Exploring Memphis on two wheels
Photography by Meka Wilson
The first time that I picked up a bicycle as an adult, I fell off the bike two minutes into the ride. I was a graduate student in Austin, Texas, and wanted a way to get around campus and the city that didn’t involve paying exorbitant parking fees. My solution? Riding public transit and purchasing a shiny new turquoise blue upright commuter bike that I adored. As soon as I found my balance, I experienced all the joys of my childhood bike rides. My bike became a source of physical exercise, a stress reliever, a form of transportation, and a source of connection to my city, my community, and my friends.
I’ve since traded in my beloved turquoise bicycle for a speedier, trendier e-bike.
Now I zip around Memphis with a little battery-powered assist—particularly helpful for those sweltering summer days.
I spend my days as a transportation and public space planner, thinking quite frequently about those who commute in ways other than a personal vehicle. Though Memphis continues to expand the network of protected bike lanes and safe riding routes each year, commuting by bike around the city is not without its challenges.
I tend to stick to routes and streets where I feel comfortable and safe, even if this means taking a less direct route.
I choose routes that have protected bike lanes or that go through slower neighborhood streets with less traffic. I also exercise extreme caution when riding on downtown streets with trolley tracks, making sure to safely cross perpendicular at a T to avoid getting my wheel stuck in the tracks.
Biking in Memphis inspired me to create an Instagram account called @girlswhobicycle. I created the account to motivate myself to commute by bike more often. I also wanted to prove to myself and others that one doesn’t need fancy cycling clothes, equipment, or gadgets to bike. I thought, “I’m not cycling for sport; I’m using my bike as a form of transportation, so I’m going to normalize using my bicycle to get from A to B by wearing whatever I want to wear.”
I soon discovered that women all over the world are biking in everyday wear to inspire other women to do just that. My account quickly garnered a group of steadfast, supportive followers from Belgium, Greece, India, and all over the nation. I’m blown away by the encouraging messages and comments I receive from women inspiring each other to commute by bike, or women who have been inspired by me! I’ve been lucky enough to have my own inspirational group of women cyclists in Memphis and beyond—professors, supervisors, colleagues, and friends—but my @girlswhobicycle account has connected me to an even more expansive network of women riders who encourage and motivate me every day.
One of my favorite ways to use my bike is to ride to the city’s many breweries, coffee shops, restaurants, parks, and hangout spots.
There’s no better feeling than coolly riding up to the front door (no need to search for parking!), unlatching your helmet strap, and settling in for a nice cold drink or tasty meal. For some appetizing suggestions and what is, in my opinion, a mighty fine bike day itinerary, see below!
Crosstown Concourse to City & State
Start your ride at the Crosstown Concourse plaza, which, in addition to having excellent bike parking, also hosts an Explore Bike Share station if you’re in need of a ride! Take Cleveland Street to Overton Park Avenue; head east until Overton Park Avenue dead ends at Overton Park. Enter the park and take a ride through the Old Forest and come out on the side of East Parkway. Cross under the sculptural bike gate and over East Parkway; then follow the path to reach the bike lanes on Broad Avenue. You’ll find City & State on your right, at the corner of Collins Street and Broad. Grab a tea or coffee for an energy boost for the rest of your ride, and don’t forget to peruse the shop’s retail store next door.
Midtown to the Medical District
Once you are properly fueled and energized, head back down Broad Avenue and through Overton Park. Head west on Overton Park Avenue and turn left on Bellevue Boulevard. Continue on Bellevue until you reach Jefferson Avenue, where you’ll take a right to head west into the Medical District. Take a left on Manassas Street and continue on until Union Avenue, where you’ll turn right and ease onto Marshall Avenue and into the Edge District, passing Sun Studio on your right. Follow Marshall and take a left on Monroe Avenue, where you’ll find your next food and drink stop—Edge Alley and High Cotton Brewing Company.
In my opinion, food is the most important fuel. I recommend brunch at Edge Alley, where a savory salmon lox or pimento BLT awaits. If you make it for lunch instead of brunch, you can’t go wrong with the Edge Alley burger.
Pop over to High Cotton (next door) post-meal for a tasty local brew. My favorite is the Mexican Lager. (Just remember to be responsible with your drinking even when you’re behind the handlebars instead of behind the wheel.)
Medical District to Crosstown
I always recommend ending a ride with a snack—a congratulatory treat if you will. Popcorn will always be my snack of choice, and a mouthwatering spot like Pop-a-Roos Gourmet Popcorn Shoppe back at Crosstown Concourse will do the trick! (Other sweet treats in Crosstown include Mempops and Sweet Magnolia Gelato.) From the Edge District, head east towards the Medical District on Monroe Avenue Extended, which eases into Madison Avenue. Take a left onto Manassas Street, a right on Jefferson Avenue, and a left on Bellevue Boulevard. From Bellevue, take a right onto Autumn Avenue, heading back toward Crosstown Concourse. Bike parking can be found along Concourse Avenue, under or adjacent to the parking garage. Lock up and venture inside to the Central Atrium, where Pop-a-Roos’ perfect mix of savory and sweet awaits!
Sydney Sepúlveda coordinates the Memphis Medical District Collaborative’s Quality Public Realm work. She is driven by a love for cities and a desire to help cultivate vibrant, safe, welcoming, and equitable places for the people that inhabit them. @girlswhobicycle
Meka Wilson is a Memphis photographer who focuses on a subject’s rawness and natural beauty. Meka works with nonprofits, restaurants, and others to capture photos and videos. The positive response from clients when they see the finished product is what keeps Meka behind the lens. @pixbymeka