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Madison: A Pedal-Pusher's Paradise

Traffic sometimes gets so crazy, especially in the fall when the college kids arrive en masse, that the police have to get involved. And, as is customary, they ticket the lawbreakers and strictly enforce the city's traffic laws. Every year, the worst perps are the freshmen. No, not the drivers--most undergrads don't have cars. It's the ones on two wheels. They haven't been through road rules orientation yet. Sure, motorists make their share of mistakes, but bikers don't make it any easier for them when they play Russian Roulette with stop signs, leaving it up to drivers to figure out whether they're going to stop (they don't). Even pedestrians who venture into crosswalks are taking chances with the speeding renegades.

More than likely your city doesn't have these kinds of problems. But what else can you expect from a city that is home to more bicycles than cars? Madison is considered by many to be the most bicycle-friendly city in the U.S. As luck would have it, Madison is also the state capitol of Wisconsin, considered by many sporting magazines to be the most bicycle-friendly state in the nation.

Madison has earned this distinction by devoting millions of dollars to the development of almost 120 miles of bike paths over, under, around and throughout the city. The dense student population--more than 40,000--accounts for thousands of those bikes, which students depend on to help them traverse the 933-acre UW-Madison campus. But students aren't the only spinners. Not far from campus, Madison's business and state and county government district is concentrated on a narrow isthmus between Lake Monona and Lake Mendota. Traffic congestion and a dearth of parking motivate many business people--even the mayor--to pedal to the office.

The city has published a bike path map which is an invaluable aid to rookie and veteran bikers: It graphically illustrates bike routes from one end of the city to another; bike paths; sidewalks that are bikeable; streets with dedicated bike lanes; and streets with wide curb lanes and paved shoulders that can accommodate bicyclists. When it snows, the city promptly plows the bike paths. Madison even has a biking coordinator on staff.

The city is home to the Ford Ironman Triathlon, a qualifying race for the world championship, which is immensely popular; the Trek 100, an annual ride for more than 3,000 bikers that raises about $1 million, with the help of Lance Armstrong, for childhood cancer (Trek's global headquarters is located just down the road in Waterloo); and the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin. Madison's cycle culture has spawned numerous groups of like-minded bikers, for example, Wednesday Night Ride, Bombay Bicycle Club and Brazen Dropouts. And there are those who will acknowledge (just barely) that Mad City is affiliated with the World Naked Bike Ride.

Sound enticing? When you're in a rut, and you feel like you're just spinning your wheels, plop your bike into your Saris bike carrier (made in, ahem, Madison), get in gear and head to the home of Bucky Badger for the weekend. Whether you're a power biker or prefer a more leisurely pace, there's a perfect place for you to ride. You can take in State St., the coolest place in town; Union Terrace, overlooking Lake Mendota; the grand state capitol building; and the enormous Farmers' Market, open May through October. You'll clear your head, find new friends, take in some beautiful sights and renew your spirit. Guaranteed.

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