18 Miles Of Beer and Tacos: Relive the 3rd Annual Tour De Taco
St. Louis is a city that loves tacos. You’ve got street taco trucks, brick-and-mortars, local chain destinations; Even dive bars now roll tortillas on weekly taco nights.
That’s why I wasn’t too surprised when I learned that our city had its very own taco bike ride, the “Tour de Taco,” an event on Memorial Day weekend involving bicycles, beer and tacos.
With the promise of beer and tacos, I was in. Who says no to tacos? Not this girl. The part about riding a bike felt like an afterthought—at least until the day before the event was to take place. Late in May, I decided to check the Facebook page for the Third annual Tour de Taco event to see exactly what I was in for.
The route had been posted. Clicking the link to Google Maps, I could feel the tune of my thoughts changing from free taco jitters to road cycling dread.
Eighteen miles? Oh … No … Who in their right mind would pedal a bicycle 18 miles in St. Louis city traffic, for beer and tacos?
I wanted to say, “Not this girl,” but it was too late. I was already committed.
The next morning, I pulled up to Mike’s Bikes in the Central West End more nervous than ever. Still, I wanted to find out exactly what type of person volunteers to get out of bed on a Sunday morning for an 18-mile taco ride.
Many types, apparently. At first, the mélange of riders clustered outside 324 N. Euclid appeared to have nothing in common. Ok—they all had bikes.
The group was a complete hodgepodge. There were tots on tricycles getting lathered in SPF by mom, seasoned pros on featherweight frames tightening nuts and bolts, co-eds on cruisers sporting sombreros and stick-on mustaches.
Maybe this wasn’t so serious after all. I let out a sigh of relief. Phew—at least I could blend in with the crowd. Riders of all ages, shapes, and skill levels waited patiently while people signed in at the registration tent, added air to their tires and made last-minute adjustments before hitting the road. For a $30 entrance fee, participants received a commemorative Tour de Taco t-shirt and wristband—the ticket to accessing drink specials and free taco creations at each of the route’s four stops: Seoul Taco, Atomic Cowboy, Taco Circus, and El Burro Loco.
For four restaurants, the ride still struck me as impossibly long. Would I actually survive an 18-mile loop of St. Louis city on two wheels? Slated to run from 11am to 4pm, the ride covered some serious ground. Five hours to make it from the Central West End, to Seoul Taco in the Delmar Loop, back to Atomic Cowboy in the Grove, then all the way to South City for Taco Circus, and finally back to El Burro Loco right across from where the ride departed. The Facebook event description called the pace “leisurely,” although I still had no clue what any of these numbers actually looked like out on the road.
A loud call to attention by one of the Mike’s Bike’s team members helping organize the ride jolted me back to reality. “Remember—it’s not a race!” With those words, I took a breath and picked my feet up off the pavement. Here goes nothing.
In the half-hour before the ride began, I’d struck up a conversation with a kind family from Cape Girardeau, MO. Eileen Sievers and partner Joe Melvin were back for their second annual Tour de Taco after stumbling across the event. “He would always go down to the bike shop, so we found out about it through those guys,” Sievers told me. “We came up last year and had an absolute blast, so we knew we had to get the boys to come.”
Lured by the promise of beer and tacos, the sons, Seth Sievers and Jordan Melvin, decided to accompany their parents and make the trip to St. Louis for the third annual taco ride. Both Seth and Jordan admitted they weren’t avid cyclists like their parents, but the fun nature of this ride in particular made the 18-miles feel more approachable.
Talking to Seth and Jordan helped ease my nerves even further, since their experience level was comparable to my own. I decided to stick with the foursome and tagged along in the first of many smaller groups to depart the bike shop. After a few blocks, things felt OK—the pace was more leisurely than I imagined—and conversation was still possible and encouraged between riders on the journey.
Cruising down Lindell, we passed Forest Park and took a right on Skinker toward our first taco destination: Seoul Taco. Although I didn’t tell my new friends, this was the stop I dreaded most. Before the Tour de Taco, my experience traveling to the Delmar Loop had been limited to motor vehicles only. I knew the woes and dangers of the area’s heavy traffic, tricky street signs and populated pedestrian walkways. Assuming the stress of transport in the Loop would just be worse on an exposed bicycle, I felt a pit in my stomach as we headed north down Skinker towards Delmar. Flanked by multiple lanes of traffic, I kept my eyes on the road ahead—relying on the presumption that our brightly-dressed pack of 15-20 riders would be enough of a curiosity that drivers would inevitably slow down to make sense of it all.
