The 484 Best & Worst Cities for Cycling

May is National Bike Month. To gear up for it, we noted the best — and worst — cities for cycling overall. Now, there are many factors in determining what makes a city a fantastic place for bike-lovers. From ridership and safety to network, reach, and acceleration, there are 12 cities that truly excel at cycling overall. Yet, there are even more cities that avid cyclists may want to avoid, along with a large area of the United States known to be less than bike-friendly. Care to make an educated guess about where your city falls? Check if you’re right about your city’s placement among 484 cities that are either the best or worst for cycling.
The map above has data we pulled from the bike experts at People for Bikes. Sort it by overall cycling score or delve deeper into exactly what makes an ideal cycling city with the various cycling variables.

Cities That Excel at Cycling

What do Wausau, Wisconsin, and Boulder and Fort Collins, Colorado have in common? They each have an excellent overall bike score of 3.5 — the highest of all U.S. cities. While computing a city’s overall bike score may be enough to make your wheels spin, it’s actually pretty straightforward. The overall bike score is comprised of five categories: ridership, safety, network, reach, and acceleration. Let’s break down the top three overall cycling cities by these five subcategories.

Ridership is an estimation of how many people ride bikes and how often they do so. Boulder has the highest ridership score (a 3.1 out of 5) of the three best overall cycling cities. On the other hand, Wausau’s ridership score is just 1.7, while Fort Collins scores somewhere in the middle of the road. As for safety — which takes into account car accidents resulting in deaths or injuries of bikers, pedestrians, and other cars — Fort Collins scores the highest (a 3.7.) Wausau isn’t too far behind with a safety score of 3.3. However, Boulder’s safety score (2.2) indicates that a Colorado cycler’s safety depends on what city you’re in.

What Boulder lacks in safety, it makes up for in network, or how well bike paths lead cyclists where they want to go. Boulder gets a 4.1 in this category. As for the other two top overall cycling cities? Fort Collins and Wausau each score in the threes when it comes to network. Wausau also scores a 3.2 in reach or the consistency in which the city’s bike paths are accessible to everyone. Fort Collins and Boulder’s reach scores are 2.1 and 2.9, respectively. It’s important to note that Wausau is pedaling in the big leagues as the Colorado cities are much more populated. Wausau’s smaller population may be a factor in its ratings. With that said, the smaller Wisconsin city also scores the best (3.9) in acceleration — the rate at which a city enhances and promotes its biking infrastructure. Fort Collins and Boulder score a 3.3 and 2.7, respectively.

Not too far behind the three wheelie great cities for cycling are:

  • Portland, Oregon
  • Tucson, Arizona
  • San Diego, California
  • Madison, Wisconsin
  • Santa Monica, California
  • Washington, D.C.
  • New Orleans, Louisiana
  • New York, New York
  • Carmel, Indiana

These cities have overall biking scores above 3.0, a feat only 12 of the 484 cities on the map can brag about. In fact, the majority of U.S. cities have low overall biking scores. There are 316 cities scoring between 1 and 1.9, 76 cities between 2 and 2.9, and 80 cities with a score below 1.

Cycling Through the Categories

Photo by Jonny Kennaugh on Unsplash

We noted the top three overall cycling cities and their scores in the five subcategories. But having the best overall doesn’t mean they lay claim to the highest — or lowest — scores within each category. In fact, when it comes to ridership, Portland, Oregon scores the highest of the 484 cities with a 3.9. On the other end of the ridership spectrum is Roswell, Georgia. Roswell is the only city with a 0 in ridership.

However, when it comes to safety, one top cycling city does claim the highest score. Fort Collins, Colorado’s 3.7 safety score is the highest in the U.S. The lowest safety score belongs to Foxborough, Massachusetts, a city with a 0 in safety. In network, a top cycling city once again scores the highest. This time, Boulder, Colorado receives the highest score (a 4.1). Comparatively, Paducah, Kentucky comes up short with a 0.5 network score.

Accelerating past the reach category for the moment, the top acceleration cycling score (a 4.6) belongs to New Orleans, Louisiana. Rockford, Illinois, and Bridgeport and Newington, Connecticut all have scores of 0 in the same category. Pedaling back to the reach category, Grand Forks, North Dakota scores the highest: a 4. However, many cities across the U.S. — twenty-five to be exact — score 0 for the same thing. Take a peek at the map above to see if your city is included in the many 0-reach scoring cities, especially if you call Ohio or Massachusetts home.

The Worst Biking Area in the U.S.

If you want to know where in the U.S. you may not want to ride a bike, look no further than the map. The map helped us identify the worst area for cycling: the Northeastern U.S. When you sort the map by overall score and select the “.04-.03” range, you’ll see that the Northeastern U.S., made up of the New England and Middle Atlantic areas, are the worst for cycling. The cities that are especially bad for cycling in this area include:

  • Tatamy, Pennsylvania
  • Brielle, New Jersey
  • Hooksett, New Hampshire
  • Cochituate, Massachusetts
  • Foxborough, Massachusetts
  • Soldotna, Alaska

Moreover, if you keep the map sorted by that lowest overall scoring range and add the “0.9-0.5” range, you’ll note that the Eastern U.S. is much less bike-friendly than the West. Only 12 cities in the West, including the aforementioned Soldotna, Alaska, Hilo, Hawaii, and a city in Minnesota hold overall biking scores under 1. As for the East? A whopping 68 cities have bike scores under 1, a trend only the map could make clear.

Now you can put your pedal to the medal in one of the best cities in the U.S. for cycling. But if you live in one of the worst cities? You may want to wear a helmet, among other things. Alternatively, if you’re a bike aficionado who prefers to sit on the sidelines instead of hitting the pavement, every year in July, over one hundred serious cyclists gather in France to compete in the Tour de France. Be in the know about the biggest Tour de France winners in history.