Ready for the Republic of Texas biker rally? We’ve got the best motorcycle routes in Central Texas

Last year, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo, right, greeted bikers at the Republic of Texas Biker Rally parade in downtown Austin Friday June 10, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The Republic of Texas Biker Rally is this weekend at the Travis County Expo Center in Austin. If you want to take a ride near the city, here are some of the best routes you can take:

The Three Sisters (aka The Twisted Sisters): 131 miles

This 131-mile ride has some of the best scenery you can get. Riding alongside rivers and past Texas ranches, this route is one of the best the Austin-area has to offer. The ride is known for its scenery and road quality and not so much its amenities, but a few can be found along the way.

Devil’s backbone/Old Spicewood: 33 miles

On this 33-mile stretch of scenic road, you’ll get a great view of Balcones Fault. You won’t be going too fast, but the road quality is good and so are the amenities.

Gruene-Fredericksburg-Bandera Loop: 239 miles

Clocking in at 239 miles, this scenic route takes you through the countryside and farmland of Central Texas. For amenities you can stop at Gruene, Luckenbach, Fredericksburg, Kerrville and Bandera, which all have great things to see and do.

Day trip to Luckenbach: 72 miles

This 72-mile trip goes through the Hill Country back roads. If you get hungry, stop at a mom-and-pop burger restaurant called the Alamo Springs Café.

Bikers park their bikes to register for Rot Rally on Friday, June 10, 2016 at the Travis Country Expo Center. This is Rot Rally’s 11th anniversary. Jessalyn Tamez / AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN

South-Central Texas Route 16: 88 miles

If you just want to ride through different towns in the Hill Country, including Kerrville and Fredericksburg, this 88-mile route is scenic with great roads.

Hutto-Granger-Georgetown Loop: 61 miles

This northeast Austin route has good scenery filled with creeks and rives. There are also plenty of curves to ride on. If you are looking for somewhere to eat, there is Louise Miller BBQ in Taylor.

Spicewood Springs Road: 5 miles

Looking for a short ride? The Spicewood Springs has good scenery and road quality. You’ll see some farms with horses and creeks and rivers. Its not a fast road, but you will be able to soak up some Texas beauty.

FM 487: 11 miles

This ride is on the shorter side but it has some nice scenery and good road quality. You’ll be riding through Texas farmland and woods. However, don’t expect there to be many roadside amenities.

Texas Twister: 61 miles

This 61-mile ride has great scenery as you’ll be in Hill Country near the Texas Highland Lakes. The road quality is good, but the road side amenities are not the best.

Hippie Hollow Horror: 40 miles

The Hippie Hollow Horror is 40 miles of great scenery that will take you to the north end of Lake Travis. There are also great roadside amenities with stops in Austin and Four Corners.

Hate Austin rent prices? Online list says Leander is cheaper


We all know it’s expensive to live in Austin. One recent study suggested that it takes a yearly salary of at least $52,578 to afford a home here, something that is becoming increasingly more difficult to afford if you’re a single man or woman.

A house on Garden Street is for sale on Thursday November 19, 2015. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

But take heart, those of you who rent homes or apartments in Austin: At least you weren’t paying the area’s highest rent prices this past month. That honor goes to Leander, our neighbor to the northwest. That’s right, it was cheaper to rent a domicile in Austin than it was in Leander, at least, according to rental site Zumper.

Zumper released a report this week detailing the drop in rent prices throughout the Austin area, a swath of land that includes all the way from Georgetown to San Marcos. The report found that for the month of March, Austin had a median one-bedroom rent of $1,080 a month, while renting the same domain in Leander would set you back $1,110. Both are still much higher than the $887 state median, however.

The cheapest rent in the Austin area for March belonged to San Marcos, at $860 a month for a one-bedroom.

Read the full report here.




Surprise! The El Arroyo sign’s got Ides of March jokes


It’s March 15, otherwise known as the Ides of March. That’s the day Roman emperor Julius Caesar was stabbed to death by his own senators and son-in-law Marcus Brutus in 44 B.C.

From Flickr user Hilverd Reker.

