Claims to Fame: The 30-mile American River Bike Trail, signature bike racks bearing the city seal that designate bike-friendly businesses, and free urban-cycling-skills classes. Want to chat about vintage singlespeed Schwinns? See chef Rick Mahan at One Speed Pizza.
Biggest Challenge: Local bike advocates claim the ever-modest capital city is California's "best kept cycling secret" but admit a lack of self-promotion hampers its agenda (and lets San Francisco get the glory--again).
Ride in Sacramento
Flickr: Image courtesy of El Cobrador
Claims to Fame: Trails that run west to the Mississippi River and south to Chicago, a 100,000-square-foot indoor mountain bike park, and funding for 100 miles of new bike lanes this year (and a new striping machine).
Biggest Challenge: Convincing more people to ride through the frigid months. One grassroots winter event to look forward to: the Santa Cycle Rampage (Santa suits, bikes, beer).
Ride in Milwaukee
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Flickr: Image courtesy of compujeramey
Claims to Fame: It boasts a bike-share system that's set to expand to 70 stations in 2012, bike lanes on many major thoroughfares, and trails that draw up to 48,000 riders per month. In 2010 Arlington challenged skeptics to go car-free for 30 days. Converts who made it a month won a bike.
Biggest Challenge: Coordinating with less-bike-friendly municipalities and the National Park Service, which oversees the popular Mount Vernon Trail, is often a struggle.
Ride in Arlington
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Flickr: Image courtesy of Ron Cogswell
Claims to Fame: A recently revamped bicycle master plan intends to build on a robust network of bike-friendly roadways. In April the Buy Local Cycling Team honors Belgium's Tour of Flanders with the De Ronde Salem, a 33-mile course with nearly 2,800 feet of climbing.
Biggest Challenge: The city still seeks funding for the Minto Island Bridge--phase 2 of a project that will link downtown to more than 1,000 acres of open space.
Ride in Salem
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Flickr: Image courtesy of Travel Salem
Claims to Fame: More than 200 new bicycle wayfinding signs, plus the Bike Sense program, which taught cycling safety to 2,000 kids in 2011. In 2013 the World Cyclocross Championships will be held at Eva Banman Park.
Biggest Challenge: Lowering a high cyclist crash rate (37 resulted in injury in 2011). But one community is winning the fight: Early this year, residents of Grinstead Drive successfully petitioned for a lane reduction to calm traffic.
Ride in Louisville
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Flickr: Image courtesy of The Pug Father
Claims to Fame: The Paseo Del Bosque Trail--16 uninterrupted miles through the cottonwoods along the Rio Grande--is just part of a 400-plus-mile bike-lane and trail network, and the Duke City track is the largest covered BMX facility in the world. Plus, Albuquerque gets about 300 days of sunshine a year.
Biggest Challenge: A fairly average 1.4-percent bicycle mode share should increase with city-sponsored bike rodeos in 70 elementary schools.
Ride in Albuquerque
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Flickr: Image courtesy of Michael D Martin
Claims to Fame: Initiating a sea change in SoCal cycling culture. Long Beach's slew of top-tier facilities, such as separated downtown bikeways and the nation's first bike-commuter station, has neighboring cities salivating. The Tour of Long Beach offers rides of 31 and 62 miles, plus the 100-mile Cruz Gran Fondo--led by former Olympian Tony Cruz.
Biggest Challenge: Moving beyond infrastructure and developing more programs that promote cycling to the masses--such as Women on Bikes SoCal.
Ride in Long Beach
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Flickr: Image courtesy of Renee Silverman
Claims to Fame: A new, illuminated bike-ped bridge across Town Lake provides the final connection in a comprehensive cycling network that's decked out with public art projects. The Bicycle Cellar, a downtown commuter station, offers showers, storage, service, and rentals.
Biggest Challenge: Making sure that riders utilize the new infrastructure. One potential solution: The Tempe Bicycle Action Group (known locally as T.B.A.G.) organizes nearly nightly urban group rides.
