Them’s the Brakes: Good Owners Make Baltimore’s First Biker Bar Worth Stopping For

Like the four or five horse-people of the apocalypse, the UB Bicycling Club, rides to the Handlebar Café—admittedly downhill and across flat terrain, at an easy pace.

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 But they keep going back, time after time.

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Other bikers join them, converging there day after day, night after night, for breakfast, lunch and music. For dinner and drinks. Still other bikers are dying to go. They’ve been too busy but they’ve heard about the Handlebar Café and they’re chomping at the bit.

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What’s so great about Baltimore’s biker bar that opened in 2017 and won “Best Restaurant-Shop Hybrid” in The Baltimore Sun’s “Best of Baltimore 2018: Dining and Nightlife?”

BREAKFAST.jpgIs it the fried breakfast potatoes, the stellar egg whites, potent coffee and California cuisine? Is it the gluten-free pizza? Is it the beer?

Is it the bicycles hanging high up on the walls—for display and for sale?

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Is it the bicycle parts incorporated into the furniture?

COFFEE CLOSE UP.jpgIs it the inner tube wrapped around my glass keeping my hand cool as I sip my steaming latte at an outdoor table near the bike rack on the first crisp, windy, day this fall?

Is it the indoor bicycle parking, ready for rain and snow?

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Is it the tiny bike shop in the back behind the bar?

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Is it the friendly staff, taking my order, charging my iPhone and keeping an eye on my unlocked bike as I wander around reading the posters on the bulletin board, learning about Yoga for Cyclist Classes and related events?

Is it the egg carton full of artistically designed bicycle bells I browse through in the bike shop?

Is it the Mountain Bike Hall-of-Famer, mom, former biochemist and Baltimore Native—Marla Streb—who at the age of 53, manages to keep reinventing herself—this time by opening Baltimore’s first biker bar with her husband, Mark Fitzgerald?

For me it’s all these things. Great food is my go-to—maybe that goes without saying. Creativity is Coffee & Breakfast for my Spirit. Recycling is right up my alley.

Friendly people free up my anxiety about Life, the Universe and Everything.

And Marla serves as inspiration for me.

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Marla helps her kids ride a unicycle in the park. I’m really nervous when my son rides his!

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Better than never

I woke up late Saturday–too late to make it to the garden, I thought, where I work every weekend morning, weeding and harvesting huge amounts of organic veggies with my neighbors surrounded by native flowers overflowing with color.

Starving, I grabbed a frozen yogurt pop out of the freezer, fresh from the grocery store, only the week before.

Missing my garden buddies and dreaming of sunlight reflecting green and yellow in my eyes, I ate my breakfast.

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Well at least I finally got enough sleep, I thought. After a week of work and related exhaustion, that was probably a good thing. Plus I had a lot to do. I sighed and looked out the window. Visualizing a dark weekend indoors with my chores I somehow had trouble drumming up any enthusiasm for starting them.

Maybe there was still time to get to the garden.

All I had to do was get on my bike and ride.

I’d be late.

So what?

Meeting time was 9 AM, but I could still get a good amount of weeding done in even half an hour.

I took a really fast shower.

I got dressed in record time.

I attached my blinking red light to my bike basket, put some empty grocery bags in my basket and secured them with a bungee cord. I put my big gardening hat in a gigantic cross-body bag. I put on my helmet and I was off.

Heading uphill and watching the shadows of tiny leaves dance across the sidewalk amongst sparkles of sunlight–I knew I made the right choice.

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I saw my friends, I did a ton of weeding and I took home piles of peppers and a bike load of tomatoes bursting with flavor. Not a bad way to start a weekend even if it started a little late–and I had a fun afternoon frying up peppers and turnip greens—great nutrition for getting my chores done!

The Art of Getting Around

To get to the biggest free arts festival in the United States, I went multi-modal. It was easy since the festival, Artscape, was just over 7 miles from where I live in Baltimore.

I biked side streets to the light rail stop. It was 3 miles from home. When the train came, I took my bike on board. In 10 minutes, I was there.

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Poster by Rockets are Red. I bought this poster at Artscape!

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Artscape 2018

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Artscape 2018

A colorful array of bikes were locked up at Artscape. The bikes below are locked up at the University of Baltimore (UB) which was located right at the center of Artscape.

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I locked up my bike at a rack in the Maryland Avenue Garage a few blocks away. It was just a short hike to the festival from there.

I wandered around, flipped through posters and saw some fascinating mixed media creations. I checked out unique skirts and intricately designed bags while listening to live bands. I ran into old friends, discovered new art and got a lot of exercise and sunshine.

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Rocks and Salt artists Phil and Sara create beautiful skirts, hats, scarves, bags and shirts. Their craftsmanship is excellent and they’re also super friendly. I love running into them every year!

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When I got hungry I found Black Dirt Farm selling humongous fresh watermelon slices for $3. Another vendor, Farm to Face, sold felafel wraps overflowing with peaches and veggies topped with hot sauce and dressing. It was a long wait for the felafel but it was worth it. Plus I had a secret. I bought the slice of watermelon first and ate it while I was waiting on line for the felafel.

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After a few hours of urban hiking around Artscape I unlocked my bike. I figured I’d check out the train situation again but it was totally packed with people. Luckily I was packed with calories. I hopped on my bike and rode home.

 

 

Back Pedaling

I biked to the grocery store last Saturday. Usually I walk because it’s only half a mile but I pulled a muscle in my back the previous Thursday and I didn’t want to carry a load of stuff. Ironically, I managed to hurt my back with the simple act of bending–ever so slightly–to get my reusable grocery bags out of the kitchen closet.

