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August 2011
By Karen Kefauver
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Biking is a great way to see a city. It’s good exercise, easy on the wallet and good for the environment.

It’s even more fun to ride if you know where to go, where to find a good bike shop and how to connect with local riders.  A city’s bicycle community can point you in the right direction for the type of riding you like.

These cities (with populations of 10,000 or more) stand out as some of the best “cycling towns” in the U.S.  Find out why these cities are two-wheeled wonderlands, and discover a route or two from an insider.

Austin, Texas

Think about biking and Texas and Lance Armstrong may come to mind. But you don’t have to be a Tour de France champion or a Texas native to have a fantastic cycling experience in Austin. The Austin bike culture is so strong that on any given week there are a dozen rides, races and bike events. No wonder: The City of Austin has developed one of the finest trail systems in the nation with more than 193 miles of well-surfaced scenic paths following natural greenbelts into all areas of the city.

Grab an Austin bicycle map published by the City of Austin Bicycle Program at one of the city’s bike shops and start exploring the featured 315 square miles of riding.

Insider Tip: The last Friday of every month is Austin’s Critical Mass, a group ride that is part of a worldwide movement of bicyclists aiming to take back the streets. Also, pay a visit to Lance Armstrong’s bike shop, Mellow Johnny’s.

Ride: Visit the Town Lake Hike and Bike Trail for an easy ride with great views of the lake and the Austin skyline. This giant park contains 10.1 miles of hiking and biking trails. The trail around the lake is mostly flat, fairly wide and very popular.

Other Bike Routes in Central Austin:

Shoal Creek to Pleasant Valley and Oltorf
Transit: Most city buses have bike racks on the front that can hold multiple bikes.

Bike Shops
Austinbikes | Bicycle Sports Shop | Nelo’s Cycles

Austin Bike Routes | Bicycle Austin | Austin Cycling Association | City of Austin

Boise, Idaho

Stroll around downtown Boise on a warm day and you’ll see throngs of cyclists — and packed bike racks. The variety of cruisers, mountain bikes and road bikes shows that biking is a beloved way of life here.

For cyclists, the Boise Foothills beckon as they rise above Idaho’s capitol and largest city. There you’ll find a network of roads and trails through the hills that link neighborhoods with public lands. With over 130 miles of trails, there is something for everyone.

Insider Tip: Check out the nonprofit bike co-op, Boise Bicycle Project. There you can buy used bicycles and parts, work on your own bikes and volunteer.

Ride: Camel’s Back Park, in north Boise, is a popular cycling hub because it’s a convenient and scenic central meeting place for access to riding in the foothills. Ride lengths vary.

Other Bike Routes: Toll Road Trail #27A / Cottonwood Creek Trail #27;
Owl’s Roost #37 / Red Fox Trail #36

Transit: City buses are equipped with bike racks that hold two bikes.

Boulder, Colo.

From hard-core mountain biking to cruising on the gorgeous Boulder Creek Path, there’s a ride for cyclists of all skill levels. If you see a cyclist going super fast, don’t compare yourself! Boulder is home to many of the country’s top professional racers.

Ninety-five percent of Boulder’s streets are bike-friendly; 120 miles of trails are in the greenbelt that surrounds the city; and there are 300-plus miles of bike lanes, routes, designated shoulders and paths that make Boulder a pedaling paradise.

Groups like Community Cycles strive to educate and advocate for the safe use of bicycles and teaches about bicycle repair and maintenance. Forget driving; it’s faster to get around Boulder on a bike.

Insider Tip: Boulder Indoor Cycling offers a 142-meter long, state-of-the-art velodrome and the only indoor mountain biking facility in the Denver metro area. The indoor cycle track is open to both elite and recreational cyclists.

Bike Routes in Boulder: Road riders use U.S. Highway 36 for their training and recreational rides into the mountains or toward the plains. Also, Boulder Creek Path (east-west), along its seven-mile stretch, passes several city parks, a kayak slalom course, fishing ponds, a sculpture garden, the public library, a fish observatory and classic cottonwood groves.

Transit: All buses (except the 16th Street FREE? MallRide) are equipped with bike racks on the front of the bus. They can hold two bikes and are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Bikes can be loaded at all bus stops except those marked “Non-bicycle stop.” Two-wheeled adult (except recumbent bikes) and children’s bikes fit on the bus bike racks.

Bike Shops
Full Cycle Bikes | University Bicycles | Boulder Cycle Sport

Davis, Calif.

Davis was one of the first cities in the United States to actively start planning for and incorporating the bicycle into its transportation infrastructure. This started in the 1960s. Maybe that’s why the number of bikes now exceeds the number of cars here.

The extensive network of bike paths and the mostly flat land make bicycling an attractive mode of transportation for many. Plus, the city of Davis actively encourages bicycle travel for both transportation and recreation. For example, keep an eye out for traffic lights designed specifically for cyclists.

Insider Tip: It makes sense that the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame is in Davis. Visitors can pay homage to their favorite American cycling legends with a trip to see the exhibits and other special events.

