This story was produced with support from REI. REI Memphis is now open at 5897 Poplar Avenue.
Memphis is world renowned for its BBQ and Blues music, but biking?
The Memphis bike scene has a great story and from my recent experience, it's incredibly fun.
In 2010, Memphis earned the title of one of the three worst biking cities in the United States by Bicycling Magazine.
The Mayor committed to building new bike routes and trails all over town. By 2012, Bicycling had named Memphis America's “Most Improved Bike City,” and in 2018, ranked Memphis 31st out of 50 of “The Best Bike Cities in America 2018.”
I had many routes to choose from for my day-long biking adventure. Luckily, when I stopped by the new REI location in Memphis to build out my basic bike gear quiver, William Hanlon (REI Memphis' bike pro) helped me choose a route. I wanted a fun, urban biking trip (10-plus miles, urban and field scenery, river views, and BBQ). Hanlon, a local Memphian and life-long bike enthusiast, clocked two years as a bike mechanic before recently joining REI staff as a cycling expert/certified tech.
He suggested the Big River Crossing (BRX), which Memphis finished building two years ago this month. It's the longest public pedestrian/bike bridge across the Mississippi River, at nearly a mile in length.
Connecting the Main Streets in Memphis and West Memphis (Arkansas), the BRX ties together urban, rural, and natural areas and gives users recreation options unique to each setting.
The route William and I chose for my day-bike adventure started in downtown Memphis, weaved through two riverside parks, crossed the BRX to Arkansas, included a rural trail loop there, and finished back at the starting point for a 10-mile ride. (I included a lunch stop at Central BBQ, of course.)
Hanlon also told me about the role REI Memphis is playing in caring for and expanding Memphis' trails. Their current non-profit partners include Overton Park Conservancy, Shelby Farms Park Conservancy (Greenline, a 10.65-mile paved path that connects midtown to Cordova and passes through Overton Park as well as Shelby Farms, was built on behalf of Shelby Farms donors), as well as Wolf River Conservancy (which is currently working on the Greenway that will encompass 36 miles of paved pathway for cyclists, runners, and walkers alike).
REI Memphis has donated thousands of dollars in grants to each of the conservancies, which are used primarily for trail maintenance, building, and repairs.
Thanks to Hanlon, I was able to find all of the gear I needed for my 10-mile ride along the Big River Crossing. Here's what I brought along, and how it performed.
My theory is that you're never going to look cool in a helmet. I think the Bern Allston got me as close to stylish while wearing a helmet as I will ever be. Its built-in visor can be flipped up or down, or removed completely. I liked wearing the visor down for a hat look, and so that I didn't have to wear sunglasses. Although, the molded channels of the helmet fit eyewear ear stems, so they don't dig into your head.
The Allston does not sacrifice safety for aesthetics. It features a PVC microshell lined with proprietary Zipmold liquid injected foam to create the lowest profile and still meet standards for bike and skate helmets.
The removable comfort liner system allows you to go from warm to cold weather. I didn't get bad soggy hat hair in hot and humid Memphis with the 16-vent ventilation system.
Two places at once?! Riding across the BRX I stopped to straddle the state lines of Tennessee and Arkansas, fulfilling a lifelong dream of being two places at the same time.
To be honest, my experience with padded bike shorts is limited. But when deciding what gear to purchase for this ride, I knew it was smart to include padded shorts for an all-day cycling outing.
I like the REI Co-op Mesh Padded Liner shorts because they are low-profile and you can wear them under your shorts without appearing to be wearing a giant diaper. The compression leg bands prevented the shorts from creeping up as I explored Memphis. And because humidity is inevitable in the Southeast state, I was happy to find that the lightweight, breathable stretch-polyester mesh fabric wicked away moisture and dried quickly.
The shorts also feature a soft elastic waistband and flat lock stitching to prevent chafing (extremely important to reduce or eliminate), and dual pockets for small essentials.
Pearl Izumi Elite Low Bike Socks ($15)
When you're pushing through your feet all day, comfort is essential. Pearl Izumi Socks are low profile multisport socks. Composed with fast drying ELITE transfer yarns and a mesh ventilation over the forefoot, your active feet can breathe and stay pretty dry.
