James Miska has been biking in Salt Lake City for more than 11 years. Now, he’s combined his love of bikes and his knowledge of the city to start Salt Lake Bicycle Tours: informative tours of the city taken entirely on a bike. Beginning in May and going through autumn, the 28-year-old provides up to 15 cruiser-style bikes, helmets, water and granola bars for one- to three-hour tours of the city, providing historical insight to some famous and not-so-famous sites. To learn more about these tours and find a full list of the places Miska and his bikes visit, head to SaltLakeBicycleTours.com.
Is Salt Lake City really interesting enough to warrant a tour?
I actually do consider it interesting enough, and touristy enough. There’s always this sort of fallback on the mountains, but even without them, there’s enough cool history here that has a lot to do with the development of the American West that a lot of people find interesting. And the Mormons are a total mystery to a lot of people. I didn’t grow up Mormon, but I know a lot about them, and I think I can dispel some myths about them—I can just be honest about what it’s like to live in this Mormon state that gets a rap for being really restrictive.
Why not a bus or foot tour?
I think people expect a bus tour, or a coach or carriage ride, or even a historic walking tour, but bike tours, for me, are important—they are accessible for so many people. Almost everyone knows how to ride a bike, and in getting this company up and running, I tried to source bikes that are easy to ride. I want it to feel friendly. I feel like there is a natural freedom that is conjured up in people when they get on a bike, and they like it more than they thought they would. I’ve been into bikes for a long time—there is that freedom that I want to tap into; the feeling that you’re in control of the ride, too. You’re not just a passenger on a bus looking out a window. I want people to feel wind going through their hair. I see that bike tours are gaining popularity, too. There are bike tours in lots of European cities, and plenty of American cities as well. I hold Salt Lake in high regard, and I think it’s interesting and I want to show it off in a cool way.
What made you want to start giving tours?
I’ve been leading bike tours for my friends and strangers from out of town that would come through Boing! Anarchist Collective, where I used to live. A lot of people would come through there, and it was just a natural “Hey, do you want to go on a bike ride?” We had house bikes for people to use, and I would just take them to cool places that I liked. I never thought that this would be something that I would do professionally, but then I got a job in 2011 as a bike tour guide in Alaska. That wasn’t city tours; more mountain and forest tours. It was still a slow-paced guided tour and an experience doing something like that for total strangers who are used to a certain level of comfort and accommodation. I have a love and respect for bike tours.
Where do you take your tours?
We start at Liberty Park and we go in a loop down through the downtown areas. I usually show the tours the library because I think it’s the coolest building in Salt Lake, and the street art that’s near 2nd and 2nd. We head up to South Temple and Main to see the temple and why it’s important to the city as the origin of the grid system. Also City Creek Park on North Temple and State Street to explain that this is the water source that allowed the city to exist. We could also head out to 3rd or 4th West hit the train stations and Pioneer Park. It would be cool to stop by the Farmers Market or the Twilight Concerts on days those are happening. The tour is catered to the group taking the tour and what they’re interested in. So far this season, there’s mostly been locals, and even though they’ve been familiar with Salt Lake, they’ve said they learned a lot.
Have you researched the places that you visit?
Yeah, most of the research that I’ve done has been out of books or from direct sources. For instance, one of the tours stops at Gilgal Sculpture Gardens. I just happened to be there one day, and I overheard this guy talking about the garden, and it turned out he had actually been part of its restoration. Gilgal has been around since the ’50s or ’60s, so by the ’90s, it had completely fallen apart, covered in graffiti, and kids had gone through smashing things up. This guy I met there had done masonry work on the park to restore it, and I spent some time picking his brain. He told me about some more people to connect with, and they and the neighbors around the garden had some valuable information.