and Waikiki while surrounded by locals fishing for dinner; kids using a concrete desalination plant basin as a swimming hole; frail Chinese men playing a fierce game of cards on a sidewalk) is all too rare. Here’s to Holoholo.

Pedal Bike Tours, Portland, OR

It’s tough to choose between a tour of PDX’s visionary food cart pods or its breweries, but this is the Pacific Northwest, after all. With 40 microbreweries and brewpubs within city limits, it just makes sense to quench your thirst with a taste of iconic PDX brews from spots like Deschutes, McMenamin’s, and Rogue. The three-hour tour includes a cruise past hometown hero Stumptown Coffee, before concluding, time-permitting, with a pint at a tap room.

Cycle City Tours, Vancouver

In addition to pedals around the city’s stunning Stanley Park (an urban oasis) and downtown, there’s now an option for fans of public art. The Art Wheelers Tour launched in June, and includes a tour of Vancouver’s art installations, architecture, and small, community-driven works. Says founder and “chief pedaler” Josh Bloomfield, “We found that much like our food tour, public art is an interesting topic to discover the city’s history, culture, and neighborhoods. Each piece that we talk about relates with a point about its broader context in Vancouver’s landscape.” Art Wheelers tours will resume in June, 2014.

bike tour of public art in Vancouver

Image: Cycle City Tours

Confederacy of Cruisers, New Orleans

What would New Orleans be without its food? Still an incredible city, but seriously? No trip is complete without a dive into NOLA’s historic, culturally-diverse, dining scene. The Culinary Bike Tour takes small groups on an in-depth, by-neighborhood exploration that features tastings of everything from gumbo and Po’ boys to boudin and crawfish boil at landmarks like Bayona, Irene’s, and Galatoire’s. Don’t expect the physical exertion to match the glut of pork products and roux, but that’s besides the point. You may, in fact, find that you want to hop on the company’s Cocktails in New Orleans Tour. As the locals say, “Les bon temps rouler.” Literally.

Top image: James Ramsey

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