Though it’s nearly impossible to determine just when the idea of the bicycle originated, or who had the brilliant idea to ride instead of walk, we do know that the early iterations of the modern bicycle were making their debuts in Europe in the early-1800s. According to the “America on the Move” exhibit at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., in 1817 Charles, Baron von Drais, of Sauerbrun (Germany) innovated a front wheel that could be steered, as well as added a padded saddle for comfort, essentially creating a prototype for the modern-day bicycle 201 years ago.
In 1818, Baron von Drais received a patent for his Draisienne invention and headed to Paris where he received another patent and the Draisienne was renamed vélocipède. Popularity of the vélocipède continued to rise and soon could be seen riding the streets of London, but its popularity crashed just as quickly as it rose, and by the early 1820s, hardly any were seen.
The bicycle’s popularity (the word “bicycle” came into use in 1869) continued to rise and fall over the next several decades, and in 1878 Albert A. Pope became the first maker of American bicycles, manufacturing under the name “Columbia.”
Fast forward to the 21st century and, according to the “U.S. Bicycling Participation Benchmarking Report” commissioned by PeopleForBikes and published in 2015, roughly 103.7 million Americans ages 3 and over (34% of the U.S. population) rode a bike at least one day in 2014. What’s more, research showed that “more than half of Americans (ages 18 and older) would like to bicycle more often and perceive bicycling as a convenient mode of transportation.”
Last year, RewardExpert released its 2017 ranking of the Best Destinations to Explore by Bike, comparing 53 of the largest cities in the country and evaluating them on 13 key metrics across four categories: biking infrastructure, city profile, bike-share index, and biking safety. Top of the list – Minneapolis, with 170 bike share stations and 130 miles of bike lanes through Nice Ride Minnesota. Topping RewardExpert’s Up & Coming Cities list was Memphis, with plans to implement a bike-share program this year to use in the city’s already-expanded bike lanes.
Below you’ll find a dozen bicycling routes and tours around the U.S. that will you get in the saddle and traveling on two wheels. Of course, this is just a sampling of places to ride – pretty much wherever you go, there’s likely a chance to hop on a bike.
U.S. Bicycle Route System (USBRS): Bicyclists, rejoice! The U.S. Bicycle Route System (staffed by the Adventure Cycling Association, which has mapped more than 45,000 miles in its own Adventure Cycling Route Network) is working to develop a national network of bicycle routes that safely connect urban, suburban and rural areas via roads and trails. Currently, more than 11,500 miles of USBR have been designated in 24 states: Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and D.C.
One such U.S. Bicycle Route is USBR35. Starting in Sault Saint Marie in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, USBR35 rolls along farm fields, small downtown areas and urban bike paths through Indiana and to Louisville, Kentucky. The 360 miles that travel through Indiana make it the state’s first interconnected bike route, winding through 15 counties.
East Coast Greenway: Twenty-five years ago, the East Coast Greenway was conceived; since then, the most ambitious long-distance urban bicycle and walking route in the U.S. has taken shape. Beginning at the Canadian border in Calais, Maine, the 3,000-mile greenway, 900 miles of which are off-road greenway, traverses through New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and ends in Key West, Florida. The entirety of the greenway hosts ten million visits a year, with the goal of hosting 100 million trips annually by the end of the next decade. Additional goals include fully signing the route by 2020 with turn-by-turn directions (now found on more than 1,250 of the greenway’s 3,000 miles), and adding hundreds more miles to the route.
Acadia National Park (Maine): Bicycling is combined with hiking, sea kayaking and sailing aboard a classic Maine Windjammer to round out nearly a week of adventure on Sojourn Bicycling & Active Vacations’ six-day Acadia National Park tour. On your bike, you’ll ride along car-free carriage roads and to secret hideaways and off-the-beaten-path spots. Don’t be surprised if you get a bit of sea spray in your face – this ride takes you right to the Atlantic Ocean.
Asheville (North Carolina): Riding along the Blue Ridge Parkway, you’ll pedal the mountains of western North Carolina where you’ll find the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. On the Asheville to Brevard trip with Trek Travel, pass rivers and waterfalls as you ride the scenic roadways and enjoy the indulgences between Asheville, “Beer City USA,” and the mountain town of Brevard.
