Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ten Most Bike-Friendly Cities in the U.S

With the price of gas steadily on the rise, more Americans are looking for alternative ways to get around their home cities. For some, this means making the most of local public transportation while for others, investing in a bike is the best option.

In the past few years, bike culture has seen a huge surge in the United States with more people choosing to bike to work than ever before. Local governments, state legislatures and bike activism groups are taking heed and creating new lanes, extending cycling paths, building bike rails and much more!
Why is biking suddenly so popular? In addition to being great exercise, it is cheaper (no insurance, less financial investment) and does not produce one single ounce of pollution for our atmosphere.

Bicycling magazine has rounded up the best biking cities in the United States and we know why:

1. Minneapolis, MN

Although this may seem like a surprising #1 choice, Minneapolis is a great city of cyclists as any resident will tell you. In addition to over 120 miles of bike lanes and facilities, Minneapolis also offers ample indoor bike parking to protect your bicycle from any inclement weather, and many other bike-friendly incentives. Hundreds of citizens ride to work even in the dead of winter and the city’s 5.7 mi Midtown Greenway, an urban loop for cyclists, is helping to make Minneapolis accessible for bike commuters. The Midtown Bike Center has a repair shop with everything you need from new bike tubes to portable bike pumps in addition to showers and bike storage in the city center. Did we mention 34 miles of street bike lanes and over 50 miles of trails?

2. Portland, OR

This city has been a cycling Mecca for decades due to its interconnected bike lanes and paths through various neighborhoods that allow commuters to bypass automobile commuting entirely, as well as innovative programs that install bike-only areas at traffic signals and give out free bike lights. The city also initiated the Create-a-Commuter program which makes low-cost commuter bicycles available to less wealthy residents of the city. These bikes come with a cycling helmet, bike lock, pump, and maps. With about 10% of the city regularly commuting by bike (quite a feat in our car-dependent nation), Portland also boasts over 250 miles of trails, paths, and lanes. In the past 20 years, biking has quadrupled with no increase in the number of crashes!

3. Boulder, CO

This city strives to educate its citizens about the safety and benefits of bicycling, as well as bike maintenance. Boulder has a variety of public programs available that teach people about sharing the road with cars, equipping one’s bike with lights and other necessary equipment, and more. This city has long been a popular destination for the health-oriented because of its great mountain biking culture, fresh air, and outdoor sports activities. The city also invests 15% of its transportation budget to creating bikes lanes and other bicycle-friendly infrastructure.

4. Seattle, WA

Each day thousands of Seattle residents bike to work despite the incessant drizzle the city is known for. In addition to bike trails leading to light rail stations to make commuting and public transport use easier and more streamlined, the city has a 10 year, $240 million master plan that hopes to add 450 miles of bike paths in addition to improving overall biking conditions in the city.

5. Eugene, OR

Much like Portland, Eugene has been at the forefront of the car-free movement as more and more of the city’s residents opt to bike on the Emerald City’s three main urban trails instead of driving around. The city also offers ample bicycle parking, extensive bike paths that are lit for improved visibility, and the Smart Ways to School program.

6. San Francisco, CA

The Golden Gate city boasts about 40,000 bicycle commuters and over 60 miles of lanes and paths throughout the city. The BART allows bicycles onboard allowing easier access to public transport for cyclists, and streamlining cross-town transportation. The city also offers a bike shuttle across the Bay Bridge during rush hour. The city’s Board of Supervisors has many elected officials that were backed by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, ensuring that cyclist’s needs will continue to be a top priority. Designated street lanes and traffic signals make this city one of the safest large cities to bike in.

7. Madison, WI

Since 1975, Madison has continually developed bike plans and paths. Currently, Madison has over 30 miles of off-street bike paths in addition to 30 miles of street lanes and a 120 mile networked of bike routes with ample signs!

8. NYC, NY

In the past NYC was considered a city unfriendly to cyclists and dangerous to bike in, but in recent years new developments have turned NYC into a more welcoming place for cyclists. Greenways throughout the city and car-free Central Park offer pleasant bike rides through the bustling metropolis and boroughs such as Brooklyn and Queens offer plenty of biking opportunities. April’s Five Borough Bike Tour involves 30,000 cyclists and 42 miles of car-free riding!

