Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Canino's Grocery Ride

Canino Produce Company is a Houston Institution. It is a single store (i.e. not a chain) located in a wholesale produce terminal. They call themselves a farmers' market and, while they do not guarantee that all their produce is local, they do promise to provide as much local produce as possible. That, the ambiance (e.g. industrial fans rather than air conditioning and raw concrete floors), and the collection of farmer-run booths they encourage out back all lend credence to that claim. Finally, right across the street is Flores Spices and Herbs, an exceptional business selling spices in bulk at most attractive prices. In short, my wife loves this place. A few years ago we discovered that it was possible to bike there and that a set of panniers we had lying around were adequate to carry home a week's worth of produce. Since then, we have made this 20 mile round trip ride every few weeks.

One very unique feature of the City of Houston is that it has no zoning laws, which means mixed use neighborhoods are more common here than elsewhere. Some neighborhoods do manage to maintain homogeneity via deed restrictions and the like, but many others just go with the flow. Despite this (or some would say because of it), Houston has very distinctive neighborhoods of which we are most proud.

Our ride begins in the City of West University Place ("West U"), an independent city with its own mayor, city council, police, and fire department despite being entirely surrounded by the City of Houston. West U is almost entirely residential and is graced with quiet streets almost perfect for bicycling. The only downside is that these small residential streets have stop signs at most corners prevent us from picking up much momentum. This pattern continues into Houston through a number of beautiful residential neighborhoods for approximately 4 1/2 miles, almost half the ride.

Highway 59 is spanned by four of these very attractive bridges as it passes southeast of downtown
Next comes just over a mile of riding through a shopping area with relatively high traffic followed by a hair-raising crossing of Allen Parkway, the Buffalo Bayou, and Memorial Drive. As we pass over Buffalo Bayou, we look down on the Buffalo Bayou Bike Trail:

Then we traverse through a commercial neighborhood for another mile. This stretch features one of the characteristic low quality Houston bike lanes. Once we cross under I10 (always exciting), everything changes as we enter into the delightful neighborhood of Houston Heights ("the Heights"). We travel on Heights Boulevard, a divided road featuring a beautiful park between the north- and south-bound sides:

...and one of the finest bike lanes in Houston:

This is perhaps the nicest part of the ride, and it lasts for 1.8 miles. About a half a mile in, we cross the MKT Bike Trail:

About a mile in, we cross 12th street. At this point, the route we are following is the same as if we were planning on riding the White Oak Bayou Bike Path (30 miles round trip). If that were where we were going, we would take a left turn on 12th Street and ride 1.2 miles through attractive residential neighborhoods to the southern end of that 7.5 mile trail. However, we are going to Canino's, so we continue on Heights Boulevard, past the gorgeous victorian homes:

... until we reach 20th street. A right turn leads into a very different, mixed use neighborhood with residential, retail, and industrial cheek to jowl. For most of this mile long stretch we have the questionable benefit of another of Houston's low quality bike lanes.  A left turn on Airline Drive and less than a half mile brings us to Canino's:

We always do this ride early on Sunday morning (Canino's opens at 6 am, 7 days a week) and I would hesitate doing it at any other time. On Sunday morning, the fact that Airline Drive is four lanes wide makes it tolerably safe, but it traverses a commercial/industrial area with heavy truck traffic which, at busy times, would be more dangerous on a bike than I like. At that point, we do our shopping, load up the panniers, and ride home the way we came.

Urban rides are very popular among Houston bike clubs. The reason is that Houston has a rich and interesting mix of neighborhoods with histories and personalities worth exploring. Besides making us feel just a little bit ecologically responsible, we enjoy our "Canino's Grocery Ride" for precisely this reason. I hope to further explore Houston's neighborhoods in the future, and will post about them when I do.

For those new to this blog, each week I am posting an update of my training results; see my previous posts for explanations of my aerobic training program, MAF tests, and this graph.

The most notable thing this week is the paucity of new test results (gaps between the points). I have been doing the rides, the problem is that my measured heart rate has neither been believable nor within the proscribed range. I will comment on this in a future post, hopefully after I understand it. Other than that, the training program continues to stay on track.


  1. Quick question, is there good bicycle parking at the market? Where would I find it?

    1. There is no defined bicycle parking there. Usually I go with my wife, she shops, and I watch the bikes. This is perhaps the least pleasant part of the experience.

    2. Ah ha gotcha. I'll see if I can scout some places next time I'm there, seems like a fun, short ride for me (from the Heights). Thanks for replying!