The good news is that a rapidly growing number of cities across the country are becoming more bike-commuter friendly because of rising gas prices, growing alarm over global warming, and Americans’ desire to stay fit. In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, biking to work has increased nationwide by 60 percent during the past ten years. The truly best bike-commuting cities are places that combine a high percentage of workers who pedal to work with municipal agencies and local organizations that promote a vibrant bike path system. They’re also nearly all college towns. Here are the five chart-toppers—from among cities with populations of 100,000 or higher.
Percentage of workers who bike-commute: 10.9
Miles of bike lanes: 159
Bike share: Yes
No medium- to large-sized city in the country can boast more people who bike to work than Boulder. Its extensive web of bike paths (including 78 underpasses for cyclists and pedestrians) allows riders to speed through town without having to navigate through car traffic or wait at many stoplights. There are more than 20 B-cycle bike-sharing kiosks (B stations) located around town.
Bike shop: University Bicycle on Pearl Street is the choice of gearheads throughout the city; when the store is closed for the day, you can still buy some basics from its 24-hour vending machine.
Percentage of workers who bike-commute: 6.1
Miles of bike lanes: 181
Bike share: Expected to start in spring 2015
More than 17,000 workers strap on their helmets each day and pedal to work in Portland, most of them undeterred by either wind or rain. At the heart of the city, there are roughly eight miles of separated bike lanes. You’ll also find bike-specific traffic signals at 15 busy intersections and 5,000 publicly installed bike racks.
Bike shop: For the past 15 years, River City Bicycles, on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, has been one of the driving forces in the city’s Commute by Bike movement.
Percentage of workers who bike-commute: 8.1
Miles of bike lanes: 15
Bike share: Bay Area Bike Share will expand in spring 2015
Don’t be fooled by the relatively small number of dedicated bike lanes here. There are so many quiet side streets spiderwebbing the city, there isn’t the same need to install them as in other, denser urban centers. The city has one of the highest percentages of commuters who bike to work of any municipality in the country—a number that’s helped by the earth-minded, and often car-free, students at UC–Berkeley.
Bike shop: In true Berkeley-hippie fashion, the Missing Link Bicycle Cooperative, started by university students in 1971, is a worker-owned business that caters to both cycling junkies and commuters.
Percentage of workers who bike-commute: 5.1
Miles of bike lanes: 112
Bike share: Yes
Since 2006, Madison—from its municipal government, to its local shops, to its residents—has been hell-bent on enhancing its bike-friendly infrastructure as a way to improve quality of life, serve as a model for the rest of the country, and improve the local parking situation. It’s not far from achieving this, as you’ll see when you ride on its 46 miles of paths and 7 miles of protected lanes to navigate across and around town.
Bike shop: Thirty-five-year-old megaretailer Budget Bicycle Center has been one of the city’s most vocal advocates for improving bike access in recent years. Its business is split into four Regent Street locations: one sells used bikes, another sells new ones, a third stocks specialty bikes, and a fourth offers parts, service, accessories, and apparel.
Percentage of workers who bike-commute: 8.7
Miles of bike lanes: 81
Bike share: No
This bustling college town on the banks of the Willamette River is so cycling-obsessed, you could practically call it Copenhagen West. It has more downtown bridges for bikes than for cars, including the magnificent, 300-yard-long, cable-stayed Delta Ponds Bridge that spans the four-lane Delta Highway. It also trails only Boulder for the highest percentage of bike commuters among cities with a population of more than 100,000.
Bike shop: Arriving by Bike, on Willamette Street, calls itself a bicycle transportation store because of its focus on promoting car-free urban travel.