The 5 Best U.S. Cities for Biking

If you’ve just moved to a new city, one of the best ways to get to know it is by bike. American cities are rapidly becoming bike-friendly, adding bike lanes and bike-sharing programs to inspire commuters to hit the road a bit differently and to assure the safety of cycling enthusiasts.

We’ve ranked five of our favorite cities in which to ride, judging by the infrastructure in place and the efficiency of getting around by bike instead of public transit. If you’ve never biked in a city before, now’s the time. Buy a cheap bike and good lock, follow the basic safety tips, and enjoy your town from a different point of view.

1. Portland

Racks full of commuter bikes in Portland. (Image: courtesy Cycling Portland/Flickr)

In Portland, cycling is not just a hipster affectation; it’s a fact of life and a legitimate part of the transportation system. Despite the city’s soggy climate, cycling is a viable, popular alternative to the bus.

According to the city’s government website, Portland has the highest percentage of bike commuters of any major city—6%—giving riders safety in numbers. There are over 300 miles of bike lines, plenty of bike-specific traffic signals and bike racks galore. [Source: cycling Portland link below] These impressive stats led the League of American Bicyclists to rate Portland as the country’s most bike-friendly large city (beat out only by Boulder, Colorado, Davis, California, and Fort Collins, Colorado).

The cycling culture in Portland feeds on itself and, considering that 238% more people biked to work in 2010 than in 2000, it’s growing at an astounding rate. [Source: cycling Portland link below] City and state government offices bend over backwards to give cyclists the resources they need, including detailed maps and state-wide touring information, while advocacy groups,such as the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, promote safe streets and offer legal advice for crash victims.

[Stat source:]

2. Minneapolis

A woman on a Nice Ride bike-share bike crosses the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. (Image courtesy of PunkToad/Flickr.)

You have to be a hardy soul to cycle in Minneapolis, a city where temperatures peak to only 20+ degrees three months of the year. [Source:] Yet, nearly 5% of residents brave the cold and bike to work. [Source:] Maybe the tough weather helped forge solidarity among riders, because this cold city has a particularly strong cycling community.

Enthusiastic and diverse, the community is evident in all the bike parking and shops, the bike-share program, and the off-road and racing clubs. Plus the local government is extremely supportive. Organizations like the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition and Twin Cities Greenways promote safe streets and trails here and in St. Paul, a city that also embraces bicyclists. In fact, combined, Minneapolis and St. Paul have 84 miles of trails and nearly 50 miles of bike lanes. [Source:] Minneapolis even boasts a sort of bike superhighway, the Midtown Greenway, a 5.5-mile, auto-free trail on a former railway corridor.

(Source: City of Minneapolis. Map)

3. Chicago

Cyclists enjoying Chicago’s annual Bike the Drive ride.[Image courtesy of Bike the Drive/Flickr.)

It’s one thing for small cities like Boulder and Davis to make themselves bike friendly, but it’s quite another for a large city, such as Chicago, to do the same. With a population of 2.7 million people, Chicago’s infrastructure is especially striking.

The Windy City boasts 200 miles of bike lanes, 13,000 bike racks and the beautiful 18.5 mile-long Lakefront Trail. [Source:] The Divvy bike-share program, which launched in 2013, continues to grow, but the city is thinking even bigger. Hoping to increase ridership, its Streets for Cycling Plan, owned by the Department of Transportation, calls for 645 miles of bike lanes, 100 of them protected, to be in place by 2020. [Source:]

A diverse network of clubs and advocates in the city keeps the bike culture energized, encouraging people to ride through winter, get in shape and participate in the popular Bike the Drive ride each spring. All of these efforts are paying off: 20,000 Chicagoans now commute by bike and residents clock 125,000 bike trips a day. [Source:]

(Source: City of Chicago. Map)

4. Philadelphia

Cycling on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in central Philadelphia. (Image courtesy of Philly Bike Coalition/Flickr.)

Lacking an extensive subway system, Philadelphia can be tricky to get around without a car, so it’s especially useful to own a bike here. For instance, if you want to get from West Philly to the Italian Market, you’d choose to either walk 45 minutes, take a 30-minute bus ride or take a 15-minute bike ride. The decision is a no-brainer.

Over the last decade, the city has added many new bike lanes and bike-parking areas. A bike-share system is in the works. The crown jewel of the city’s offerings to bicyclists is the 9,200-acre Fairmount Park, which is laced with paved and off-road trails. A quick ride from downtown, the Schuylkill River path leads to the peaceful Wissahickon Creek, where you can feed ducks while you take a breather. Ready to explore? Try one of the Bicycle Club of Philadelphia‘s many weekly rides.

(Source: City of Philadelphia. Map)

5. New York City

New York City’s bike-sharing program, CitiBike, has hundreds of docks around the city, like here in Hell’s Kitchen. (Image courtesy of Adam Fagan/Flickr.)

The dark horse of the bunch, New York City had some obvious disadvantages on its way to becoming bike-friendly: heavy auto and foot traffic, speeding taxis and narrow side streets. So the Big Apple gets extra points for making major strides in a short amount of time.

In just the last decade, the city has added over 300 miles of bike lanes, some even gloriously divided from traffic. [Source: PDF report] This has encouraged more riders — bicycle commuting doubled between 2007 and 2011. [Source:] Plus, with much prodding from advocate organizations, such as Transportation Alternatives, the popular bike-share program CitiBike debuted in 2013, bringing 6,000 public bikes to Manhattan and Brooklyn.

In a city forever strapped for time, this matters a lot, because biking is often the fastest way to get from point A to point B. With subway fares always on the rise, commuting by bike also saves cyclists money.

(Source: New York City Department of Transportation. Map)

Cover photo courtesy of Adam Lerner.