Luckily, there’s nothing quite like biking in the heat to stretch out my lower back. With each pedal stroke I loosen my muscles a little more, like a moving massage.

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There’s a great bike rack at my local grocery store. It’s definitely not back-breaking.

I could test the weight of my groceries by how my shopping cart felt. If I could push the cart around the store without hurting my back, I was pretty sure I could pedal my groceries home.IMG_3541.jpgThat seemed to work. My back was definitely on the road to recovery.

Of course there are always bumps in the road. Wednesday, I re-injured my back. On my way home from the light rail after work, I decided to stop for a snack. With great intentions, I attempted to lean my bicycle against a picnic table. Not too lofty a goal, it seemed. However, in the late night semi-darkness, I missed. My bike fell over. When I lifted it back up and tried to roll it, the front wheel wouldn’t move. The break seemed to be jammed. Attempting to wheel my bike seemed to be a bad call when it came to my back. I noticed it was sore when I sat down.

I called a Lyft and helped the driver load my bike into her car and position it, which maybe wasn’t a great move for my injury, either. At home, we took the bicycle out. Mysteriously, the front wheel seemed to moving again.

I still want to get my bike checked out–just in case. Not an expert on disc breaks or any form of bike repair, despite being an avid rider, I can’t really tell if anything was damaged and I want to be sure it’s safe.  I think tomorrow I’ll walk my bicycle to the bike shop. Hopefully, I’ll be pedaling back.

Cool as a cucumber?

Tuesday was a hot one. I biked my hiking route to the light rail around the middle of the day to get to work. My plan was to go multi-modal and take my bicycle on the train.The heat index was already about 105. Luckily, my route was only 3 miles and mostly shady.

Before I left I took a shower so my hair was wet. That’s always helped me keep cool, creating an air conditioning effect while riding, even when I’m wearing a helmet. I soaked a bandanna in cold water and put that on under my helmet, as well.  I did the same thing with a stretchy visor I wear. I doused my spaghetti-strap cotton tank top in cold water, too. The top was loosely fitting–a definite bonus. It acted like a fan in the breeze. I put ice cubes in my pockets for the full freezer effect.

I can’t say I was as cool as a cucumber by the end of the ride, but at least I was only half-way to being a red hot chili pepper, fried.

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Cucumber plant beginning to grow at the Mt. Washington Community Garden–isn’t it cool?

 

Peace and Cucumbers

A twilight hike home from the grocery store revealed my neighbors’ first harvest of the season.

These folks at the top of Dixon Hill grow veggies in their own yard but share them with everyone. Each spring they put out a table with barrels of goodies.

I added a cucumber to my grocery bag and wandered home in the hazy glow of streetlights.

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These are the kinds of unexpected treats and pleasant surprises I’m more likely to miss if I’m in a car.

Most evenings when I walk this route I see families of deer in the grass on the side of the road. I see people walking their dogs and one or two avid urban hikers, like me.

I have the opportunity to chat with people, pet their dogs and appreciate nature.

The silhouettes of trees against the darkening sky, the smell of rain and the sound of owls hooting is a peaceful way to wrap up an evening.

Pedaling and Partying!

Baltimore Bike Party (BBP) is a moving celebration. It’s a party on bicycles with some unicyclists and roller skaters here and there. BBP is open to everyone.

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Baltimore Bike Party is the most diverse ride in town, as far as I know. To me, it’s a celebration of the diversity that makes up Baltimore—at the same time it’s a huge celebration of bicycling!

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I always see at least 300 people riding with Baltimore Bike Party—and usually I see more.

1000 people or more show up for spring rides—summer, too!

I’ve heard of Bike Parties where only 50 people go, when it’s freezing out. That was only word of mouth, though. I usually wait until May.

Halloween is, by far, the biggest ride. I see a few thousand people riding their bicycles together each Halloween I’m at Bike Party.

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The author at Halloween Bike Party

Baltimore Bike Party rides the last Friday of every month, all year long. It always starts at St. Mary’s Park in Seton Hill at 6:30 PM.

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Bicycle Successfully Dressed up as Unicorn–Halloween Bike Party!

There’s always a costume theme even when it’s not Halloween. Sometimes the theme is “Circus” and sometimes it’s “Ugly Sweater.” In May there’s usually a “Prom” ride. Another recurring theme is “Baltimore and Maryland.” In June, BBP teamed up with Baltimore Pride.

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Bike Party Circus!

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Bike Party Beach Prom!

There’s always music at Baltimore Bike Party. Giant speakers literally rock and roll. They’re on a bike trailer of sorts. A hearty volunteer—usually one of Bike Party’s hardworking organizers— pulls the music along.

Some people bring their own music. I weave throughout the ride and it’s kind of like changing stations on the radio at a moving outdoor music festival. Sometimes I simply have to slow down and new music will catch up with me.

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Baltimore Bike Party is a 2-hour ride and it moves very slowly. That’s one of the things I love about it. It’s the slowest ride in town.

Baltimore Bike Party is free—right in my price range.

I don’t have to register—yet an additional bonus. I can show up at the last minute and ride.

Rides are fun, raise awareness, connect people who want better, safer bicycle infrastructure—and show people folks are out on bicycles. Group rides also encourage drivers to leave their cars at home and take out bikes, instead.

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Baltimore Bike Party, the biggest ride in town, raises a lot of awareness, I think.

It’s the only time cyclists take over the street. Once a month, the road is ours. Once a month, we don’t get pushed around by people in cars.

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Bike Party is a vision for the future. When a glance over my shoulder shows me hundreds of bicycles—lighting up the road around a long winding curve—as far as the eye can see—like infinite rows of holiday lights blinking red and white—I have hope.  This is the future of rush hour, I think.