© Robert Mann
With gas prices all over the place, its a great time to bypass that rental car or taxi and rent a bicycle when traveling. As traffic continues to increase everywhere, pedaling within the urban grid only gets better: Municipal cycling commissions are encouraging pedal power over car congestion by putting in new bike lanes, paths and signals. Bike-only trails are also expanding everywhere to the suburbs and the exburbs. Getting to know a city by bike affords views and experiences you wont encounter behind a windshield, as well as excellent passive exercise, often absent from travel itineraries.
Its flat, friendly and filled with over 100,000 students, the perfect blend for a cycling Mecca. Perhaps because of hometown hero Lance Armstrong, Austin takes cycling seriously, providing bike lanes every few blocks in all directions, neatly laid out in a color-coded (difficulty and direction) map published by the city government. Austin on Two Wheels, the capitals online bike magazine, boasts of as many as ten different rides, races, or two wheel-centric cultural events a day, with over 35 events posted each weekend. Austin shares the touring Bicycle Film Festival with many of the worlds leading cycling cities.
For more information: Austin Cycling Association
For years before Portland laid claim as North Americas cycling capital, Oregons second largest city reigned supreme in all things pedaled. Today, Eugene remains at the forefront of the car-free movement, as families eschew combustion for the Emerald Citys three main urban trails, including the River Trail, which stretches more than 100 miles from neighboring Springfield to Portland. Local group GEARs (Greater Eugene Area Riders) sponsors events ranging from the festive Blackberry bramble and Jamboree to Traffic Skills 101 for Kids.
For more information: GEARs
Visitors have long traveled to Boulder to soak in its health-oriented aesthetic, including the worlds top mountain biking culture. This high-altitude city also offers bike lanes on 95 percent of its arterials, forming 350 miles of paths and lanes, with minimal street crossings. The City of Boulder also takes its biking infrastructure seriously, committing 15 percent of its transportation budget to bikes. The University of Colorado campus ensures biking multitudes and thus, high bike awareness among car drivers.
For more information: City of Boulder, Colo.
The city of 1.2 million is flat and sunny with 850 miles of trails and lanes that take riders from shore to canyons. In fact, San Diego tops most lists of best cycling cities of over 1 million people, and it may one day surpass Portland (think constant temperature between 50-80 degrees and no rain!) as the citys 300 additional miles of trail in just the last 3 years. The Bayshore Bikeway, which conveys peddlers along a 24-mile oceanfront corridor, may be North Americas most sublime trail, though escaping to mountain trails is also a snap. Try to visit during Augusts Midnight Madness ride (the party starts at 8 p.m.), and also make sure to visit the downtown velodrome and Olympic Cycling Training Center.
For more information: San Diego County Bicycle Coalition
Sure it rains all the time, but downpours hardly deter the thousands of bike commuters who pour downtown everyday. And, truth be told, the Seattle climate is more drought than precipitation from July through September. Seattle is also (finally!) getting light rail, and bike trails will end up at stations that lead to the airport, as well as the downtown core. Visitors can decide between the new 1.5-acre urban mountain bike park or the ever-expanding, 18-mile Burke-Gilman Trail, arguably the U.S.s top urban rail-to-trail success story. The trail will eventually surround the 55-mile circumference of Lake Washington.
For more information: Seattle Department of Transportation
Never a city to be outdone, New York has begun a major initiative to make biking a priority, including a plan to encircle Manhattan with a greenway. Aprils Five Boro Bike Tour involves 30,000 (registered) riders and 42 miles of car-free cavorting. NYC is still the leader in bike theft, so bring a lock. New green bike lanes are adding visibility and, this being New York, some controversy as well. Visitors shouldnt always expect courtesy from car drivers, but the New York-based Transportation Alternatives, the best pro-bike organization around, is working hard to change this attitude.
The fact that hundreds of denizens in this northern clime insist on pedaling to work in the dead of winter earns the Twin Cities a mention. But the 5.7-mile Midtown Greenway, an urban inner loop for cyclists, receives legitimate kudos in any weather. The Midtown Bike Center is another trendsetter, with repair shop, showers and storage in the heart of downtown. The city also boasts 34 miles of street lanes, 56 miles of trails and a loop around just about every lake. A city plan will guarantee bike path access to all neighborhoods by 2020.
For more information: Minnesota Bicycle Links