(It’s also the title of an excellent 2011 film about an idealistic presidential campaign staffer and the governor he works for starring Ryan Gosling and George Clooney.)

The phrase was popularized in William Shakespeare’s titular play about Caesar: “Beware the Ides of March.”

It was a day full of conspiracy, betrayal and knives (and indeed, bad stuff seems to continue to happen on March 15), but everyone’s favorite Austin taco restaurant sign has a lighter take on the day famous for conspiratorial bloodshed.

Et tu, El Arroyo?


New York Times says ‘coolness factor’ is behind East Austin gentrification

The New York Times reported Tuesday on an issue that has been central to Austin’s development and growth for years — the gentrification of a rapidly developing East Austin.

The East Village Austin, at left, is a mixed-use building incorporating downtown condo living with retail space at 1200 E. 11th St. It is juxtaposed with J & J Drug Store across the street which has been in the area for many years and the building is currently for sale or lease. East Austin has seen a surge in retail business the past two years and some experts see that growth as important to creating a healthier economic climate for Austin’s overall economy. Others express concern concern that the gentrification of East Austin could make housing unaffordable for many current residents, and change the area’s culture. RALPH BARRERA / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
East Austin has seen a surge in retail business the past two years and some experts see that growth as important to creating a healthier economic climate for Austin’s overall economy. RALPH BARRERA / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Hip restaurants and bars, huge apartment complexes and up-and-coming startups have made themselves cozily at home in the streets east of Interstate 35, an area which was previously known, as the New York Times puts it, as “a place to avoid after dark.”

The publication primarily approaches the east side’s shift from the perspective of those involved in development projects: a commercial real estate agent who asked himself five years ago “Has East Austin finally arrived?” after a female coworker told him she was renting a house in the area and felt safe enough to ride her bike to and from work; an investor in the neighborhood who says the main reason it continues to draw people is “the coolness factor”; Capital Metro vice president who plays a major role in the organization’s massive and controversial Plaza Saltillo project.

READ: New York Times gets in line for Franklin Barbecue a little late

The Times’ article also addresses Austin City Council’s debate over affordability and the efforts of some neighborhood groups to encourage responsible development.

READ: Commentary: 12th and Chicon — a story of gentrification

Close to the end of the story, Jose Valera, chairman of the East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Planning Team, “laments the speed at which gentrification is transforming the neighborhood.” As one real estate agent puts it, “We’re almost out of developable sites downtown, and the only direction to grow is east.” Read the full article here.

Related stories:

Keep Austin City Council Weird: The 5 strangest things from City Hall in 2016

At this point, “Keep Austin Weird” has become more of a callback to a bygone era than an actual lifestyle tip. But every now and then, something happens here that truly couldn’t happen anywhere else. And in 2016, a year that has proven to keep getting weirder by the day, Austin City Council provided us with some truly odd moments.

Whether it involved zombies, Satanists or salamander DNA testing, this year’s top 5 strangest moments from Austin City Council proved that if nothing else, we have some unique legislative matters in Austin.

5. With others away, Austin council’s conservative trio prevails for a day


In June, while Mayor Steve Alder and Council Members Delia Garza and Ann Kitchen were in Washington, D.C., campaigning for a $40 million federal transportation grant in the Smart City Challenge, the three conservative members left on the council (Don Zimmerman, Ellen Troxclair and Sheri Gallo) tried to block several items on that meeting’s agenda from passing. One of those items was a $210,000 grant to the Salvation Army to expand social services at the Austin Shelter for Women and Children (already included in the budget).

4. Austin Council Member Leslie Pool’s mistaken and loaded tweet

Twitter fingers turned to butter fingers for Council Member Leslie Pool back in January after she accidentally tweeted about Council Member Sheri Gallo in what was supposed to be a direct message.


Pool posted the tweet after she and Gallo split on a rule change for certain kinds of planned unit developments – including one known as The Grove at Shoal Creek, a controversial development that Pool opposed at the time while Gallo supported it.

“It was intended to be a private message, but I should never speak badly about my colleagues,” Pool told the Statesman at the time.

