By Danny Garrett
I had drop handlebars rigged onto my royal blue bike. Before, they were standard flat handlebars: trite and unimaginative; symbols of mediocrity. Everything else about my Retrospec bike was perfect.
A capable mechanic had hand-built the bike’s fork and tig-welded steel frame. It had Kenda Kwest tires. Built for minimum resistance, the tires’ double-wall, deep-V star rims and KMC chains fortified their circular mechanics.
All these qualities signified the perfect combination of strength and style. The only exception to this impeccable design was the handlebars, which is why they had to undergo transformation and be scheduled for aesthetic surgery into the drop style. Anyone who’s seen them glide down an avenue, heading a bike’s frame, knows that drop handlebars have a commandeering presence. They’re horns on a bull. They’re a helm of a ship; a figurehead of an eighteenth-century vessel.
When I first set eyes on the new creation — its blue steel frame and black drop handle bars — I bowed in reverence. It was my ideal for a bike that didn’t compromise on aesthetics and function. It had them both.
Your ideal bike may differ from mine. Yours may be a matte-black Spot Rollik with a dual-link suspension and 140 mm carbon frame, or a turquoise vintage bike with a wicker basket in the rear, holding orchids, organic produce and the Penguin edition of Pride and Prejudice.
Our tastes vary. However, there’s one thing we can agree on: we’re not going to allow our ideal two-wheeled vehicles to collect dust inside our garages. We want to take them for countless spins across the Lake Area.
The question is, where to?
I’m glad you asked. What type of bike you own, and the type of experience you wish to have on your spin, will determine which location in Southwest Louisiana is most suitable for you. In Lagniappe’s list of the best places to bike in the area, we toed that line in ensuring everyone’s diverse preferences were included.
South Lake Charles
Taking Lake Charles as a whole, you have your obvious biking spots: downtown Lake Charles and, more specifically, Shell Beach Drive.
If we were to restrict our options to South Lake Charles, Graywood would surface to the top of conversation. After all, the neighborhood’s quiet, luxurious and safe. But other excellent biking spots in South Lake Charles abound.
If you start close to the boundary of South Lake Charles, you’re at the E. McNeese expansion, which is located at the intersection of E. McNeese St. and Hwy. 14. This stretch of road has a wide shoulder and bike lanes. This is information a biker loves to hear because it means he or she doesn’t have to share a lane with out-of-control Louisiana drivers. It makes this spot perfect for triathlon training.
To continue down this path, take a right at the roundabout onto Corbina Rd., and ride until you reach E. Lincoln Rd. It’s here one can relax and enjoy the solitude. This path is still fitting for triathlon practice; but for this reason, it’s also a path for leisure biking.
E. Lincoln connects to Tom Hebert Rd., 397, and Ward Line Rd.; and the latter brings you to Helms and Robinson Rds. Lincoln and Tom Hebert Rds. may be a biker’s prime preference. They flaunt an infinite aesthetic, where the roads seem to stretch for miles on end, and it’s OK that they do. If you find yourself there on the sort of day I was, then you’d want the light blue skies, the velvet white clouds and the jovial lime-green butterflies to stay in your sights forever.
If the South Lake Charles path is too much land for you, let’s go aquatic at Big Lake.
For this ride, start at 384, take a left on Big Pasture Rd., and then a right on Herbert Camp Rd., which will take you straight to Calcasieu Lake.
This is an excellent locale for leisure riding. It’s easy to imagine a biker taking out his or her Giant Simple Three bike, and riding among the palm trees and multi-colored, Caribbean-inspired homes in Bike Lake. Giant Simple Three is a beach cruiser with specifications that are all about rider comfort. The stable upright rider’s position makes you feel as if you’re sitting with perfect posture in an ergonomically friendly plush chair. The lightweight aluminum frame and easy gearing options engender the sensation of floating on air.
Once you’re finished riding, you can go out to the shore and continue that serenity by looking out onto the Calcasieu Lake.