Charleston & Savannah: Experience southern charm on the seven-day Charleston to Savannah: A Southern Reel tour with VBT. Not only will you indulge in delicious southern cuisine, but have the chance to work it off by riding along the Intracoastal Waterway and down paths lined with moss-draped trees. You’ll also kayak local waterways, go on walking tours and learn about the region’s history along the way.
Natchez Trace Parkway (Mississippi): Leaving from Jackson, Mississippi, follow the historic Natchez Trace Parkway on the Mississippi: The Natchez Trace tour with VBT. The 444-mile scenic drive winds through three states, but don’t worry, you’ll ride just a fraction of the parkway, which is a designated bike path. Along the way, visit Port Gibson, deemed “too beautiful to burn,” by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant during the Civil War; Vicksburg National Military Park; and plenty of antebellum homes.
Minnesota: Nicknamed “The Bike State,” it’s not surprising that there are loads of bicycling routes to ride in Minnesota. The state has been ranked as the number-two most bike-friendly state by the League of American Bicyclists, after all. In Minneapolis, the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway takes riders to the city’s iconic landmarks, while the Root River State Trail (the “Cadillac of Trails” between Fountain and Houston in the southeastern part of the state spans 42 miles of paved trail passes 300-foot bluffs, fields of wildflowers and open pastures. Or pedal 315 miles from St. Paul to Canada on the North Star Route and ride along the shores of Lake Superior and the state’s highest waterfall, High Falls on Pigeon River.
Glacier National Park (Montana): Named one of the best bicycling routes by several cycling publications, Going-to-the-Sun Road is not to be missed when riding in Glacier National Park. Trek Travel, which features Trek Bikes and electric assist bikes, offers a tour that highlights various areas of the park, and even includes rafting on the Flathead River. Just 25 glaciers remain in the park, and seeing them by bike gives you more time to reflect upon them.
Zion National Park (Utah): You’ll seemingly have the entirety of Utah to yourself when you take the private, four-day Zion National Park Bike + Adventure Tour with with DuVine Cycling + Adventure Co. By opting for a private tour, it’s up to you to customize the itinerary to suit your abilities and interests. Combine bicycling the backcountry with hiking some of the park’s most popular trails, or stay in the saddle the entire time.
Santa Barbara (California): You didn’t think we’d write about bicycling tours and not include one through wine country, did you? One to consider is the four-day Santa Barbara Wine Country 4-Day Bike Tour with DuVine Cycling + Adventure Co. Ride along the Pacific Ocean coastline and through vineyards and farmlands, and then sip on the Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah that this wine country is known for.
Columbia Gorge & Cascades (Oregon): Hiking and white water rafting compliment the six-day Oregon: Columbia Gorge tour with Sojourn Bicycling & Active Vacations. The tour starts on a bike path that winds along the Willamette River, a ride that Bicycling Magazine describes as a “must ride.” Things only get better with rides at Mt. Hood and to Multnomah Falls, Oregon’s highest waterfall. Another favorite route of Bicycling Magazine rounds out the tour with views from high above the gorge.
Kona (Hawaii): Say “aloha” to the Big Island of Hawaii on Bicycle Adventures’ new Hawaii – Big Island Bike Tour. Ride past – and maybe even through – coffee plantations, pass by waterfalls, and ride through Pāhoa. Time off of the bike is well-spent hiking in a volcano crater, snorkeling the warm Hawaiian waters and soaking in the hot pools at Isaac Hale State Park.
Anchorage (Alaska): We all know that Alaska is a massive state, and the thought of bicycling through it can be intimidating. Those who want to see remote parts of “The Last Frontier” by bike should consider the Alaska Multi-Adventure Tour with Backroads. During the six-day tour, you’ll ride along Turnagain Arm, hike the Harding Icefield Trail and kayak around Yukon Island. All the while, keep an eye out for moose, bald eagles, seals, otters, porpoises and whales.
Bike Travel Weekend: Inspired to ride? Each early-summer, Adventure Cycling Association hosts Bike Travel Weekend in destinations throughout the U.S. (and around the world). During the inaugural event in 2016, more than 11,000 people went on more than 900 trips. Bicyclists are invited to travel on their own, with family and friends, or join an existing trip – just check the interactive map to see what trips are planned across the U.S.A., from Maine to Alaska, Hawaii to Florida and everywhere in between. Trip ideas, maps, state advisors and more resources are available through Adventure Cycling Association to help you plan your Bike Travel Weekend, any weekend of the year. Be sure to register your trip before setting off.
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