3. Zimmerman slams salamander DNA testing while Austin has rape kit backlog


In September, amid a DNA rape kit backlog at Austin’s police crime lab (which would go on to create more problems for the department), a representative from the Watershed Protection Department went before the council to request $13,000 to do DNA sequencing on Barton Springs salamanders. Council Member Don Zimmerman asked why the funding wasn’t going to be used to test the rape kit backlog, despite the two departments drawing funds from different sources. The salamander funding passed 9-1-1, with Zimmerman opposed and Council Member Ellen Troxclair not present.

2. Austin leaders debate blocking zombies from city cemeteries


Yeah, you read that right. During a September council meeting, the council members went down a rabbit hole that started with a question about a $1.2 million construction contract to rehabilitate an Oakwood cemetery chapel and ended with speculation about skeletons, zombies, parties and weddings at area burial grounds. The discussion arose after a cemetery advocate complained about people visiting cemeteries in zombie attire or taking selfies with prop skeletons.

“I’m not sure who the zombies are who come through there… but I’m not sure how we would manage keeping zombies out,” Council Member Ora Houston said.

1. Austin council member offers Satanic amendment to compassion measure


Coming in at first place is another “How did we get here?” moment. In April, Council Member Ann Kitchen offered a resolution involving support for the Charter for Compassion, a 2009 document crafted by religious leaders worldwide that calls for compassion to be a “clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world.”

Council Member Don Zimemrman objected, according to our report:  “Zimmerman [said] the language urged ‘idolatry’ of Earth rather than its creator and talked about compassion breaking down ideological boundaries when Jesus did that better than anyone. He also said the resolution was ‘marrying religion with politics.'”

Zimmerman eventually went on to add wording from the Satanic Temple website to Kitchen’s resolution in an effort to prove the resolution was a mix of religion with politics. “The three sentences that came from a religious, Satanist website were included without objection because they’re so very nearly the same as what the Charter for Compassion already has,” Zimmerman said. “So those are accepted under the excuse that they’re not religious, but they are religious. I think you would insult my Satanist constituents. They say their religion is a religion.”

Later, in November, a Satanist almost gave the invocation at a city council meeting, but had to back out because of a scheduling conflict.

Watch Austin grow up in Google Earth’s mesmerizing time-lapse photos

People in Austin complain all the time about how fast the city has grown and how much their favorite neighborhoods have changed, but you can get a satellite’s-eye view of just how much by using Google Earth Engine. The site collects aerial photography from 1984 to 2016, a period in Austin that includes the real estate boom and bust of the 1980s, the late 1990s tech boom and bust in the early 2000s, as well as the 2008 recession and subsequent economic recovery.

The view of Austin from a macro view can be a bit muddled but you can see lots of activity on the outskirts of town, like the emergence of the Texas 130 toll road on the far right.

The city of Austin

But take a look at the neighborhoods and zoom in on certain high-growth areas and the changes are more impressive. For instance, between 1984 and 2016, the old Robert Mueller Municipal Airport was closed. Its runways were razed and replaced with a planned community of retailers and single-family homes.

Robert Mueller Airport, then Mueller development

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport was simply Bergstrom Air Force Base three decades ago. The military abandoned the base but the city turned it into an international flying hub. In the time-lapse below, you can see how the city added another runway to the existing airfield and rebuilt the terminal and parking for civilian use. When a large road suddenly cuts across the map on the right, that’s the construction of the Texas 130 toll road.

Bergstrom Air Force Base, then Austin-Bergstrom International Airport

Also in southwest Travis County, you find lots of farmland and rural areas that haven’t changed much at all in the past 30 years. But in the space of a few years, the Texas 130 toll road appears – seen below on the left – and then, blossoming from the green space, the Circuit of the Americas racetrack.

Circuit of the Americas emerges in Elroy

Another transformation becomes evident on the other side of the county in Steiner Ranch. Here, you can see how development spilled along roadways and how houses sprouted on hilltops throughout the area.

Steiner Ranch

Just a few miles north, on Lake Travis, the aerial photos show the effects of fluctuating drought conditions on the Highland Lakes. Over the past 30 years, the exposed shoreline of Lake Travis flashes like a neon sign as waters recede and return, depending on the season’s rainfall.

