Written by Kyle Oppenhuizen
By this point, you probably know that Greater Des Moines has an extensive trail system—676 miles of trails, to be exact.
You’ve seen the bicycle lanes installed downtown. Maybe you’ve strapped your bicycle onto the front of a DART bus.
If you still have any doubt about the momentum around bicycling, just talk to Carl Voss and Tina Mowry Hadden, organizers of Bike Month in Central Iowa. They’ll tell you that Bike Month used to be a day. Then it was a week. Now, it’s a month, serving as a gateway to the summer biking season. Last year, 2,789 people registered on the Bike Month website, a record.
Getting into the habit of bicycling is “just a mindset,” says Mowry Hadden, who owns Mowry Strategies, a public relations and strategic planning firm. “You get lots of great exercise. You get the camaraderie of people who have like interests. And you get to see (that) it makes your city become a small town.”
Each May, Voss, Mowry Hadden and others involved with the Des Moines Bicycle Collective encourage people to get out of their winter funk by getting on a bicycle. The organization launched Bike to Work Day in Des Moines in 2003 to coincide with the national day of the same name. The event was expanded to a week in 2007 and to a month in 2010. Now, Bike Month offers more than 20 events and programs, from a downtown art tour to a commute-to-work challenge.
Check out the following highlights, and for additional details, go to dsmbikecollective.org.
Bike Month Highlights
The Bike Commute Challenge
Teams of employees in workplaces log how many days they commute to work via bike. The Des Moines Bicycle Collective gathers the data and awards winners in different categories, according to the size of the company. In 2013, 113 teams registered for the challenge.
The Passport Adventure
For people who can’t or don’t want to commute by bike, the Passport Adventure offers a way for participants to challenge themselves to bicycle more. Participants earn “stamps” for participating in Bike Month events. Stamps can then be redeemed for prizes, such as gift certificates to local bike shops or restaurants.
Wheels and Heels
This event is specifically designed for women, as a goal of the Bicycle Collective is to get more women involved in bicycling, Voss says. Women decorate and show off their bikes in a “fashion show.” For example, one year, Mowry Hadden says, the show revolved around “What can you take on your bike?” whether it be children’s snacks for a mom or protein bars for an athlete. Nearly 200 women typically participate in the event. As a side note, Voss adds, men have discovered that this event is a pretty good one to hang out at as well.
The Coolest Bike in Town
People with unique or vintage bicycles can enter a contest. The winner gets his or her name on a trophy that is displayed in Mullets. Last year’s contest drew fewer people due to a rare snowy day in May, but in the past, around 300 people have participated.
Bike to Art
Bicyclists take a leisurely tour of downtown architecture and public art spaces led by Tim Bungert from Brooks Borg Skiles Architecture Engineering LLP.
Gears and Beers
Participants travel to downtown bars, taste beers and learn bicycle maintenance tips. This was originally conceived as the male equivalent to Wheels and Heels, but it has proved to be popular among women as well.
Bike Month organizers say they hope these and other events jump-start or increase people’s involvement in bicycling. “We’re looking for sticky people … (who) develop good biking habits in May and say: ‘That wasn’t so hard. I can do that the whole summer,’ ” Voss says.
Chuck’s Urban 18-Miler
Paved trails and city streets
Parking and restrooms:
Greater Des Moines
You’ll see the best of Des Moines on this urban route. Start by putting your pedal to the petal near the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden . Head north a couple of miles on an asphalt trail, then swing a half mile east for a whirl on the hand-carved Heritage Carousel in Union Park .
After a short jaunt north, cross the Des Moines River to the west on an antique bike/walk bridge and swoop along the bike lanes of the Inter-Urban Trail, a former electric streetcar roadbed. The trail transitions to bike lanes. For food or drink, head to GoodSons in Beaverdale (2815 Beaver Ave.) , a popular rendezvous point for cyclists. Head south on 46th Street to Kingman Boulevard; major intersections are Hickman Road and University Avenue. Turn west (right) on Kingman; continue two blocks to Polk Boulevard and turn south (left).
Follow the gorgeous sycamore alley of Polk Boulevard to Woodland Avenue (third intersection after crossing Interstate 235); turn west (right). Follow painted “crumbs” on Woodland, Waterbury Road and North Waterbury Road to the Walnut Creek Trail. Connecting trails pass through
Des Moines Water Works Park and Gray’s Lake, a trail hub .
The Bill Riley and Meredith trails lead cyclists to Principal Park , home of Triple-A baseball’s Iowa Cubs. A slew of eateries, architectural highlights and public art await you in downtown Des Moines. Two stunning bike/walk bridges span the Des Moines River as part of the Principal Riverwalk. Mullets (south of Principal Park) and the High Life Lounge and El Bait Shop (north of Principal Park) are bike-friendly.
Side trips: The Des Moines Art Center in Greenwood Park; the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park between Locust Street and Grand Avenue and 13th to 15th streets in downtown Des Moines; and the stunning Iowa State Capitol (finished in 1886) with five domes gilded with paper-thin sheets of 23-karat gold.
Route designed by Chuck Corwin, Team Wingtip.
Map designed by Buffalo Bonker.
The information is reprinted with permission from “Cycle Central Iowa,” a map produced by the Des Moines Bicycle Collective. Some of the information has been edited for length or style. For a copy of the map, email firstname.lastname@example.org. For additional trail maps, go to dsmbikecollective.org.
Carl Voss and Tina Mowry Hadden note that Bike Month has grown as interest in recreational and commuter bicycling has increased.
Recreationally, groups have popped up who bike together on area trails. For example, a group called “Bike Sunday School” meets on the first Sunday of each month to ride to a park and picnic (in winter, they meet at members’ homes). The group’s “superintendent,” Peggy Johnston, says the riders celebrate with bread, wine and cheese. Informally, bicyclists ride to Cumming every Tuesday to drink beer at Cumming Tap and eat tacos from Tacopocalypse.
On the commuter side, DART bus bike rack usage totaled 44,815 in fiscal year 2013, slightly down from the record high of 45,292 uses in fiscal 2012. Initial projections before the racks were installed in 2006 called for 7,145 uses annually.
“It’s good to miss numbers that way,” Voss says.
New Trail App
The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF) will launch the Central Iowa version of “Iowa by Trail,” a new app and website, May 1. Using the app’s interactive map, riders will be able to locate their position and find the closest trail; identify points of interest along the route, such as restaurants, attractions and natural resources; communicate with others about their experiences along the trail; keep track of the distance they’ve ridden; and gain access to weather forecasts.
The project is a joint venture between the INHF, the Greater Des Moines Partnership, the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, private citizens and Shift Interactive, a West Des Moines company that’s creating the app and website.
“This is an exciting project that is garnering national attention as it is one of the first of its kind,” notes Hannah Inman, the INHF’s communications director.
The all-Iowa version of the app will launch during this year’s RAGBRAI. For more information, visit inhf.org/iowabytrail.cfm.