Ride near Tempe
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Flickr: Image courtesy of Nick Bastian Tempe, AZ
Claims to Fame: Out of the 10 largest cities in the United States, it has the most bicycle commuters per capita, plus one of the highest percentages of female cyclists nationwide. Escape Philly's skyscrapers on the 215 miles of recreational and mountain-bike trails in 9,200-acre Fairmount Park, and idyllic road riding on the Schuylkill River Trail, which extends into the western suburbs.
Biggest Challenge: Encouraging cycling in minority communities by reducing cultural barriers and creating better infrastructure.
Ride in Philadelphia
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Flickr: Image courtesy of vic15
Claims to Fame: After three appearances on our worst-cities list, Boston has become a beacon of bike friendliness, with a bike-share program and the installation of bike lanes along Massachusetts Avenue, on which bikes make up to 14 percent of traffic during peak hours. The non-profit Boston Cyclists Union offers free tune-ups at farmers' markets in areas not served by a local shop.
Biggest Challenge: Keeping discourse diplomatic as projects such as "Neighborways" (Boston's friendly term for bike boulevards) move forward.
Ride In Boston
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Flickr: Image courtesy of Manu_H
Claims to Fame: A revamped master plan includes a complete-streets policy, canal-side path projects, and Safe Routes to School, and earned the city gold Bicycle Friendly Community status from the League of American Bicyclists in 2010. Handlebar Helpers (est. 1994) gives free bikes to apprentice mechanics who refurbish donations, and city staffers who successfully commute by bike for six months.
Biggest Challenge: Easing driver-cyclist tensions brought on by the shifting mode share. One promising program: Cycle the Arts, a community ride that tours the city's art installations.
Ride in Scottsdale
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Claims to Fame: Denver upgraded downtown bike lanes and started an extensive bike-share system. Salvagetti Bike Shop sponsors a high-school mountain-bike team, offers premium road and dirt rides, and can pull you an espresso to within one-tenth of a desired degree.
Biggest Challenge: Revamping the extensive but 25-year-old trail system to accommodate a strong recreational cycling community that is now commuting in increasing numbers.
Ride in Denver
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Claims to Fame: The city installed 35 miles of bikeways in 2011; a new urban-trail plan emphasizes off-street paths, like the 6-mile Lance Armstrong Bikeway. The Austin Bike Zoo animals--including an 80-foot rattlesnake powered by six riders, tandem butterflies, and a bat tricycle--are an institution at parades.
Biggest Challenge: Though tireless bike advocates have a near-perfect record for projects they've championed, involvement from the thriving cycling community remains sporadic.
Ride in Austin
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Flickr: Image courtesy of alamosbasement
Claims to Fame: The city with the most bike-lane miles (620!) in the nation has a bike-boulevard plan totaling 170 miles, and the Cyclovia, which helped increase bike commuting by 58 percent. What the non-profit Bicycle Inter-Community Art and Salvage (BICAS) doesn't refurbish, it sells at an annual bicycle-art auction.
Biggest Challenge: Money remains scarce for fresh asphalt on worn-out non-arterial roads, although the city recently repaved a strip on the 4th Avenue bike boulevard.
Ride in Tucson
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Flickr: Image courtesy of Daquella manera
Claims to Fame: It has a 310-mile cycling network and a pioneering bike-share program that has served more than 11,000 riders since opening in 2008. Bike-in movies at New Belgium Brewing benefit local nonprofits. Each summer the oak-lined, asphalt oval on the Colorado State University campus turns into an impromptu velodrome with a six-week track-racing series.
Biggest Challenge: Changing cycling's scofflaw stereotypes. A new campaign, "You Know Me, I Ride a Bike," which tells the stories of local cyclists, is a good start.