Lake Travis
Lake Travis

Try Google Earth Engine for yourself. I learned a lot just by looking up my own neighborhood in South Austin near the corner of West Slaughter and Brodie lanes:



What do you hate about Austin?

Look, we at the American-Statesman love Austin. We wouldn’t work here if we didn’t. (Or at least, I do. I can’t speak personally for everyone in our newsroom. But some of my colleagues have been working here for longer than I’ve been alive, so I’d say that’s a pretty fair assessment.)

But, as anyone who’s ever been in a long-term relationship knows, you learn to accept the flaws of the one you love and focus instead on the good things over time. However, if those flaws remain unaddressed, sometimes it gets harder to stay focused on the positives.

Traffic backs up on northbound Mopac during the morning commute into downtown Austin on Monday, May 2, 2016. LAURA SKELDING / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Traffic backs up on northbound Mopac during the morning commute into downtown Austin on Monday, May 2, 2016. LAURA SKELDING / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

A recent blog post from the Austin Chronicle offered some Austin residents a chance to vent their frustrations with our lovely city. Readers were asked: “What’s the worst thing about Austin, Texas?” Traffic wasn’t allowed as an answer, natch. Readers answered in full force, taking issue with everything from high rent to the prevalence of “Not in my backyard” attitudes.

Some samples from that blog post:

“Rent’s too damn high.”

It’s gotta be the weather. We don’t have seasons. And for 80% of the year it feels like walking inside a mouth.”

“I dislike the dialogue that states that new people shouldn’t come to Austin. Yes, Austin has so many things coming for it, and obviously we need to do growth intelligently. But from at least ’82 until now, people have been saying, essentially, ‘Yankee Go Home,’ and I don’t think it’s necessary. Make new people welcome!”

“The opposition to Grandma cottages, the Grove PUD, expanded transit options and improvements.”

“The appropriation of our cultural heroes to sell some shitty soulless version of Austin to newcomers: Case in point, the Hotel Van Zandt. I haven’t been there, but unless there are down and out brilliant junkies on the stoop and hard times in the lobby, I’m calling bull—-.”

I did a poll of the American Statesman’s web desk, and they came up with some interesting answers of their own.

Eric Webb, Social Media & Engagement Editor:

Amanda O’Donnell, Social Content Producer:

Joe Harrington, Online Content Producer:

No Uber. No Lyft.

Maribel Molina, Online Content Producer:

“I hate how not diverse some of the cool things or restaurants are in Austin. Businesses should really try working on attracting a more inclusive customer base. Oh, and the breakfast tacos here are terrible.” (Maribel is originally from our warring taco neighbor to the south, San Antonio.)

Katey Psencik, Online Content Producer:

“No decent public transportation in general, TBH.”

What about you? What do you hate about Austin? Let us know in the comments.

Austinites who aren’t Texans: The city’s influx of out-of-staters

The Austin Downtown Alliance presents the Downtown Street Fair every Friday starting today April 1, 2016 through June 3 at 9th and Congress Ave. featuring a festival of food vendors, retailers, entertainers, artists and more. Things got off to slow start with afternoon rain showers putting a damper on the festivities that take place between 11:30a to 1pm. RALPH BARRERA/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN
The Austin Downtown Alliance presents the Downtown Street Fair every Friday starting today April 1, 2016 through June 3 at 9th and Congress Ave. featuring a festival of food vendors, retailers, entertainers, artists and more. Things got off to slow start with afternoon rain showers putting a damper on the festivities that take place between 11:30a to 1pm. RALPH BARRERA/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN

You don’t often hear “Austin” as an answer when you ask someone in the city where they’re originally from. And if you’ve noticed it’s becoming even less common to hear “Texas,” you’re not imagining it.

As KUT reports, Travis County has the third most new, out-of-state residents of any county in the U.S. More than 250,000 non-Texans have packed up and relocated to Travis County between the years 2011 and 2014.

QUESTION: Austin has a big population, but is Austin a big city?

