My Town: Madison
"Go any direction and you'll hit paved farm roads," says Bryan Smith, 2004 national collegiate criterium champ from the University of Wisconsin and pro rider on the TIAA-CREF developmental racing team. "When I was at UW, we'd have a weekly ride west of town that we'd call the World Championships, where we'd all try to go out and kill each other."
A lot of the adjectives used to describe this Paris of south-central Wisconsin also apply to its cycling scene: inclusive, enlightened, accessible. The bragging starts with infrastructure, thanks to a city government that takes two-wheelers seriously. Over the past 30 years, it has instituted more than 30 miles of well-tended bike paths and 110 miles of on-road bike lanes. For trips under five miles, it's faster to pedal than drive. Roadies devise endless variations of in-town loops, through parks and the arboretum and around 9,847-acre Mendota and 3,274-acre Monona, glacial lakes that define downtown. For rolling hills, they head for the paved, lightly trafficked farm roads west of town. Hammerheads, novices, and in-betweeners alike sign on for Bombay Bicycle Club rides (twice a week, April to October) and for summer Wisport citizens' races (one of the few no-license-required race series in the country). Madison is also adored by runners, sailors, paddlers, and fans of locally owned co-ops, restaurants, and organic farms. Many are techie entrepreneurs; others work for the state government, the University of Wisconsin, or economic mainstays like Rayovac.
In December and January, when average highs dip below freezing and roads grit up with salt and sand, stir-crazy riders may find themselves Googling Tucson.
Austin, Texas. Good roads, club and charity rides, bike-in movies, nonprofits like the Yellow Bike Project (it recycles used rides into free-floating loaners), and the rolling Hill Country just outside of town. The planned six-mile crosstown Lance Armstrong Bikeway, named for some local guy, will be a great pedal forward.