Ride in Fort Collins
Flickr image courtesy of And all that Malarkey
After years of semi-successfully lobbying elected officials to revamp an ancient bicycle master plan, the Cascade Bicycle Club took a more proactive approach. The club--which boasts 14,000 members, 26 full-time staffers, and a contact list of more than 80,000 supporters--formed a political action committee and started promoting its own candidates for office. In the last election cycle, 75 percent of the candidates the club endorsed won.
The growing political support is noticeable. Recent projects include a two-way cycle track on Broadway and a network of neighborhood greenways to complement the bike infrastructure that already exists on most arterial roads. But all this civic participation isn't without an edgier side. The Dead Baby Downhill race, held in August, is dubbed the West Coast's biggest bike party. The postrace gathering features human-powered carnival rides and draws thousands of cyclists, from partiers aboard monster bikes to safety-conscious commuters in neon gear.
Ride in Seattle
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The 14 miles of paved trails winding along the banks of the Willamette River--through parks and past a BMX track--are named in memory of Ruth Bascom, who spent four decades championing bikes as an advocate, council member, and mayor. Thanks to her efforts, Eugene claims a bike-commuter level of about 10 percent. In 2010, the city spent one-fifth of its federal transportation dollars on bike-ped projects, such as the Delta Ponds Bridge--which spans a highway, links neighborhoods to a wetland park, and earned Eugene an environmental award from the Federal Highway Administration.
Eugene's cycling future rests in events like Kidical Mass, where dozens of parents and children roll down bike boulevards, often ending with an ice-cream stop. Pedaling among the young riders is, perhaps, the next Ruth Bascom.
Ride in Eugene
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Flickr image courtesy of functoruser
In the mid 1980s, the bike messenger was the signature San Francisco cyclist (see: Quicksilver). Now? It's the briefcase-toting executive riding in the separated bike lanes on Market Street. Twitter--which claims 25 percent of its employees ride to work--recently leased a building near the bikeway.
After settling an environmental lawsuit in 2010 that had stalled the city's progress, San Francisco has installed 20 new bike-lane miles, 25 bike-parking corrals, and traffic signals that give riders the right-of-way. The innovations led to a 71 percent increase in bike trips over the past five years and moved the city closer to its goal of a 20 percent cycling mode share by 2020. Although messengers may no longer rule the streets, events like the Bicycle Music Festival--with its pedal-powered rock shows and rolling venues--help keep the two-wheeled counterculture alive.
Ride in San Francisco
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When New York's Citi Bike launches this summer, it will be the largest bike-share system in the nation, with 600 stations and 10,000 bikes, primarily spread throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn. Plans call for 1,800 bike-lane miles by 2030, putting the city in league with cycling legends such as Paris.
Still, with amenities like the protected West Side Highway bike path paralleling the Hudson River and urban oases such as Governors Island (where a pilot bike-share still offers free rentals each Friday), New York is already a top cycling destination. It boasts more cyclists than any other American city, and advocacy groups such as Transportation Alternatives are hard at work preparing for the coming influx. In 2011, the organization's bike ambassadors distributed 30,000 educational pamphlets on urban cycling safety and etiquette.
Ride in New York City
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Madison's initial push to make cycling a priority came in 1972, amid an oil crisis. The city has floored the accelerator on cycling ever since, creating a tightly connected network of off-street paths and bike lanes crisscrossing Wisconsin's capital city.
No wonder Madison tends to draw premier cycling companies. Planet Bike, which donates 25 percent of profits to advocacy, and Saris (maker of bike racks and CycleOps trainers) are located just off commuter trails that connect nearby cities to downtown. In 2011, Wisconsin-based Trek Bikes helped the city implement a Safe Routes to School pilot program.
Just outside Madison, cyclists can ride some of the Midwest's most pastoral, and punishingly hilly, terrain. The city hosts the Ironman Wisconsin triathlon, which draws nearly 2,500 participants annually and includes one of the toughest bike courses in the U.S.
