Boulder CO: Cycling Paradise

Guest Post by Dan Tratnack

Boulder: The friendliest cycling city in America.
Boulder: One of the friendliest cycling cities in America.

Boulder, Colorado has the lowest obesity rate of any US city. It is also ranked the 3rd most bicycle friendly city in the US by Bicycling magazine. Think there’s a connection? Having just returned from a cycling adventure on the Front Range of the Rockies, I have little doubt that there is.

Everyone Does Something.

The most striking thing about Boulder for the first-time visitor is the amount of exercise you see going on around you. Cyclists, joggers, trail runners and hikers are everywhere you look. Cars and SUVs are adorned with canoes and kayaks. “Everybody here does something,” the athletic-looking hotel clerk declared. I have little doubt about that. Boulder is a mecca for outdoor recreation enthusiasts, and that culture is always palpable as you make your way around the city.

Not Your Average Bike Ride

My week in Boulder was spent at a Trek Travel Ride Camp. Trek Travel (part of the company that makes Trek bicycles) offers a variety of packages in three basic categories: ride camp, explorer and luxury. The ride camp format is for people who want to spend a week doing long and challenging bike rides. No vineyard tours, no boutique shopping, no afternoon rounds of golf. Just plenty of endurance riding! The Boulder Ride Camp takes advantage of the “low” mountains of the Front Range, but mixes some flatter miles on the high plains on some routes.  It was a great experience, based out of one hotel and supported by two wonderful guides who challenged us with long mountain climbs (a couple of them sixteen miles long), yet made sure we had everything we needed to enjoy the experience.

Bike More, Drive Less

But it’s not the Rocky Mountains that make Boulder so bicycle friendly. The entire city is set up to accommodate two-wheeled vehicles in the municipal transportation system. Bike paths, lanes, tunnels and sharrows are everywhere in Boulder and hundreds of cyclists use them to get around. Because there are so many cyclists, motorists generally respect two-wheeled travelers and understand the rights-of-way in a rather complex system of intersections and turn lanes. The only time I was cut off by a motorist was by a car with North Carolina license plates. An out-of-towner, I assume.

Biking by Law

While many cities (like Harrisonburg) are making great strides in accommodating bicycles, Boulder has gone a step further. The city’s laws have been written so that bicycle-related infrastructure must be included in any transportation construction. Thus, city officials don’t need to debate about bicycle lanes, etc. for each intersection upgrade or road-widening. They have to do it by law. The result is a system of protected routes for cyclists that makes two-wheeled travel delightful and truly encourages people to pedal rather than drive. When I got out of the airport shuttle I vowed not to get into a motorized vehicle until I had to return to the airport. Between the high-end machine provided by Trek and the fat-tire cruisers that the hotel offered for free, I had no trouble accomplishing that goal.

Dan T. SF
This signpost at the intersection of two multi-use paths reflects the vast network of bike routes in Boulder.

Benefits of Bike-Friendly Cities

More and more American cities are recognizing the benefits of making their roads more bicycle-friendly. The two most obvious are decreased traffic congestion and improved health for citizens who get more exercise. Like the chicken and the egg, it is hard to tell which comes first. Do safe bike lanes and paths foster more participation in cycling, or does a large population of avid cyclists pressure a city to provide safe routes? It doesn’t really matter. The important thing is that once the process begins it can create an entirely new culture, one in which cyclists, motorists and city officials truly share the road with mutual respect. And the end result? Did I mention Boulder has the lowest obesity rate among American cities?

DAN T SF 2
A cyclist’s dream! Here is a two-way bike path, adjacent to a pedestrian sidewalk (foreground) and separated from a busy four-lane road by a landscaped median. Expensive, yes, but this truly encourages bicycling for transportation.

Dan Tratnack of Verona, Virginia, is a life-long cyclist who rides about 5,000 miles a year for fun and fitness on the back roads of Augusta and Rockingham Counties. If you would like to know more on cycling or have questions for Dan, feel free to contact him at  dtratnack@gmail.com. Strong Figure welcomes Dan as our Cycling Ambassador.

What’s the most fit-friendly city you’ve ever visited? Should all states make mandatory laws in support of cyclists? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!

Comments

  1. Erik WalkerErik Walker says

    Hey Dan, great article! Sounds like an amazing trip. I agree that the people in Colorado really do seem to love fitness. I have only been to Denver and Colorado Springs but both (especially Colorado Springs), from what I could tell, are all about health and wellness. That said, I honestly think the fittest city I have been to is Washington DC. I am always impressed by how many people are out jogging, cycling, doing yoga –just a couple weeks ago I was helping my dad at my grandmother’s apartment and in a nearby park (DuPont Circle) there were at least a thousand people doing yoga. I am not exaggerating, it is quite a site to see that many people holding the same pose. And a quick google search confirms this — Washington DC is number two on the fittest US cities: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/05/29/fittest-cities-minneapolis-st-paul/2363677/. And Denver also proved super fit on this list (number 5) and if my geography is correct Boulder is less than an hour away from Denver.