There is a lot to like about Madison. Four wonderful lakes, dozens of cute shops along State Street, great restaurants, a gorgeous capitol building, squeaky cheese curds at the Farmer’s Market, great beer, better brats, I could go on and on. But, for me, even more than that delectable Wisconsin beer cheese soup I had at the Old Fashioned restaurant, I loved the bike paths. Madison’s system of bike trails would impress even the Dutch. I haven’t seen better urban bike trail infrastructure anywhere else in the country, and that includes cycling meccas like Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and New York City. I haven’t been everywhere yet, but so far, Madison is at the top.
Madison didn’t just paint some lines on their streets and call itself bike-friendly. It has more than 40 miles of well-maintained trails that are completely separated from automobile traffic. These trails have their own over-passes, under-passes, intersections, roundabouts, and signage. When these trails cross roadways, they usually have a bike-signal so the rider can get cars to yield before crossing. Most of these intersections also include a specially-built median so riders have a safe spot in the middle of the road, allowing them to cross one direction of traffic at a time if they like. For those areas where they do not have dedicated bike trails, Madisonites created “Bike Boulevards” where cyclists are entitled to the entire lane or extra-wide bike lanes that are for bikes and buses only.
Thousands of people use these trails every day. We know that because they have installed bike-counters at different points on the trails that display the number of cyclists that pass by them each day. These counters only count cyclists – I know, because me, Caroline and Gidget tried to fool them a few times when we were out on foot. The highlight of my time in Madison though was last Tuesday when I saw not one, but two ElliptiGO riders “in the wild.” Jull Miller coaches at the University of Wisconsin and was riding her black 8C in the opposite direction along one of the bike superhighways when I was coming back from a meeting on my 11R. I turned around and after a very concerted effort managed to catch up with her so we could ride together for another 30 minutes. It was great having my first “authentic” ElliptiGO sighting on this trip and I really enjoyed riding with Jill. She also recommended us to try The Heritage restaurant, which ended up being our favorite in Madison and the only one we went to twice.
That evening, when we were having dinner at The Heritage, along came Janet Piraino on her green 8C, stopping across the street from where we were seated. Caroline encouraged me to say hello, so I ran over to her and introduced myself. She was a ball of energy in the middle of a ride. She recommended a fantastic route to me around Lake Monona which I did a few days later. It was a real thrill to see two ElliptiGOs on the same day so many miles away from home.
Madison was a place we really wanted to visit and it definitely did not disappoint. For an ElliptiGO rider, my suspicion is there isn’t a safer city to ride in in the country. The only thing lacking is hills. Apparently, there are some good climbs outside of town, but I couldn’t find a sustained climb anywhere in town. That’s probably great for commuting but would make training for the ElliptiGO World Championships a little challenging. It probably gets a little cool in the winter as well, so I’m not sure I’d be up for riding year-round here. Those points aside, if you find yourself looking for a place to spend a week that has great restaurants, a fun vibe and unbelievable cycling trails, head over to Mad-town.
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