Let’s ride

A year-round cycling paradise

A biker on a fat bike at the Solstice Chase, Great Lakes Fat Bike Series in St. Croix Falls.

According to the Outdoor Industry Association, bicycling has a $133 billion annual economic impact nationally, with some 60 million bicyclists across the country. In Wisconsin, an expansive bike trail system and hundreds of bike-related events keep residents pedaling year-round, while beckoning tourists to join in the fun.

Last year, 17 Wisconsin communities made the League of American Bicyclists’ list of the top bicycle-friendly communities in the nation – and Madison led the way as one of just five communities in the country to receive a platinum rating. Wisconsin consistently lands in the top 10 on the League’s ranking of bike-friendly states.

While Wisconsin is a great place for bicyclists, the cycling industry is also great for Wisconsin, home to Trek Bicycle Corp., Pacific Cycle Group, Waterford Precision Cycles USA, Saris Cycling Group and hundreds of other bicycle-related businesses. A University of Wisconsin-Madison study in 2010 suggested the overall economic impact of the bicycling industry on Wisconsin is about $1.5 billion per year, supporting about 14,000 jobs, and contributing an estimated $535 million in annual tourist spending.

Bicyclists truly experience Wisconsin during the many bicycling events throughout the year, including the Ride Across Wisconsin, a one-day, 175-mile ride from Dubuque, Iowa, to Kenosha. Organized by the Wisconsin Bike Federation, RAW last year drew 873 riders from 21 states. RAW 2017 will take place Aug. 26, with a two-day option that includes a stay-over in Beloit.

A ride for everyone

“The great thing about Wisconsin is that no matter how you enjoy riding a bicycle, we have a place to do it,” said Dave Cieslewicz, executive director of the Wisconsin Bike Federation, the country’s largest statewide bicycle organization.

For road riders, Wisconsin’s paved country roads offer light traffic and challenging topography.

“A lot of what we enjoy today as bicyclists is thanks to the dairy industry. Many of the rural roads were paved to make sure milk trucks could get to farms,” said Cieslewicz.

The state’s 41 bike trails, totaling more than 2,000 miles, offer a network of dedicated biking trails. Thirty-seven of the 41 trails are rail trails, including the Elroy-Sparta State Trail, created in 1967, the first rails-to-trails conversion in the nation. Riders enjoy the splendor of southwest Wisconsin and the thrill of riding through three rock tunnels on this 32-mile route built on the abandoned Chicago & North Western Railway.

Wisconsin has an abundance of off-road trails for mountain bikers of all abilities. The Chequamegon Area Mountain Biking Association trails in the Cable/Hayward area recently received Ride Center designation by the International Mountain Bicycling Association.

“That organization has only recognized a couple dozen destinations throughout the world as Ride Centers,” noted David Spiegelberg, regional tourism specialist for the state Department of Tourism. “That’s a big deal in the mountain biking world.”

Future trail development includes the Route of the Badger in southeastern Wisconsin, proposed by the national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. The Route of the Badger would connect existing rail trails in seven southeastern Wisconsin counties – Kenosha, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Walworth, Washington and Waukesha – to create an ultimate biking destination.

“That could be promoted on a national level to entice people to come to Wisconsin with their bicycle for town-to-town riding, city-to-city riding, all on designated trails,” explained Spiegelberg.

Year-round recreation

Winter is a cold, snowy reality in Wisconsin, but it’s no reason for cyclists to give up the biking habit.

“Wisconsin leads the country in winter fat bike trail development and also fat bike events,” noted Spiegelberg.

A fat bike is an off-road bicycle with 4-inch or larger tires that enables riders to travel over soft surfaces, including snow. Though fat bikes are used off-road year-round, the premier winter biking event and largest fat bike event in the country is Hayward’s Fat Bike Birkie, which drew 1,200 participants in 2017.

“The fat tire bike revolution has made it possible for people to keep biking year-round,” noted Cieslewicz. “Sometimes they are commuters and sometimes they use them for recreational purposes. Here in Madison, people are riding them on the lakes when they freeze over. People are always inventing new ways to enjoy bicycle riding.”

Bicycle-friendly communities

17 Wisconsin communities made the League of American Bicyclists’ fall 2016 list of top U.S. bike-friendly communities.


  • Madison


  • Fitchburg
  • La Crosse
  • Shorewood 


  • Appleton
  • Dane County
  • Eau Claire
  • Menomonie
  • Middleton
  • Milwaukee
  • Monona
  • Onalaska
  • River Falls
  • Sheboygan County
  • Stevens Point
  • Sturgeon Bay
  • Wausau

Sign up for BizTimes Daily Alerts

Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

No posts to display