The cars behaved, making room for the lot of us to turn at the light onto Delmar. Korean-fusion tacos were less than half a mile away, but we all knew the next few blocks would be the toughest we’d face that day. Not because of traffic, not because of pedestrians, but because of a recent construction project known as the Loop Trolley.
I quickly learned from my fellow taco riders that the city’s new trolley project has become a hot-button issue in the cycling community. The tracks arch up and down the street in no predictable pattern, leaving cyclists little room to maneuver the countless other traffic obstacles that exist in the Loop. The only “safe” way to cross the trolley tracks without catching a tire and eating pavement is at a 90-degree angle. And, when you think about the likelihood of a cyclist being able to criss-cross down Delmar without any interference from cars, foot traffic, motorcycles, buses, etc., etc., the idea of a safe short bike ride in the Loop becomes entirely improbable.
But the aroma of Korean-Mexican fusion tacos helped take my mind off the construction, and soon we arrived. After hydrating and savoring what was undoubtedly this year’s most eclectic taco, we hit the road again en route to Atomic Cowboy. The midday sun was beating down by the time we arrived in The Grove. Parking my bike at Atomic Cowboy’s back patio, I realized I’d never actually been to this place when the sun was still up—or when I was still sober, at that. I knew the 3am bar more for its concerts than its cuisine, but the mouth-watering aroma that filled the air told me Atomic’s Mexican-leaning menu might just rival its late-night party scene.
The scent of grilled pineapple, smoked pork and crispy tortillas came from a small tent where staff was grilling up fresh, Caribbean-style tacos. In addition, Atomic employees had gone out of their way to welcome the cyclists by setting up water coolers and ample shaded seating. It was the perfect halfway point, and an ideal setting to wash down taco number two with a pint of cold beer.
For out-of-towners like Joe Melvin and crew, the opportunity to sample local St. Louis beer was one of the event’s big highlights. The family shared two 12 oz. Urban Chestnut ales, swapping tasting notes and making plans to come back and tour the UCBC brewery we’d just passed.
“That’s the other fun thing about this ride—trying the beer,” Sievers laughed. “We love it though. It’s a great way to see the city; sample some city fare, and it’s actually a great way to meet people, as well.”
Looking around, I nodded in agreement. Atomic’s laid-back vibe created a friendly atmosphere. Everyone seemed to be mingling—making introductions, sharing laughs, and swapping tales from the road. It actually felt nice to be part of. No, I didn’t suddenly feel like part of the cycling community: I couldn’t join in the debate over the benefits of titanium versus aluminum frames, but I did feel accepted and welcomed.
From there, the group continued on to Taco Circus in Bevo Mill, a notably bike-friendly taco joint in South City. Before leaving Atomic, I said my “see-you-laters” to the Sievers and Melvin family. A prior work commitment meant I would have to skip the third leg of the taco tour, but I promised the group I’d see them at the final stop, El Burro Loco.
I made it back to El Burro Loco around 3:45pm. Riders were still trickling in, but I could feel the group dissipating among the Central West End shoppers and tourists. Most riders received their fourth and final taco, cast their ballot for this year’s “Best Taco” trophy winner, and went their separate ways. Some people stayed for a round of margaritas, but the Cape Girardeau group didn’t seem to be among them.
Bummer. I’d wanted to thank them for taking me under their wing. While I can’t say I pedaled all 18 miles in the Third annual Tour de Taco, I can say what I did complete was a personal record. A recent accident had left me frightened of cycling in the city, and I don’t think I would have overcome that fear without the support of those four friends and the 130 other taco riders beside me. With a few exceptions (ahem … trolley tracks), St. Louis is a bike-friendly city. The roads are well-kept, and the Tour de Taco helped me realize just how easy it is to commute across the city’s neighborhoods on two wheels.
My only regret is missing the third stop—Taco Circus—which was recently awarded with that coveted Tour de Taco trophy for this year’s best taco. Owner Christian Ethridge chose a winning recipe of marinated chicken thighs seasoned with garlic, herbs, chile peppers and lemon. I don’t plan on waiting until next Memorial Day to dine at Taco Circus, but I do plan on biking more often in the months ahead.
And, who knows? Maybe next year I’ll be one of those people not in their right mind and actually volunteer myself to pedal all 18 city miles to sample tacos and hang out with some cool people. Until then, happy taco tasting and safe bicycle riding St. Louis!