Bike Routes in Davis: The 12-mile-long Davis Bike Loop is a winding path that flows through the Greenbelt. It passes through tunnels, bridges and runs mostly on paths and trails, but has some sections on quiet residential streets. The route is safe and pleasant, but not designed for speed demons. A perfect ride for relaxing on the bike!

Other Bike Route: View Davis’ architectural history from the seat of your bicycle in a historic tour that passes 26 of Davis’ landmarks, including Davis Community Church, the Dresbach-Hunt-Boyer House, the Boy Scout Cabin, the Southern Pacific Depot, the Old Davis City Hall, the Avenue of Trees, and the Davis Subway.

Transit: Buses are equipped with bike racks. Also, buses connect to Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) trains that allow bikes, except during select peak hours.

Bike Shops
B & L Bikeshop | Wheelworks | Apex Cycles

City of Davis | Davis Bike Club |  U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame | Bike Davis

Minneapolis, Minn.

Despite the freezing winters, Minneapolis has a thriving bike community that has received many awards including the League of American Bicyclists’ Bicycle Friendly Community Award. It has earned this recognition with 46 miles of streets that have dedicated bicycle lanes and 84 miles of off-street bicycle paths.

Minneapolis is home to Nice Ride Minnesota, the Bike Walk Ambassadors, and the Midtown Bike Center. Yes, you can bike in the winter; the city offers indoor bike parking and other cycling-friendly facilities.

Insider Tip: Freewheel Midtown Bike Center is a joint effort of Allina Health Systems and the City of Minneapolis to provide a full service bike transportation station, complete with long/short term bike storage, bike rentals, cafe, repair classes and even a public shop where you can do your own maintenance. There’s also a full service repair shop, bicycle and accessory sales and public restrooms and showers.

Bike Routes in Minneapolis: Also known as America’s first bicycle freeway, the Cedar Lake Trail is a 3.5-mile path connecting St Louis Park with Downtown and the Mississippi River. From west to east, three separated lanes (one for pedestrians and two for bicyclists) run past Cedar Lake, through restored tall grass prairie, next to a commuter rail line, under the Twins Ballpark, and finally to the Mississippi River. The trail connects to other important bicycle facilities such as Cedar Lake Parkway, the Kenilworth Trail, the Luce Line Trail, the Downtown bike network, and West River Parkway.

Metro Transit encourages cyclists to take bicycles on buses and trains. All metro transit buses have a bike rack on the front.

Bike Shops
Freewheel Bike | Erik’s Bike Shop | One on One Bicycle Studio & Go Coffee

Bicycling in Minnesota | MNTrails | Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota | Nice Ride Minnesota

New York, N.Y.

In June 2009, the city of New York reached its ambitious goal of building 200 bike-lane miles in all five city boroughs. In just three years, it nearly doubled the citywide on-street bike network while reshaping the city’s streets to make them safer for everyone.

In addition, bicyclists were thrilled to get 4.9 miles of bike paths physically separated from car traffic lanes; 20 sheltered bike parking structures; and 3,100 bike racks. This means that biking in New York City is safer and better than ever.

Insider Tip: When riding on the street, look for “bike boxes.” These are advance waiting areas for bicyclists at intersections, in front of the “stop” line for cars. They increase the visibility of cyclists stopped at red lights.

Bike Routes in New York City: The Manhattan Waterfront Greenway is a 32-mile long walking and bicycling path around the island of Manhattan. Most of the Greenway is away from cars, although there are several sections that require street riding. This is a popular path and perfect for a moderate ride.

Other Bike Routes: Mark your calendar for the annual Five Boro Bike Tour. Five Boro participants pedal by iconic landmarks like the Empire State building, Brooklyn Bridge, historic Harlem, and the Statue of Liberty. More than 30,000 cyclists participated in 2010.

Public Transit: Overall, it’s great if you have a folding bike – they are allowed onboard all trains and don’t require a permit. The regulations vary extensively. The Metropolitan Transit Authority Web site has all the details.

Bike Shops
Bike and Roll | Central Park Bicycle Shop | Gotham Bikes Downtown | Bicycle Habitat

Bike New York | New York Cycle Club | Bike Snob NYC | City of New York (bicycle info)

San Francisco, Calif.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is dedicated to helping promote bicycling, along with overseeing all the city’s transportation networks.

Already home to one of the most robust cycling communities in the nation, San Francisco aims for an even more robust bicycling future in its “San Francisco Bicycle Plan,” which calls for more education, bike lanes, bike parking and funding for bike projects.

Insider tip: “Healthy Saturdays” are a great opportunity to breathe in the beauty of Golden Gate Park. Every Saturday between April and September, JFK Drive is opened to fun activities for your family, like bicycling and rollerskating in between Tea Garden Drive (8th Avenue) and Transverse Drive.

Bike Routes in San Francisco: Biking over the spectacular Golden Gate Bridge is something you must experience! The views of the San Francisco Bay are phenomenal. Also, don’t be discouraged by San Francisco’s legendary hills. If you don’t feel like testing your legs and lungs to the max, there are ways to avoid the infamous climbs. Then again, the hilly Marin headlands are paradise for road riders, and Mount Tam is where some of the mountain bike pioneers field-tested the sport of downhill riding.

