Best (American) Bicycling Cities

Bicycling Magazine is at it again, publishing another “best of” list.  Earlier, I shared with you their Top 10 century rides.  Last week, the July issue arrived at my stately manor, containing another list: America’s Best Bike Cities.  Bicycling is extraordinarily good at coming up with lists and I promise you I won’t share each one of them with you.  However, this one is interesting to me as it is at odds with something I wrote in this space less than two weeks ago:

All of this adds up to official There And Back Again recognition of Boston as “The Best City I Have Ever Cycled In.”

With that dramatic statement in mind, I now present the top ten cities in Bicycling Magazine’s America’s Best Bike Cities list:

  1. Portland, OR
  2. Minneapolis, MN
  3. Boulder, CO
  4. Washington, DC
  5. Chicago, IL
  6. Madison, WI
  7. New York, NY
  8. San Francisco, CA
  9. Eugene, OR
  10. Seattle, WA

You will note that Boston is not on this list.  It actually finished in 16th place, right after Scottsdale and immediately before Philadelphia.  Additionally, Washington DC – where I live just down the road from and have cycled on several occasions – FINISHED FOURTH.  Naturally, this positive news has sent the local cycling community buzzing.  For me, it leaves me scratching my head in bewilderment.  How could I be so far at odds with the good people of Bicycling Magazine?

A little bit of research provided my answer.  We were simply measuring different things.

The things that gave DC high marks were items that I had little/no interest in; things like the country’s first automated bike-share system (I don’t use it) and the installation of 1,600 bicycle racks (ditto).  The magazine also asserts that formation of clubs like Black Women Bike DC will help increase the community’s cycling diversity.  It’s hard to argue with that point nor the larger point that this will make DC a better “cycling city.”  It’s just that these sorts of metrics, along with bike-themed festivals, bike racks on buses, and bicycle commuter stations, just aren’t important to me as an individual cyclist.

I don’t want to seem too pretentious, but the There And Back Again criteria should bear a passing resemblance to matters that are important to me, or so it seems to me.

And what about Boston?  Apparently it is not too far removed from being on the magazine’s Worst Cities list.  A bike-share program and installation of bike lanes along Massachusetts Ave (which I rode on) seems to have made a difference in their rating this year.  Their biggest challenge (according to Bicycling) is “keeping discourse diplomatic as projects… move forward.”   I must say that as I pedaled about Cambridge, Charleston, the Charles River, and the North End, the quality of discourse surrounding cycling improvements never once entered my mind.  When making up my mind about how good a city is to cycle in, I am interested in how easy it is to get around, how close to death I feel while doing so, and how interesting/fun the experience is for me.

So what have we learned?  Nothing really, except that it is important to understand what you are measuring before making subjective judgements such as a list of the best cycling cities in America.  Bicycling Magazine does a good job of explaining their criteria, less so for me.  Then again, you have to pay for that magazine and this publication comes to you gratis.  You’re welcome.

Having said all that, DC is a great place to cycle!



11 thoughts on “Best (American) Bicycling Cities

  1. Aaahhhh, best of lists. Great Barrington, MA, the town where I work (not where I live) just won 1st place in the Smithsonian’s best small town in the US list. Residents are all abuzz and atwitter. I need to keep finding something inoffensive, neutral and so, totally unlike me, to say about that award. You are right, it is all about what they measure. And how they measure it.

    And, I love the new masthead!

  2. Pingback: Best (American) Bicycling Cities « There And Back Again | The Best Cities In The USA

  3. Last autumn, we cycled in Detroit, Washington, New York and Boston. Not a representative sample of cities, I know, but we particularly enjoyed Washington, with its greater feeling of space and low traffic count.

    • I’m guessing you didn’t ride Pennsylvania Avenue on a work day and certainly not during rush hour. After touring the suburbs, I hit Boston at 3:00 PM on a Wednesday and left for Charleston at 5:30 PM. I was thrilled with the relative ease of movement during such a busy time of day. Having said that, I would definitely pick DC over Detroit and NYC. The Big Apple is not for the faint of heart, although I haven’t seen it since they’ve installed their bike lanes. I would still think it would be imposing for a visitor, not unlike Westminster was for me!

    • Apparently, it’s an intense battle at the top end of the American cycling advocacy world. On a larger level, I find it interesting that most of the cities in the Top 10 come from cold weather climates (well, cold to Americans, anyway). My assumption would have been that warm weather cities have a tremendous advantage in encouraging a cycling culture. Once again, I would be wrong!

  4. I’m not surprised to see D.C. in the top 5 – Steve, any chance you can ping me off line? I have a question about PW County you may be able to answer…

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