Tempe Town Lake, the Valley's Central Park, is home to many cycling-oriented events like the Ford Ironman Arizona and the Tour de Fat. But the park's proclivity for PDA - public displays of art - is what makes riding around the lake a real draw for cyclists.
The Tempe Town Lake Park multi-use path makes for a perfect casual five mile loop ride with the family or a date. Access to the lake is easy whether coming by car, light rail or the Scottsdale Greenbelt path that connects directly into the Town Lake path.
The lake is haloed by a flat and pleasing ribbon of concrete dotted with intermittent public art pieces, some strange, some interesting, but all attempting to either be reflective or representative of the former river bed that has since become this lake.
The City of Tempe clearly placed an emphasis on public art pieces throughout the park, anchored by the Tempe Center for the Arts on the south bank of the lake. Parking typically is best at the Center, so it makes a good place to start. But before pushing off, take a good look around and inside to get a sense of the funky elements of this locally designed facility.
It's also impossible to do a ride around the lake and not take a long gander at the inflatable rubber dam that makes the lake possible. That rubber structure onto itself is a work of art, yet as we know from last year's incident, it really is a temporary installation.
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Head west along the newest stretch of path to the Priest Drive Bridge. Along this stretch are a series of sculptures by Thomas Strich, including the western gateway to the park's south bank, The Creative Edge. This obelisk of recycled street signs if the most colorful piece along the entire route. Other Strich pieces accentuate views to the north over the raw river bed towards Camelback Mountain.
After riding over the Rio Solado, hook back onto the lake path on the north side and enjoy a quick downhill coast past the Tree at the Narrows sculpture, a metal tree that looks more like another dead piece of vegetation than an actual shade structure.
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Further along the north path is one of the stranger pieces, the Tree of Life -- three large adobe sculptures. The strange thing about this sculpture is its location. It just kind of sits on the side of the path in dirt like it was trash dropped on the side of the road. It is uncomfortably there.
The lake's marina has a few sneaky art pieces, including Laurie Lundquist's Water Muse water circulation system. Be sure to check out the drainage grates that were designed with images of Phoenixes and mentions of the river bed's draught origins.
The Rural Road Bridge takes riders back to the south side (keep an eye out for Ironman course markers painted on the sidewalk). The south bank's art moves away from upright sculptures and is integrated into the path. As you ride along, notice the water patters, fish fossils and bird tracks embedded into the pavement. Finish the ride passing under the most recognizable sculpture of the area, the Mill Avenue Bridge.
Trip Distance: 5 miles
Trip Duration: 45 minutes at a very easy pace
Route Map: http://www.tempe.gov/lake/Recreation/walkingbiking.htm
Bike Rental: Bicycle Cellar located at Transit Center, 200 E. Fifth St., Suite 105. Bike rentals start at $20 for four hours and tandem bike are available. For more information call (480) 219-7225