We recently had a chance to sit down and talk to Catherine Illian, the creator of the Richmond Rides Bike Tours. It’s always an awesome experience to talk to someone who has so much passion for Richmond, it’s History and it’s scenery. Her tours are operated within the historic Church Hill neighborhood, and if the smiles we see in the café from her patrons are any indication – the tours are definitely a great time.
Q. What’s your favorite fact about Church Hill?
A. It’s hard to pick one but, I love the story of Elizabeth Van Lew. She came from a very wealthy family, with a large mansion, and had been to Quaker boarding school. From which she came home with ideas about treating all people equally. Her father didn’t like those ideas and he actually wrote into his will ‘my daughter cannot free our slaves.’ So, after he died she just started paying them a living wage and whatever they needed. What she was most known for, was that during the Civil War she was a Union Spy. Most women were darning socks or supporting Confederate Soldiers, she was visiting Libby Prison and bringing the soldiers gifts of food, clothing, and books – lots and lots of books. Those books were not just for them to read, they actually contained messages in them that they traded back and forth.
Her story is definitely one of my favorites.
Q. How’d you come up with the idea for Richmond Rides?
A. I love biking, and I think biking is the best way to see a city. When I say biking; I’m not a cyclist, I’m not a road biker or a mountain biker, I bike for transportation. Biking immerses you in your senses and provides a really amazing experience, and a way to really see a place and experience it in a unique way. So, I wanted to do that in Richmond and Richmond didn’t have a bike tour. I was hosting people in our house and just saw a need for a really interesting tour option, I was hosting through Airbnb and just wanted to think of a tour I would want our guests to go on.
Q. Are you excited about the UCI World Road Cycling competition coming to Richmond?
A. Yes, I am very excited about that. I think that’s going to be a very fun ten days or two weeks. Showing off Richmond to the world and watching some really good cyclists, – people who are in a lot better shape than I am.
Q. Favorite bike ride around Richmond?
A. Well, of course, we do our tour in Church Hill, so I love the views of Church Hill. If I were to go somewhere else… I love going to the Capitol and riding bikes through the Capitol grounds, through downtown, and Monument Ave.
Q. What are your tips for riding around in an urban environment?
A. My biggest tip is that if you’re cycling, or biking, you’re going to go a different route than if you were in a car. I think sometimes when people are biking, they try to take the same way that they would in a car and that is often the worst way to go. So sometimes you kind of have to think about what are the least traveled roads and going on the roads. Often those are beautiful and fun and that’s part of what makes biking fun, you see things that you wouldn’t normally see. Like riding through the Capitol grounds, because you can’t do that in a car. So, that’s definitely one of my tips – think outside of the box of where you would go in a car.
Q. How do you feel Richmond stacks up as a bike friendly city compared to cities such as Minneapolis, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle? Also, do you feel we’re moving in the right direction with regards to that?
A. I see a lot of progress, I’ve lived here for 11 years and I think we have made a lot of progress over those past 11 years. I think, we have a long way to go in regards of becoming more bike friendly; I still get a lot of honks from cars. I’d love to see more protected bike lanes and I think we’re moving in that direction. I mean we are not Seattle, which isn’t even as bike friendly as Portland, but I really have a lot of hope for that. I think as more people are out on the road we will see more structure because there will be an increased need for it. I think it’s about if Richmond decides it wants to be or not, and I hope it does.
For more information of her tours check out: http://www.richmondrides.net/