Madison, Wisconsin

Population: 220,332

Madison's John Nolen Bike Path     Photo: Zane Williams-GMCVB

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.

REALITY CHECK:
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.

NEXT BEST:
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.

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