9. Tucson, AZ

Year-round sunshine and warm weather makes Tucson the perfect biking location. Add to that 700 miles of designated bikeways and new rules that state that all new street construction and reconstruction must include bike lanes and Tucson is quickly becoming a biking haven. The Tucson area has almost 500 miles of bikes lanes and routes and have just completed their fourth bike-pedestrian bridge.

10. Chicago, IL

By 2015, Chicago will the most bike friendly in the U.S according to Mayor Richard M. Daley. The Mayor is putting his money where his mouth is by regularly biking himself! Chicago currently boasts over 300 miles of bike lanes and paths and also hosts an annual “Bike the Drive” car-free ride that ends with a free concert!

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Best Mountain Bike Trails in the U.S

With its varied terrain and miles of open space, the United States is a veritable dream for any extreme sports enthusiast, from mountain bikers to snowboarders, and with spring and summer just around the corner it’s the perfect time to tune up your mountain bike, get your gear in order, pack your bike helmet, and start planning which trails you’ll be hitting in the upcoming months.

Whether you are new to mountain biking or an experienced outdoor rider, there’s guaranteed to be a trail for you. We’ve done the legwork and run all the numbers – here are the best mountain biking trails in the U.S:

Gold Bar Rim Trail
Location: Moab Valley, Utah
Length: 8.5 miles each way; 17 miles total
Difficulty: 4

Gold Bar Rim offers spectacular views of the rugged Utah landscape including stunning views of Gold Bar Canyon and panoramic views of cliffs and Southwest skies. This trail, however, is not for the faint of heart as it encompasses 17 miles of rough terrain with steep cliffs and high climbs. The road conditions are mostly sandy punctuated with some surface rocks and other occasional obstacles, watch out for dusty breezes! The most difficult driving is up the final slopes to Gold Bar Rim, but those that are able to accomplish it are rewarded with amazing vistas. We recommend stocking plenty of fluids and energy bars if you’re planning on taking this one on, in addition to having all the necessary bike accessories and gear you need!

Yellow River Mountain Bike Trail
Location: Stone Mountain, Georgia
Length: About 10 miles
Difficulty: 3

The Yellow River Mountain trails offer excursions for riders of all levels -- River Loop is easier than Creek Loop in terms of climb and technicality so the latter is recommended for more advanced riders as there are several two difficult, long climbs followed by rapid descents. For those who wish to stick to the easier route, River Loop runs about 6 miles and has a few shorter, challenging climbs. This run is recommended for intermediate mountain bikers and beginners will find it quite difficult, but the rewards are plentiful – scenic river rides, blossoming flowers, and mild climate that means biking is a year-round activity. Watch out for horses and snakes, both of whom share the trails with riders and hikers!

Poison Spider
Location: Moab Valley, Utah
Length: About 13 miles
Difficulty: 5

Poison Spider is for the experienced rider only, this is the trail of terror, the one that can (and probably will) make grown men cry. Although physically and mentally challenging, the trails rewards you with gorgeous vistas, ancient Indian wall markings and intriguing wildlife. Along with Gold Bar Rim and Golden Spike, the Poison Spider trail forms the trifecta of Moab trails which are all linked together. This particular trail is marked with white jeeps that will keep you on course and designate where to go next; we recommend adhering to these markers as going off the trail can be hazardous. The terrain oscillates between thick sand, bumpy cobbles and rock ledges, and slickrock. Avoid the Portal Trail at all costs unless you are an absolutely expert mountain biker as any error on this section can result in severe consequences, even death.

Sweetwater Preserve
Location: Tucson, Arizona
Length: About 10 miles
Difficulty: 1-2 (doable, but challenging)

This trail is a dream for beginners – eight miles of singletrack built by mountain bikers, pristine desert views (including Saguaro cacti as far as the eye can see), tight turns, and swift loops. You can opt for a shorter right by taking the jeep road (cuts 2 miles off) or make it more challenging by hitting the semi-technical Red Canyon Trail. Our favorite for novices? The Homestead trail, which offers an easier descent but lovely views. The trail system is made up of 12 distinct loops that intersect in a choose-you-own-adventure way, making the trail a uniquely different experience for each rider. You can select shorter trails (.5 mi) to longer trails (1.5 mi), creating a ride that is a long and challenging as you like.

No matter your level of experience or the length of the trail, take precautions to ensure your safety and to maximize your experience. Always wear a helmet, be sure to take extra water and snacks (especially on long rides!), and always have extra bike tubes with you in case of an accident (don’t forget to take a tire pump too!).