Ride in Madison
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Flickr image courtesy of aperture_lag
When former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel took over as mayor in 2010, he brought with him Washington's forward-thinking former transportation director, Gabe Klein, and an ambitious agenda to reinvigorate Chicago's bike network. The Streets for Cycling 2020 plan calls for the installation of 100 miles of separated bike lanes over the next four years, a commitment local bike advocates refer to as "staggering."
There's already a lot to love. A protected bike lane on Kinzie Street was installed in just six weeks; cyclists now account for 51 percent of the traffic during rush hour. Other funded projects include turning an elevated railway into a bike path and expanding the bike-share system to 5,000 bikes. During Chicago's Bike the Drive event each May, thousands of cyclists flock to Lake Shore Drive for a car-free 30-mile ride.
Ride in Chicago
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Flickr: Image courtesy of Wildcat Dunny
There is no clearer evidence of the urban-cycling revolution sweeping the United States than in the nation's capital, where ridership jumped 80 percent from 2007 to 2010. The District opened the country's first automated bike-share system, constructed separated bike lanes on key downtown corridors--including the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue linking the White House and Capitol Hill--and installed more than 1,600 bike racks.
In 2011, Federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood attended the ribbon cutting for a section of the Anacostia River Trail, which will provide safe bicycle access to the eastern part of the city. Washington Area Bicyclist Association executive director Shane Farthing says the trail, along with new bike-share stations and clubs like Black Women Bike DC, will help increase the diversity of the cycling community.
Ride in DC
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Flickr: Image courtesy of Ken_Mayer
Due to a network of on-street bike lanes and paths that allow for almost unimpeded two-wheeled travel, Boulder boasts the second-highest percentage of bike commuters in the United States (Davis, California, is first). After recently passing a $49 million transportation bond with substantial funding for cycling projects, the city broke ground on the Baseline Path, a key half-mile-long connection between East Boulder and the University of Colorado.
But Boulder's crowning achievement may be Valmont Park, a 40-acre bike playground with knobby-tire amenities for all types, including a balance-bike track for toddlers. On weekends, pro downhillers catch big air alongside middle-school kids on the dirt jumps and slopestyle track, while families and cross-country racers alike zip along singletrack trails of varying difficulty.
Ride in Boulder
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Flickr: Image courtesy of NNECAPA
From the midwinter Stupor Bowl alleycat race, a wintertime tour of the city's various cycling oriented pubs, cafés, and galleries, to the thousands of volunteer hours accrued by the city's Bicycle Advisory Committee to the six-year-old ArtCrank bike-poster show, cycling culture in Minneapolis is thriving.
"In the last few years, things have gone from really good to explosive," says Nick Mason, a program manager at the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota. In 2010, with the launch of the Nice Ride bike-share system, cycling shifted from a cultural phenomenon to a community-wide initiative. During its second full year of service, annual Nice Ride subscriptions tripled and daily trips doubled as predominant commuter wear shifted from spandex to slacks and heels.
In 2011, the city completed the 4.25-mile Cedar Lake Regional Trail, dubbed "America's first bike freeway." The two one-way bike lanes and pedestrian lane run from the Mississippi River downtown underneath the Minnesota Twins' Target Field and into the western suburbs. Minneapolis also added 35 miles of bike lanes and installed four bike-boulevard corridors, with the recently updated bike plan calling for a dozen more.
Ride in Minneapolis
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After being named runner-up in our last round of best bike city rankings in 2010, Portland reclaims the top spot. The only large city to earn Platinum status from the League of American Bicyclists is a paragon of bike-friendliness, with 180 miles of bike lanes and 79 miles of off-street bike paths. Always quick to embrace cyclist-friendly innovations, Portland was the first city in the United States to implement bike boxes at intersections and elementary-school bike commuting trains. Among the city's many bike shops is newcomer Go By Bike, which is located under the aerial tram and offers valet parking, rentals, and repairs.
Ride in Portland
Flickr: Image courtesy of StuSeeger
Click here to see #26-50 top bike-friendly cities on Bicycling.com.