by Joel Patenaude
With four inches of snow dumped on the Madison, Wisconsin, area since Friday night, I couldn’t get out the door and on my fat bike fast enough Saturday morning. I wanted to be among the first to make tracks after the first snowstorm of the season.
The thing about being a cyclist in the increasingly most bike friendly and bike loving part of the state, though, is that you aren’t likely to be the first to ride anywhere at any time. Even as a member of that smaller subset of cyclists who love riding in the winter, I couldn’t find virgin snow.
Even from where I live in Verona, a few miles west of Madison, I was following someone else’s fat bike tracks on the Military Ridge State Trail from the outset. Whoever it was had even detoured onto the singletrack at Quarry Park and then continued on the converted rail-trail.
I eventually passed a couple other fat bike riders heading in the opposite direction on the Cannonball Path and Southwest Commuter Bike Trail. We shared goofy grins as we acknowledged eachother and our good fortune to be on bikes with tires the equivalent of clown shoes.
Far from being disappointed I was not the first or only fat bike rider out that morning, I felt giddy knowing I was not alone getting my fat bike freak on.
Madison goes Platinum, UW-Madison takes gold
To be honest, I expected to see others pedaling in the snow and slush. Just days earlier, the League of American Bicyclists named Madison a Platinum-level bike friendly community, joining only four others (Boulder and Fort Collins, Colorado; Davis, California; and Portland, Oregon) as the best places to bike in the country. And by surpassing Gold-level Minneapolis, Minnesota, with this upgraded status, Madison had proven an upper Midwest city could be a top-notch bicycling haven even in the dead of winter.
Not to be outdone, this new round of Bike League designations bumped up to Platinum the University of Minnesota (along with, if you see the pattern, Portland State University and Colorado State University). The University of Wisconsin-Madison campus also saw an upgrade to Gold.
My fat bike ride had me cutting through Fitchburg – a Madison-adjacent suburb that just boosted to Silver status by the Bike League – on my way to downtown Madison via the Cannonball Path and the bike/ped bridge over the Beltline, both of which saw completion in the past year.
By the time I reached the edge of campus on my return trip, I knew exactly how much company I had out there. The electric bike counter standing on the Southwest Trail just east of Monroe Street registered me as the 37th cyclist to pass by late morning that day. (The majority of the trail traffic was on foot to the imminent Badger game at nearby Camp Randall Stadium. And the hardest core winter cyclists were all likely at Trek HQ in Waterloo for the State Cyclocross Championships.) I was more impressed to see the counter had added me to the more than 440,000 who have biked the trail this year and among the 2.7 million bike trips recorded by all four of the bike counters on city trails.
The presence of installations like this, infrastructure in the form of trails and bike lanes, and safety programs all play into the specific designations of bike friendly communities, states, campuses and businesses as determined by the Bike League. Rather than detail what each community and campus did to earn its medal, I’ll list the winners and let readers investigate further if they feel inclined.
Michigan campuses win Silver
Campuses elsewhere in the region got kudos for what they’re doing to increase the number of bicyclists. Michigan State University in East Lansing and Michigan University in Ann Arbor both moved up to Silver. The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, are newly minted Bronze campuses. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was renewed at Bronze, too.
Madison’s burbs & other Wisconsin cities win designations, too
Communities surrounding Madison clearly made note of the capital city’s 12-year pursuit of Platinum-level bike friendliness. Among those who sought their own designations, the aforementioned Fitchburg got upgraded to Silver, and Middleton and Monona, west and east of Madison respectively, were introduced to the list as Bronze winners.
Eight Wisconsin communities received awards this round – including Silver-upgraded Shorewood, north of Milwaukee, which was previously pegged at Bronze – the most of any state. Sun Prairie, another bedroom community of Madison, and and Neenah in the Fox Valley received honorable mentions from the league.
Towns in Minnesota & Michigan get on the list
New Midwestern additions to the bike friendly communities list also included Hennepin County, Minnesota (Silver), Fergus Falls, Minnesote (Bronze) and Bettendorf, Iowa (Bronze). Honorable mentions went to Two Harbors, Minnesota, and Le Mars and Marion, Iowa.
Joel Patenaude is the editor of Silent Sports Magazine.