Riding to Eat

By Leah Wolf
Photo by Catherine Murray

My family’s love of bicycling started in the mid 1980s, when my grandmother’s restless spirit drove her to find freedom on a bicycle, after her knees were no longer strong enough to support her love of tennis. 

My dad started bicycling during his junior or senior year in high school. When a friend introduced him to distance biking, he bought a nice eight-speed bike and explored Central Ohio before today’s many bike-friendly options were available. In addition to exploring Columbus, they rode to Powell and Plain City, Portsmouth and Hocking Hills, experiencing Ohio with that unique combination of speed and intimacy that bicycling provides. 

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I fell in love with Columbus from the seat of a bike. I went to Ohio State for college and brought along an old green mountain bike to help me trek across campus. When summer fever made it impossible to stay inside and study, I took off north from my dorm up the Olentangy Trail. Past Ohio Stadium, I followed the trail through leafy trees and the river wetland research park, through the beautiful neighborhood north of North Broadway, next to dams and benches overlooking the river until I reached Whetstone Park and a blooming Park of Roses. Something about taking life slower and experiencing the journey more fully sweetened my destination—Whetstone is still my favorite place in Columbus.

Bicycling is many things to many people—exercise, an environmentally and wallet-friendly commuting option, time with family and friends—but one common thread is the way bicycling makes you experience life, and food, in a different way. People who love outdoor activities know how food serves as a powerful motivator when your stomach is growling and you’re miles from your destination.

The avid bikers in my family say, “We bike to ride and we ride to eat.” My aunt, Mary Plumley, is the administrative coordinator for the Great Ohio Bike Adventure (GOBA) tour program for Columbus Outdoor Pursuits, a local non-profit that provides outdoor recreational education and opportunities ranging from biking and hiking to kayaking. She helps plan the route for GOBA’s eight-day, 50-mile-a-day bicycle tour that rolls through different areas of our state every year. Four generations of my family have participated in this ride that leads people of all ages to explore Ohio’s small towns, simple pleasures and delicious food stops that wouldn’t usually be on their radar. In GOBA, each stop has food to propel everyone through the day—places like R&M Southside Diner in Mount Vernon that are always delicious, but even more relished after you’ve arrived atop a bicycle. 

Mary says that food (including ice cream, my favorite reward) helps make bicycling outings fun for families. Columbus has many bike trails that connect to food destinations for people looking for motivation. The Olentangy Trail runs from Worthington Hills down through downtown near everything from North Market to the many classic Columbus restaurants in German Village. My ideal stop is Whetstone Park, where I can relax under shady trees and enjoy a picnic brought along on the back of my bike.

A year before he graduated college, my dad took his bike to France for 10 days to explore the country he had seen through the lens of the Tour de France. He was struck by the beauty of the countryside, the rolling hills and quaint stone cottages. On the back of a bike, he was close to the land and the people in a way he couldn’t have been behind the windshield of a car. He would roll into a village and be drawn to stop by the smell of fresh bread wafting from a local bakery. Something about the fragrance of bread baking and sharing it with the French villagers, whose language he barely spoke, gave my dad the understanding that even when you are far from home, the lives of those around you are similar in many ways to your own.

Pick up a Columbus bike map from Consider Biking to learn about all the routes throughout Central Ohio: considerbiking.org.