Weekend Wheeling in Madison

Wisconsin's Very Best
By Colby Waller
  |  Gorp.com

Former Wisconsin Governor Lee Dreyfus might have said it best when he referred to Madison, Wisconsin's state capital, as"25 square miles surrounded by reality." The small Midwest town is home to a diverse mix of humanity, where hippies, punks, and politicians bump elbows in the streets — a place where cyclists easily blend in. It's what you can expect when you drop a university of 40,000 students on an isthmus isolated in the midst of vast Midwestern farms.

Largely due to the enormous student population and cycle-friendly streets, Madison has bragging rights for having the largest number of bikes per capita of any city in the United States. The city has even adopted the public bike program first tried in Amsterdam. If you come across a bike spray painted red from tip to tail, it's yours to ride within the city; just return it to the curb - any curb - when you reach your destination. Bikes are everywhere, in every shape and form.

This pedal abundance has given rise to several unique bike shops within the city limits. Yellow Jersey is at the corner of State Street, the pedestrian-only main avenue. Stop in to use the free bicycle workstation and to pick up information about area rides. Budget Bicycle Center is located on Regent Street, four blocks south of State Street, just east of Camp Randall Stadium. For a fun afternoon, test ride one of their genuine 1950s cruisers from their warehouse, or a tuned Italian road bike from their race store.

Of course, to go with all the bikes there are some excellent places to ride within two hours of Madison for both road and mountain mavens.

If You're Staying in Town, Try the Quarry

Not exactly where you'd expect to find choice single-track, A short but challenging set of trails, dubbed "The Quarry" by locals, is located right in the heart of Madison. The trail recently went from relative obscurity to moderately heavy use after being recognized by WORBA, the Wisconsin Off-Road Bicycle Association. They officially sanctioned the trail and, with that, opened up new sections.

The Quarry doesn't provide much in terms of mileage or scenery — it's more of a technical playground. The single-track is radical, with tight drops, quick bursts of climbing, and lots of technical challenges in the form of roots and switchbacks. It's easy to spend two or three hours riding the maze of paths, fine-tuning your handling skills and exploring trails. The area is compressed into the middle of an urban neighborhood, which makes getting lost all but impossible. Don't be fearful of darting onto trails that appear to be less well ridden; discovering a new route is all part of the fun of the Quarry. When you're done, return to State Street and cap off the ride with a burrito the size of your head at La Bamba's.

Getting There
Begin from State Street and University Avenue in the heart of downtown. Follow University west to the outskirts of campus. Approximately two miles after leaving campus you'll find a Whole Foods grocery store on the south side of the street. The store is on University between Hill Street and Blackhawk Street. Take Hill Street one block south to Harvey Street. Take a left (east) on Harvey and travel 200 feet to Park Road. Turn right on Park, head one block south and you'll find single-track marking the trail's entrance. Park Road, Harvey Street, Stevens Street, and Eugenia Street box the trails in on all four sides.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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