NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Tourists are a noticeable presence in the Music City, flocking in droves to Broadway and increasingly finding their way into residential neighborhoods. The Green Fleet Bicycle Shop offers an alternative tour from the towering trolleys and pedal taverns that so visibly invade daily life. Green Fleet’s bicycle tour, owner Austin Bauman assures his clients, is one that won’t give them a hangover.
Bauman founded Green Fleet in 2009, and as tourism continues to boom – the city hosted 13.9 visitors in 2016, according to Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation – the business has evolved dramatically. It started as small courier service that transported legal documents, medical specimens and country music merchandise, exclusively on two wheels. It then snowballed into a bicycle shop and soon added bicycle tours.
In 2015, the bike shop moved from the Edgehill Village neighborhood to Jefferson Street, closer to downtown Nashville, which made for a more feasible starting point of the tour, Bauman said.
The North Nashville street where the storefront is located was once dotted with culturally significant music venues and African American-owned clubs that strongly influenced the future of jazz, rock, rhythm and blues, and soul music. Some notable performers included Jimi Hendrix, Ray Charles and Marion James, and a huge mural on the Green Fleet building’s exterior depicts them riding bikes.
Bauman understands the historical significance of the neglected neighborhood and hopes to help the community, including strengthening its connection to the rest of the city.
“We like to think that having a bike shop on Jefferson Street can contribute to giving people another way to get around and experience what used to be a great street,” Bauman said.
The mural of some of the music industry’s seminal forces is the starting point of the bike tour. First stop is Germantown, although every tour is slightly different, said bike shop employee Phil Martindale.
On this day, the tour group fearlessly cruises side-by-side with cars and trucks on the road. Its power is in numbers, making ongoing traffic and major intersections a toothless threat, as cars move aside and make room for the pack. The tourists pump the brakes once they hit the west side of the Cumberland River, finding themselves in a more desolate, warehouse area with the low bustle of the city humming in the background.
The intersection of Monroe and Adams streets showcases Nashville’s skyline, offering a clear eyeshot of the AT&T building, often dubbed the Batman building, as Bauman explains to the newcomers.
The tour then explores neighborhoods such as Marathon Village and The Gulch, where the bikers can sample the local food, drink and music of the many restaurants and entertainment venues.
Rider Jeff Thompson, the father of a family vacationing from Fargo, N.D., said it’s been a while since he last climbed on a bike.
A lapse in biking experience isn’t uncommon among Green Fleet clients, Bauman said. “Even people who haven’t been on a bicycle in 20 years, they’ll take our bike tour and say, ‘Wow, great I actually did it, I made it up the hill and I actually learned some stuff, too. I’m now excited to get a bike in my town,’” he said.