The socks are comfortable, which I credit to the targeted padding under the forefoot and anatomic arch compression that provides a performance fit.
Again, if you plan on cruising bikes for an extended amount of time you want to make sure your feet are happy. A plethora of reasons make these shoes a great choice for my bike excursions, not to mention my lifestyle.
For starters, they look cool and they have flat soles. Meaning if I want to wear them into a bar or restaurant after a ride, they look like normal shoes. Unlike clip-in bike shoes, I can walk without sound or a hindered gate.
The sticky, high-friction rubber outsoles, and the light, breathable upper canvas make the Five Ten Freeriders great for urban riding, mountain biking parks and backcountry rides.
This pack is great for sweat-prone activities. Its ventilated and contoured mesh back panel and straps secure it to your body tightly without trapping heat.
I love the LidLock helmet-carry feature. The bike helmet slips onto the lidlock and becomes part of the pack. It was nice to have to only carry one compact item when I stopped for BBQ.
Again the age-old water bottle versus hydration bladder question comes into play. I prefer the straw of the bladder that rests across my chest so I don't have to stop biking to have a drink. This 8-liter, 1-pound pack comes with a 2.5-liter water reservoir. That's plenty of water for a day-bike like mine.
I could fit plenty of snacks and personal items in the pack, and the variety of pockets helped me keep things organized. An integrated high-visibility raincover and J-zip front tool organizer add to the functionality of the pack.
About 4 miles into the bike ride and two hours past noon, I decided to swing into the famous "Central Barbeque" restaurant to fact check a rumor: Some say Memphis does not just rival Texas for BBQ, but exceeds it in deliciousness.
It's a good idea to lock up your bike, for peace of mind (i.e. full attention to BBQ) and to manage the risk of some pesky person stealing your whip.
I grabbed the Kryptonite cable lock. It's rated as more of a deterrent lock than a provider of extreme security. It comes with two keys. It's flexible and long enough to wrap around multiple bikes. I liked the cylinder cover because it can protect against dust and grime and the convenience of the lock head that rotates 360° for easy access during lock-up and removal.
I will continue to use this lock for outings, but I wouldn't use it for an extended stay.
In my opinion, Vuori makes some of the softest, most durable athletic wear. This tank has UPF sun-protective fabric that also wicks sweat and dries quick. The smooth fabric provides chafe-free comfort. I was so incredibly comfortable in this performance tank. I'll definitely wear it for climbing, running and gym workouts.
This REI Co-oP packable hooded jacket is awesome, especially for biking!
I threw it on while watching the sunset from the Big River Crossing pedestrian bridge. The welcomed breeze picked up and it was nice to have a lightweight windbreaker to fight away the chills. The front, rear, and arm reflectivity enhance visibility at night, so I kept it on for the last portion of my ride.
For inclement weather, it has an adjustable hood that fits snugly over the helmet or an option to tether it out of the way if it's not needed. It has a durable water repellent finish that beads up light drizzle. The droptail hem and the shaped cuffs provide full coverage while riding.
That's a lot of functionality for a piece that weighs almost nothing, at 4.8 oz., and packs into its own chest pocket, fitting anywhere!
The nightly "Mighty Lights" LED display on the BRX accentuate the mile-long bridge and is one of the largest light implementations in the country. I felt like I was riding through a disco corridor.
When night riding in an urban area, front and rear lights are imperative for safety. I like the U.S.-designed, USB-rechargeable Night Rider set. I prefer bike lights designed with flexible rubber strap mounts like these. It's nice to be able to easily remove the lights from the bike, to use on other bikes or stuff them in your bag in areas prone to theft. The Swift 300 is backed by a Niterider lifetime warranty that covers defects. It has four light levels and, according to NiteRider, can run up to 27 hours before needing a charge. Both lights have daylight visibility, which increases road safety.
Interested in seeing all the bike trails in Memphis? Check out this Memphis bike map.
Don't have a bike? Rentals are available near downtown from Peddler Bike Shop on 517 S Main Street.
For a mountain biking adventure or checking out the Greenline, rent bikes onsite at Shelby Farms Rental. They play it safe – helmets and locks are provided.
Get all of your outdoor gear at the new REI Memphis store. All photos by Jo Savage.
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