The numbers come from the IRS and were analyzed by Brian Kelsey of Austin research firm Civic Analytics, who told KUT that while the majority of Travis County transplants used to be from other parts of Texas, “based on new data that has actually flipped.” Kelsey also noted that Travis County’s small size (in comparison to counties like Dallas or Harris) means you’re more likely to run into one of these out-of-staters.

READ: Austin metro area surpasses 2 million residents

So which states are sending transplants Travis County’s way? According to KUT: “Florida tops the list of states other than Texas that sent the most citizens to the Austin area, followed by California, Georgia, New York and Illinois.”

Austin named No. 1 most ‘surprising city’ where gentrification is displacing poor

East Austin is rapidly changing due to development and gentrification. Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman

In what is a surprise to Alternet but not to Austin residents, the city ranked No. 1 on the site’s list of “5 surprising cities where gentrification is displacing the poor.”

Alternet’s Larry Schwartz defines gentrification as “the process by which middle- and upper-middle-class populations move into formerly lower-income neighborhoods, attracted by cheaper housing (and fleeing expensive housing in more affluent areas), transforming the area, driving costs up and forcing lower-income residents out.”

“High-rise luxury condos,” “cocktail and coffee bars” and “artisan pastry shops” are cited as signs that gentrification may be responsible for a neighborhood’s shifting identity; something that, according to the article, only affects one out of 10 cities.

Commentary: 12th and Chicon — a story of gentrification

Alternet reports that the African-American population surrounding Huston-Tillotson University fell 60 percent during the 10 years following 2000. Latino population declined by 33 percent. And the white population (wait for it) increased an astounding 442 percent. The area, which was reportedly once known as the “Negro District,” is now 40 percent white.

Schwartz says, “Rents in Austin are up by 7.5% year to year, averaging now around $1200 a month.” Again, not a huge surprise to Austin residents who are, in fact, writing a $1200 check every month.

WATCH: Inheriting inequality

READ: ‘The Edge Becomes the Center’: Stories of gentrification resonate

Has Central Texas barbecue forgotten its African-American roots?

THIS WILL BE THE COVER IMAGE (pls don't use inside) People wait in line for 4 to 5 hours to taste the food from Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas. Matthew Odam's Top 10 barbecue restaurants in Austin. 05.06 2014 LAURA SKELDING/AMERICAN-STATESMAN 052314 xl cover
People wait in line for 4 to 5 hours to taste the food from Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas. Matthew Odam’s Top 10 barbecue restaurants in Austin. 05.06 2014 LAURA SKELDING/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Chances are you you’re not thinking too much about the history of barbecue when taking that first bite of brisket, but just like any other cuisine the art form of smoked and grilled meats has a rich, delicious backstory. One, which food writer Robb Walsh asserts, is African-American based and increasingly outshone by the trendiness of the Central Texas barbecue scene.

In a recent piece for First We Feast, Walsh says, “The relentless fawning over Austin’s ‘cue scene paints a narrow picture of the Texas tradition, as does the maniacal focus on brisket.” According to Walsh, barbecue was first introduced to Texas by black slaves in the 19th century. Since then, Central Texas has become the “darling of the national food press” and its golden boy pitmaster Aaron Franklin has won the James Beard Award for Best Chef.

EXPLORE: Take a barbecue tour of Texas with us

Walsh believes this focus overlooks East Texas where “black barbecue is booming,” because when food writers cover barbecue, they come straight to Austin.

Additionally, brisket, which has become the “yardstick” by which publications like Texas Monthly judge a pit’s prowess since its 1970s debut, is a fixture of “mostly white-owned, joints of Central Texas.” Instead of these prime cuts, black barbecue is still centered around beef links and “inexpensive meats made delicious by slow cooking.” As you might already know, in Central Texas “prime brisket and beef ribs are selling for $20 to $25 a pound.”

So how are black pitmasters responding? According to Walsh one of Houston’s “hippest,” Greg Gatlin, remains on-trend with spins on traditional black barbecue fixtures and items like “smoked deviled eggs” and “barbecue eggs Benedict.” He’s even said he’d serve beef links on cronuts.

Whatever gets them talking. Or eating.

READ: The best barbecue in Austin