The Best College Towns for bicyclists offer vibrant views along bike-friendly sidewalks and trails.
Whether you’re researching schools you might like to attend, or just thinking about relocating to a college town with a culture conducive to a bike commuter, you’re in luck, because bikes and colleges go together like coffee and an all-night study sesh. To make your decision just a little bit easier, RAVE Reviews presents this ranking of the 25 best college towns for cyclists.
In this ranking, you’ll find out which college towns are considered the very best in the nation, as well as which towns have a strong bike scene along with an eco-friendly consciousness. In addition, we’ll tell you which towns are good for those who may not own a car at all, and which ones have a good family-friendly vibe. So read on, you two-wheeled enthusiast: we have all your answers.
Full of historic architecture and loads of green space, college towns always have a little something special going on, and that includes an infrastructure and eco-conscious culture that will make a cyclist feel right at home.
If you’ve ever tried to park on an average college campus you understand why — it ain’t easy! But also, students are notoriously broke and bike-commuting can sometimes be their only option to go about their day.
But not every city or town that has a college or university qualifies as a college town. So first, let’s examine what makes a town with a college a “college town.”
What Makes a Good College Town?
Put simply, a college or university town is any community that’s primary economic and cultural driver is its college or university population. Sometimes they’re towns and cities in their own right and sometimes they’re just a neighborhood or district of a larger city.
Either way, in a college town the influence of the institution in question inevitably spills out into the general population, affecting more than just those enrolled in classes.
Here are a few other traits of a good college town:
What Is a Bike-Friendly Town?
A little like how having a college or university in your town doesn’t make your town a college town, having a lot of people that ride bikes doesn’t necessarily mean your town is bike-friendly.
Here’s what we took into consideration when applying that designation to the cities and towns in our ranking:
Bike-friendly towns feature more-than-the-average amount of protected bike lanes. In addition, they have a lot of easy, accessible, and safe places to lock up your bike. They have a good selection of bike shops (retail and repair), and maybe even have a bike-sharing system as well.
Different Kinds of Riders
A bike-friendly town isn’t just for bike commuters and it isn’t just for serious bike nerds either. A bike-friendly town caters to them all, with enough amenities and services to keep all sorts of riders on the road.
Whether that’s a grandma headed to the grocery store, a kid just learning to balance on two wheels, or a serious roadie training for their next race.
A bike-friendly town has a lot of different kinds of places to ride. In a good bike town it’s easy to get out into nature, or there’s simply enough beauty to keep riding in town interesting as well.
Building bike lanes and putting in other features intended to keep cyclists safe or to encourage bike commuting at all takes a political will and a population that prioritizes making space for cyclists.
When researching this ranking, RAVE Reviews first cross-referenced lists of 50 of America’s best college towns, excluding some, and adding others.
Our goal was to only include places for which there was no question that the college or university was the primary economic and cultural driving force in the area.
We then considered the following traits of a bike-friendly college town:
- A green campus
- Abundance of bike shops (retail and repair)
- Minimal car culture
- Bike-friendly campus
- Lots of interesting places to ride
- Bike-centric infrastructure
If a college town showed up on ranking of best college towns, but failed to show any of these other data points it was excluded from our ranking. Otherwise, every time the town showed any one of the traits listed above, it scored points that went into the formulation of our final score.
If it was more of a well-known town it got knocked down our list a bit, in favor of some smaller, out of the way places that might be a bit more of a surprise.
The Best College Towns for Cyclists
Taking the top honor in our ranking of the 25 best college towns for cyclists is Boulder, CO, home to the University of Colorado Boulder, where it’s said that when it snows, the bike paths are cleared before the roads.
Things we loved about cycling in Boulder include not only the miles of bike paths and bike lanes in town, including the popular Boulder Creek Path, but how Boulder offers easy access to nearby nature, where cyclists can enjoy rides that are appropriate for a wide variety of skill levels. And with over 300 days of summer, you can cycle in Boulder all year-round.
In Boulder, you can even buy bike accessories at any time of the day at night from a vending machine located in front of University Bicycles. There’s a bike share system, and you can check out a free public bike repair kit available from the visitor kiosk on top of nearby Davidson Mesa.
Boulder also scored well in our research for a family-friendly environment as well as a good town to live in without a car.
Fort Collins, CO
Staying in Colorado, the next college town we want to tell you about is Fort Collins, 2nd in our ranking of the 25 best college towns for cyclists.
In addition to the campus of Colorado State University, we especially like that Fort Collins is home to all sorts of cycling-related non-profit organizations. Fort Collins offers cyclists over 285 miles of bike trails. Or instead, get out of town and enjoy all the natural beauty around the town.
