People for Bikes released their annual report on America’s most bike-friendly cities, and some of the results might surprise you. Of course Portland, Oregon and Ft. Collins, Colorado continue to rank, but there are several new cities that have been working hard to improve their cycling chops. Now they’ve succeeded enough that biking enthusiasts are ready to load up a bicycle carrier and head out to enjoy some bicycle touring as they test these road-cycling routes.
Some of those new contenders aren’t in places you’d expect to see big bike culture. They’re in sunbelt states that get a little sticky in the summer or where you can see the heat shimmering over the pavement as you crest a hill. Conversely, some of the newcomers on the list are in the chilly northlands, in states better known for snowshoeing and ice fishing than road biking.
These New Bike-Friendly Cities Are 1 Car Ride Away, If You Have a Bicycle Carrier
If you’re a road biking fanatic, it might be well worth throwing your bicycle carrier on your car and get to these streets before they fill up:
New Orleans, Louisiana
Horse drawn carriages might come to mind before bicycles when you’re picturing New Orleans, but that’s starting to change. In 2014, the Big Easy was rated a “silver-level city” by the League of American Bicyclists. Just four years later, it landed in 10th place on the People for Bikes report. So what makes NOLA so great for cyclists? The city’s parade culture is part of it— biking is a great way to join in on New Orleans’ street culture and numerous gatherings. Another is the relatively small size of the city, spanning just 35 square miles, all of them mostly flat.
It doesn’t hurt, either, that NOLA has invested in 100 miles of bike lanes throughout the city over the past ten years. Social Bicycle is about to launch a bikeshare program with 70 stations and 700 bicycles in the city limits, too, not to mention a flurry of bike tour companies like A Confederacy of Cruisers.
The Mississippi River Trail is ideal for road cyclists, with a 60 mile paved trail that heads west out of New Orleans to Laplace, Louisiana. The Wisner Bike Path is a five mile route towards Bayou St. John. There are also numerous shorter routes that follow the Big Easy’s numerous canals, levees, and waterways, giving you plenty to admire while you peddle and coast.
The only place east of the Mississippi to be rated Platinum by the League of American Bicyclists, and earned the same rating from the Wisconsin Bike Federation. It’s even hosted Ironman! Madison is a rare city where bikes outnumber cars, yet somehow Madison isn’t as synonymous with bike culture as other cities like Portland and Denver.
Madison’s numerous cycling clubs know better, however. There’s a bunch to choose from, including the women-only Capital Velo Club, the Bombaby Bicycle Club, Mad Trail FORCS, and more. That’s one way to find out about the numerous mountain biking, cyclocross, and road biking opportunities in and around Madison. There are also bike tour companies that organize long road treks from Madison to surrounding destinations like Lake Geneva.
The East Side Loop will show you what Madison biking is all about. It’s a 28 mile ride punctuated with a few hills. Beginners won’t find it too challenging, while experts will appreciate the chance to really built up their speed. The Capital City Loop stretches south towards the lovely Lake Moana, and even links up with the Lake Moana Loop, if you feel like turning your 18 miles into a nice round 30. The 21.8 mile Urban Splendor loop is as scenic as the name suggests, even bringing you through the Olbrich gardens and arboretum. Whichever you’ll choose, you’ll see just how much effort Madison has put into shaping this city for those on two wheels.
Jim Sebastian was instrumental in transforming D.C.’s approach to bikes when he joined the Department of Transportation in 2001. Since then, the city has worked hard to rewrite the city’s master bike plan, increase bike lanes, and even a protected two-way track for cyclists. Bike sharing is on the rise, too. That’s all great news for bike commuters, but what does the city have to offer hobbyists who love to chase long stretches of pavement? D.C. has plenty to keep road cyclists interested, too.
Shenandoah National Park alone is enough to keep cyclists entertained, especially with the Skyline Drive Scenic Highway. That will give you hills and thrills along its 105 miles, with 15,000 feet of elevation gain along routes that range from Cat 2 to Cat 4. There’s a 36 mile ride out to Mount Vernon. You can even spend a whole day out on C&O and W&OD, named for the old rail lines that have been turned into bike trails. Neither of those is terribly challenging, but both will let you put in solid miles.
Coming in at number five, Tucson’s high temperatures might make it a surprising contender. That hasn’t stopped the city from actively encouraging cycling, however. Just two years ago, Tucson was ranked only 23rd on a list of bike-friendly cities by Bicycling Magazine. The city has been very proactive about promoting and enabling bike sharing, however, even offering incentives to city employees who want to bike to work. It’s also invested heavily in the creation of hundreds of paved bike paths, a 100-mile Loop route shared with pedestrians, and hundreds of miles of bike lanes.
It makes good sense that they’d encourage citizens to start cycling— it helps reduce car emissions and offers citizens another way to enjoy Tucson’s sunny, blue-skies weather. It’s definitely a great way to socialize, with youth bike clubs, history-themed bike tours of the city, and numerous road and mountain biking clubs.
In addition to the Loop Route, check out the steep climb up Mt. Lemmon, a difficult road route that carries you up 6,936 feet over about 50 miles. Saguaro National Park offers 20 miles of some of the most beautiful desert in the country. Madera Canyon is another elevation buster with 4,026 climb over about 70 miles. Part of what makes Tucson so appealing is that, while it does get quite hot during the summer, there’s really no off season as long as you stay hydrated.