Pedal This Way: Richmond Bike Tours Launch 

click to enlarge Catherine Illian founded Richmond Rides with her husband, Matt.

Scott Elmquist

Catherine Illian founded Richmond Rides with her husband, Matt.

They’ve come on foot, by bus, and in more recent years, in gawky packs on Segways. Now tourists looking to take in Richmond’s sights have another option when it comes to booking a history tour: the bicycle.

“We have two different Segway tour companies, why not one bike tour?” says Catherine Illian, who founded Richmond Rides with her husband, Matt.

The couple invested in a fleet of 20 bikes this winter, betting that visitors also might like the opportunity to check out the city under their own power.

The tour focuses on the city’s oldest neighborhood, Church Hill.

She acknowledges the hill thing can seem daunting, but says her route skips steep inclines and rolls along at a leisurely, easy pace. Illian says she hasn’t had trouble getting visitors to sign on for the ride — partially, she thinks, because visitors don’t have the same mental blocks about biking as some residents do.

Illian invested $10,000 in the project, more than half of which she raised through an online campaign. She’s advertising her business through hotel concierge desks, word of mouth and trip-planning websites.

The tour lasts two hours, costs $45 and includes two snack stops at Church Hill businesses. Illian says she got the idea by hosting tourists in her home through the guest-room-rental website AirBNB.

The tour hits all the obvious tourist attractions, Libby Hill Overlook and St. John’s Church, but also delves deeper into Church Hill than comparable offerings, offering insight into the changing neighborhood, where upscale restaurants bump against the city’s 26-percent poverty rate.

She says she eventually wants to offer a tour that shows off more of Richmond.

“I think biking is the best way to see a city,” she says. “You can cover more ground than walking and still feel good while you’re doing it.”

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