Greg Stanek hopped off his bike and switched on his microphone headset.
“I can see six murals standing here,” he said, pointing as he counted them one by one. Meanwhile, 40 more bicycles circled up around him in a St. Petersburg, Florida, alleyway tucked between shops and nightlife hotspots.
The cyclists were not there for the exercise, although they covered several miles together under the bright October sun. Instead, they had joined a bike tour of the city’s murals, of which there are at least 50.
Local arts organization Florida CraftArt hosts a monthly tour, but this was one one of several expanded tours added to celebrate St. Petersburg’s annual SHINE Mural Festival. It not only offered a chance to see large-scale works of art locals might miss when going about daily life; it also offered participants a chance to see new work in progress by local and visiting artists. The program invited 17 artists to create new murals in the city for the 2018 festival.
As Stanek explained how the city has embraced murals and their origins from graffiti and street art, he was peppered with questions: “Do the murals last forever?” “Do the artists get paid?” “What neighborhood are we in now?”
Nancy Ferrara of Tampa organized a group of nearly 20 to join the bike tour. The avid cyclist runs a regional Meetup group for couples ages 45 and up and thought the mural tour might make a good outing. “I’ve never done a tour like this before,” she said during a break at a cafe serving sweet tea and beignets. “It’s a great option to see what’s out here.”
Meanwhile, Andrew Odell of St. Petersburg and Elise Barnes of Atlanta navigated the streets via Coast Bike Share. The 3 1/2-half hour tour cost $20 for those bringing their own bikes, but for an extra $5, riders could take the tour via on-demand rental bikes that are typically docked around the city.
Odell explained the pair had gone on a walking tour of murals in St. Petersburg before Barnes learned about the bike version of the tour through SHINE’s Instagram feed. “It’s really cool to see the artists in action,” Odell said. They had already picked out a few murals-in-progress to revisit once completed.
The large group kept a leisurely pace that at times felt unwieldy for a group so large, but the tour’s winding route with plenty of stops meant even the most novice of cyclists were well-equipped to keep up. As the pack of 40 coasted down St. Petersburg’s business district on Central Avenue, a hairstylist burst through the door of her salon to wave and wish us good morning. Along the Pinellas Trail, a popular spot for cyclists, others passing the group often welcomed us with shouts of hello and fist pumps.
Bike tours have long been an option for travelers, but those highlighting outdoor art put a creative spin on typical sightseeing spots. Marlene Rodriguez of Tampa brought her bike to St. Petersburg for the tour. The frequent traveler said it gave her a chance to play tourist in a nearby city.
“When I get to a [new] city, if I have limited time, I grab a bike tour of the city and see most of it in a short amount of time,” she said. She said she had just missed the mural festival in Montreal while visiting this summer and wants to go back next year during the event.
For now, she already has plans to revisit St. Pete’s murals by bike; she and a friend signed up for next month’s mural bike tour to see some of the new murals once they’re finished. Instead of bringing her own bike, she’ll rent one from Coast.
You miss so many of the murals when you’re driving in your car, Rodriguez explained. “It’s the best way to see them,” she said of touring the murals by bike. “And you still can’t see them all.”
Hop on These Mural Bike Tours
Want to play tourist by pedaling through your own city — or want to see somewhere new? These bike tours will help you see murals and other art you might have missed otherwise.
The Alley Adventure Urban Art/Graffiti Bike Tour costs $19 with your own bike or $30 with a rental bike for 2 1/2 hours of touring street art in downtown Los Angeles.
Tour the Wynwood graffiti district in a three- to four-hour tour. It’s a splurge at $59, but bike rental is included.
Philly has had a thriving Mural Arts program for more than 30 years. The Mural Mile two-hour walking tour will run you $23. A newer biking version of the tour lasts three hours and covers 15 miles for $49.
The two-hour Downtown Art & Mural Bike Tour costs $25 and uses the Grid Bikeshare program. Bikeshare membership is not included in the tour cost.
San Antonio Mural Ride offers two different 10-mile routes in the city. The two hour tour costs $40, or $30 if you bring your own bike.
In San Francisco, spend a half day touring the Mission District art scene mixed in with local food tastings and a picnic lunch. You might guess this trip, which includes a bike rental, costs a bit more — tickets are $74 for those under 18 and for older students with identification and $79 for adults.
Even Cheaper Ways to Tour Art by Bike
Not sure you want to spend $20, $50 or more on a guided bike tour? You can set off on foot or pedal your own way by designing a tour of your own.
Many cities have resources to help you plan such a journey. Download a map or scroll the interactive version of a directory of murals in Portland, Oregon, for example. In Atlanta, check the map to plot your own route or choose from five different free, self-guided street-art tours.
Don’t forget to check for apps that can help. For instance, download the Sacramento Urban Mural Bike Tour app from Sacramento Cycling Tours for $4.99 to explore downtown and Midtown Sacramento murals at your own pace.
Lisa Rowan is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.
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