Biking and sipping Brewed on the Bikeway in Athens, where the public library has bikes to borrow
ATHENS, Ohio – I had a water bottle with me as we cycled north along the Hockhocking Adena Bike Trail.
But what I really wanted was a bottle of beer. Soon I had that too.
Several years ago, marketing experts in Athens had this brilliant idea: to merge the growing popularity of dedicated bike lanes and craft breweries for the perfect combination of (sort of) healthy fun. The Athens County Brewed on the Bikeway tour was born.
The concept had intrigued me for years, but my daughter’s recent move to Athens finally gave me the opportunity to try it out.
There was one problem, however: I didn’t carry my bike with me in Southeast Ohio, and unfortunately, several bike rental locations in the area all closed during the COVID pandemic due to inventory shortages and other challenges.
Enter Athens County Public Libraries, which has dozens of bikes that cardholders can borrow for free through its bike reservation program.
My daughter is a card holder, but even if she wasn’t, any Ohio resident can apply for and get one onsite, providing easy access to the library’s 35 bikes at five locations. We entered the Athens branch on an overcast Saturday afternoon and my daughter checked out three Trek three speed cruisers for herself, her sister and me.
And we left.
One caveat – the library limits its rentals to three hours at a time. So we didn’t have time to explore the 26 miles of the Hockhocking Adena Cycle Trail, which runs just east of Athens northwest to Nelsonville.
We also didn’t have time to sample the creations of the trail’s four breweries, although honestly that was probably a good thing.
Athens on two wheels
We headed west then north from the library (30 Home St.), cycling along the Hocking River for much of the route. The Hockhocking Adena Cycle Path primarily follows the path of the old Columbus and Hocking Valley Railway, built to transport coal between Athens and Columbus in the 1860s.
We cycled past the leafy Ohio University campus, past Peden Stadium, the Convocation Center, and O’Bleness Hospital.
The bike path became considerably more scenic as it turned north through West State Street Park, with wooded sections on either side.
We hiked about 5 miles before making a little detour along the Columbus Road spur to find my daughter’s new office, conveniently located across from Devil’s Kettle Brewing, opened in 2015, with nearly two dozen beers pressure.
We resisted the urge to stop and instead headed south to our main destination, Little Fish Brewing Company, 8675 Armitage Road, which is just off the bike path.
Another spur off the main trail leads cyclists to the back entrance to the brewery, but we missed the turn and found ourselves pedaling along Ohio 682 and Armitage Road. It was the only unpleasant part of the tour. I blame the card reader; She knows who she is.
Little Fish quickly took care of my irritation, with a sample of four house beers, including a concoction from all over Ohio called Marka, “generously spiced in the pot with Norwegian spruce tips from our trees,” according to the. brewery website. More please!
Also on our tasting flight: Dear Science, a hazy IPA, a Summer Crumble, a fruity and tangy wheat beer and a Nelsonic Pale Ale. The food was equally good including a great veggie burger and cheese pizza.
Back on the bikes
Our break ended – and more than two hours into our three hour borrowing limit – we hopped on our bikes and headed back to the pedal library.
Nick Tepe, director of the library system, said the book-a-bike program launched in 2016 the first in Ohio (“and possibly the first in the country”). The loan of bicycles, he says, fits well with the library’s mission. “Libraries have always been about connecting people to information,” he said.
Some Athens County riders take the bikes as a form of transportation, he said, while others are revisiting an old hobby to see if they want to take it back.
Increasingly, visitors are using the bikes to explore the community as other rental options have disappeared.
“This year in particular, we have certainly seen an increase in the number of tourists,” Tepe said. “There aren’t many options for renting bikes, not just here, but everywhere.”
Boone Troyer, executive director of the Athens County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he was hopeful that a new commercial supplier would step in to fill the rental void eventually. In the meantime, in addition to loans from the library, the Nature Center at Hocking College in Nelsonville offers bikes for rent on Saturdays and Sundays.
“We get a lot of people asking us to rent bikes. We are very aware of that and here we are, ”said Troyer, who noted that Athens was recently named one of the most bike-friendly cities in the country by the PeopleForBikes organization.
Tepe said the three-hour delay helps keep bikes available for a wide range of community users, including tourists and residents.
My daughters and I probably would have kept the bikes a lot longer if we could. There were three breweries, plus a recently added cider house, which we were unable to visit.
The day after our bike tour, we drove to a second brewery on the route – Eclipse Company Store, about 8 km north of downtown Athens, located in the center of a former mining town of coal created by the Hocking Valley Coal Company. Eclipse was a great and lively place, with over 32 beers on tap, most of them from Ohio, as well as some great barbecues.
Next time (and, frankly, there may be many more next time), I’ll bring my own bike and ride it myself.