The Iowa bike trail is an intriguing one, as it offers a diverse Louisiana setting that evokes reflection. I began on Gordon Denison Rd. Before reaching a meandering bayou and a sun-kissed pavement that curved among the pines, I was met by a small, ancient power plant and a rusty oil well. My mind could have gone negative. Nic Pizzolatto’s character Rust Cohle, played brilliantly by Matthew McConaughey in the HBO series True Detective, is known for taking a pessimistic-realist view of such a landscape. When this depressive and nihilistic Louisiana State Police detective is out among such a setting, he says the air smells of “aluminum and ash,” and the trees are leaning the wrong way; these are descriptions that denote how soul-destroying an industrial landscape can be for both humans and land.
But I didn’t go there. I couldn’t. I have too many friends in town who are chemical engineers, and they enjoy waxing ecstatic about the magic of chemical reactors and distillation machines. Plus, I had more inspirational ammunition. The oil well was still — a slightly bent, calcified and rusted statue — and there was no activity at the adjacent silver-pillared plant. It was a tableaux: a museum-like landscape of the future once the oil beds run dry.
Those thoughts readied me well for what was to come. It was a gorgeous path that began at the junction of Hecker and Gordon Denison Rds. As soon as you pass the Hecker Fire Station, you ride over a bridge that hangs over Bayou Serpent, which is a fitting name for the bayou. Its structure is serpentine, and it slithers its way through Iowa, Welsh, Elton and onward.
Once past this magnanimous stream, pedal quickly. Gather some speed. Then you can coast among the curves of Hecker Rd. with the wind against your face and flowing through your hair.
Continue to ride into Lebleu, and turn left on 3059 to return to Lake Charles.
Sam Houston Jones State Park
Sam Houston Jones State Park has the best trails for mountain biking in the area. If you had a Giant Anthem Advanced at your disposal — with 110 mm rear suspension; trunnion mount shock; an Advanced Forged composite rocker arm; and 27.5-inch wheels with wider Boost-Hub spacing (110 front/148 rear) — you could have a time.
My royal-blue Retrospec bike is for the road, yet I was still able to enjoy myself climbing hills, running over tree roots and cycling through the dirt.
I took the Orange Trail; it’s one of the smoothest trails in the state park, which meant I could ride without too many natural obstacles in the way — which is what you’d want for true mountain biking. The more downward slopes and rocky terrain there were, the better.
Once I braved such obstacles with my cruiser, it was smooth sailing. The dirt and grass matted out, and the pine trees emitted sweet and aromatic scents. Light hit the swamp trees in the best of ways, accenting the brown hues that were taking over the green of the leaves. I had to stop riding at this point and take it all in. Fall colors suit the swamp well. The brown and orange leaves gorgeously color-coordinate with brown moss and the faded-green algae that coats the waters below.
It’s worthy to note that Sam Houston Jones State Park isn’t only for mountain biking. After I biked the Orange Trail, and one more trail after that, I cruised around the park’s concrete roads, admiring the serene fawns of the park as they grazed among the woods, and more of the Louisiana landscape, complete with swamps and pines.
The Lake Area’s biking culture continues to grow. As it does, it’s best to stay in the know about where is best to bike and which locales fit your preferences. This summer, I composed a list of the best places to kayak in Southwest Louisiana. Those included Prien Lake Park, West Cove Bay in Hackberry, and Anthony Ferry in Sulphur. The great part: these sites make excellent places to bike, as well.
As for the last recommendations in the list, feel free to extend and widen the diameter of your trail choices into Dequincy’s Holbrook Park and Vinton’s Gum Island Rd.
And if you don’t want to solo on all these trips, take a friend or family member, or join a biking group. We have plenty in the Lake Area. Southern Bicycle Co. goes on weekly rides throughout the spring, summer and fall. There’s also B Cyclists, 3 Three 7 Cyclists, Jolly Roger Cycling, Lake Charles Racing and the Slow Spokes Biking Social. Check your local event calendar.
Local restaurants and other businesses frequently host leisurely rides and crawls around Lake Charles. Slow Spokes Biking Social recently hosted a group ride for the Gallery Promenade at the end of September and a Candy Crawl at the end of October.
Once you’re in the know, the sky’s the limit.
If you’re in need of further information, Southern Bicycle Co., one of the local cycling stores in Lake Charles, will provide helpful assistance. Their staff is knowledgeable about bike safety, trails and equipment. Their general manager, Charles McAdon, has been of invaluable help to me and others for all things biking.