Other Bike Routes: Bike the Marin Headlands: Conzelman Loop, Tennessee Beach and Miwok Trails
Bike Mt. Tamalpais and the Old Railroad Grade
Bike from Fisherman’s Wharf to the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito

Transit: Bicycles are allowed on all Bay Area ferries and nearly all rail lines. Exceptions are San Francisco Muni Metro, historic streetcars and cable cars. Nearly all Bay Area public transit buses are equipped with bicycle racks. Exceptions are a number of San Francisco Muni bus routes, AC Transit small-bus vans and certain routes of other transit operators.

Bike Shops
Bike and Roll | The Bike Hut | American Cyclery | A Bicycle Odyssey (Sausalito)

San Francisco Bicycle Coalition | 511.org | Western Wheelers | San Francisco Mtn. Biking

Seattle, Wash.

Seattle has consistently been rated one of the top spots in the country for bicycling. Not surprisingly, a substantial proportion of Seattleites use their bicycles for recreation or transportation. It’s estimated that about 36 percent of Seattle’s 608,000 citizens engage in recreational bicycling, and between 4,000 and 8,000 people bicycle commute in Seattle each day, depending on the time of year and weather conditions.

The Seattle Department of Transportation’s Bicycle Program has been working steadily toward developing an urban trail system to accommodate bicyclists. Urban trails include shared use paths, bike lanes, signed bike routes, arterials with wide shoulders, and pedestrian pathways. Seattle has about 45 miles of shared use paths, 120 miles of on-street, striped bike lanes and about 120 miles of signed bike routes.

Insider tip:
  A nice way to spend a lazy Saturday or Sunday is riding along Lake Washington Boulevard from Mount Baker Beach to the entrance of Seward Park. On alternating weekends the road is closed to cars, making for a lovely and leisurely lakeside ride.

Bike Routes in Seattle: The Burke Gilman Trail is a local favorite and one of the best bike trails in the Seattle area because of its variety as it snakes through parts of the city and around the northern end of Lake Washington. The trail extends all the way from Marymoor Park in Redmond all the way to the Fremont area and runs west of the University of Washington.

Other Bike Routes:
The Green Lake trail is one of the best bike trails in the Seattle area because it’s great for beginners and even more experienced riders. Green Lake Park has 323.7 acres, and it loops around Green Lake. It’s maintained by the Seattle Parks and Recreation, so the asphalt surfaces are consistent and smooth. There are also lots of people around, so if you have mechanical problems, you know you’ll always be able to find help. Since the trail loops around the lake, it’s a nice waterfront ride. At the same time, it’s in close proximity to urban Seattle. So you have all the elements of relaxing natural scenery and still have the excitement of being in Seattle.

Transit: If you would like to ride a bus while traveling with your bicycle, you now can do so — at no additional cost! Metro has installed bike racks on the front of all its buses, providing a convenient way to “bike-and-ride.” You may load and unload your bicycle at any Metro bus stop.

Bike Shops
Gregg’s Cycles | 2020 Cycle | Wright Brothers Cycle Works | Velo Bike Shop | Bike Works


City of Seattle (bike maps) | King County Web site (biking information) | Seattle Bicycle Club | Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance

Washington, D.C.


Washington, D.C. was the first major city in the United States to implement a bike-sharing program. Happily, it’s a very bicycle-friendly city. In the past two years, the city has added 11 miles of bicycle lanes and 10 miles of signed routes. In total, hundreds of miles of interconnected off-street trails and on-street bike routes make bicycling a pleasure for riders of every skill level.

Insider tip:  Check out the Bike ‘N Ride Bicycle Program.

Bike Routes in Washington, D.C: The 184.5 mile long Chesapeake & Ohio Canal is located along the north bank of the Potomac River, starting in Washington, D.C. and ending in Cumberland, MD. Try riding just a short section! Built between 1828 and 1850, the canal became a National Historic Park in 1971. The canal’s towpath remains a favorite of bicyclists. Want a really long haul? The Great Allegheny Passage Trail provides 330 traffic-free miles from Washington, D.C. to Pittsburgh, PA. Note: The towpath is not paved (the surface is typically clay and crushed stone), so it can be rough.

Other Bike Routes: The 13-mile Capital Crescent Trail is a wonderful Rail-to-Trail conversion. This route goes from K street in Georgetown to Downtown Bethesda. The first three miles parallel the C&O Towpath, then head up the hill through the affluent neighborhoods NW of DC. The first seven miles between Georgetown and Bethesda are paved. Once you arrive in Bethesda, you can continue east using the unpaved Georgetown Branch Trail to the Rock Creek Trail.

Bike Shops
Big Wheel Bikes | Bike and Roll | City Bikes | Capitol Hill Bikes

Bike Washington | League of American Cyclists | Washington Area Bicyclists Association



Karen Kefauver is a California-based writer. SwitchYard Media is a Seattle-based multimedia storytelling studio.

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