In Fort Collins, you can tour downtown breweries via bicycle, or head out to Lory State Park, Horsetooth Mountain Open Space, or try to the City of Fort Collins Natural Areas. You can also borrow a bike from Fort Collins’ bike share, called Pace.
In addition to touring breweries by bicycle, you can try the Environmental Learning Tour, or the Historic Homes Tour — all by bike! We also found Fort Collins maintains a family-friendly atmosphere and is a great place to live if you don’t own a car, while Colorado State University earns high marks as a green campus.
Home to several colleges and universities, namely Cornell, Ithaca, NY takes 3rd place in our ranking of the 25 best college towns for cyclists. Ithaca itself is a very bikeable town, but what sets it apart in our ranking maybe more than anything are the tours and paths just outside Ithaca.
All together, there are over 1,000 miles of trails in and around Ithaca., such as The Two Gorges Ride, a 28-mile route through Ithaca’s nearby countryside and passing by several glacier-carved waterfalls.
Back in Ithaca, be sure to head to Ithaca Farmers’ Market, or try the Cayuga Waterfront Trail, a 2-mile loop through Allen Treman Marine State Park on Ithaca’s west side. We also recommend Ithaca’s Art Ride held every October.
There’s also a bike share system in Ithaca for the more casual commuter, and there are several quality bike shops in Ithaca with a great selection, ready to take care of any repairs or service your bike might require.
Also notable is Cornell’s green campus policies, and Ithaca’s reputation as a great place to live without a car.
The 4th city in our ranking is also in New York. Syracuse, NY, is home to the University of Syracuse. What got our attention about Syracuse was the over 800 bike trails in and around town, as well as a variety of clubs, tours, and cycling teams, one of which is the Syracuse cycling club, welcoming riders of all skill levels.
Local Syracuse bike shop Mello Velo also offers rides and tours, including a Thursday night fun ride, and a Friday night faster-paced ride for advanced riders. Popular places to cycle around Syracuse include the Erie Canal Trail, and the Inner Harbor Creekwalk.
Syracuse has a lot to offer for the casual commuter as well, with nearly 3 miles of off-street bicycling paths and nearly 17 miles of on-street bike lanes with plans for more! In addition to being a great place for cyclists, Syracuse scores well for commuting without a car, and Syracuse University scores high marks for its green campus policies.
Rounding out the top 5 in our ranking is Wisconsin’s capital, Madison, where the campus of the University of Wisconsin is located. The greater Madison area is known as the bicycle capital of the midwest, with over 200 miles of trails.
Popular spots to bike around Madison include the University of Wisconsin campus and Lake Monona. Madison even offers a “low-stress bike route finder” to help you find a route suitable for your skill level.
When in Madison, be sure to check out Bombay Bicycle Club, sponsoring leisure rides from April through November, and of distances ranging up to 50 miles. There’s also a bike share system in Madison, all sorts of great bike shops, and a culture that promotes and nurtures a car-less way of life.
Next up we have Pittsburgh, PA, a mid-sized city that’s managed to maintain the atmosphere of a college town, particularly around the campus of the University of Pittsburgh. We love that in Pittsburgh you’ll find bike-friendly hotels and a bike-friendly public transit system.
But In addition to urban cycling, there are also great places around Pittsburgh to ride in nature, including The Great Allegheny Passage, a 150-mile ride connecting Pennsylvania to Maryland.
Back in town, bikers can enjoy OpenStreetsPGH, a free event series run by closing down a city street, and including everything from fitness workshops to community arts. There are also Cultural Trust Art Bike Racks, little works of art scattered around Pittsburgh neighborhoods that are all accessible by miles and miles of bike lanes.
All together, Pittsburgh is a great place for cyclists, or really anyone that’s looking to live a care-free lifestyle.
7th in our ranking is Cambridge, MA, home to two of the world’s most prestigious institutes of higher-learning, Harvard and MIT. Cambridge is a great place for a bike commuter, but this suburb of Boston also offers lots of opportunities to cycle in the great outdoors as well.
Including the Charles River Bike Path, a 14-mile loop along the banks of the Charles River, to name just one of many. Back in town, though Cambridge is so concerned with keeping cyclists safe, they’ve instituted an ambitious bike safety law mandating protected cycling lanes on any street slated for repairs.
In addition, the MIT Cycling Club is just one of many organizations that take cyclists on a variety of rides around Cambridge, and Cambridge also scored well in our research for its overall family-friendly atmosphere and plentiful bike shops.
Our ranking now brings us to the Desert Southwest, to Tempe, AZ and the campus of Arizona State University. In 2011, Tempe was tapped as a Silver-Level Bicycle-Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists, and in 2019, the status was updated to Gold.
What they liked were all the safe bike paths in Tempe, as well as all the hard work Tempe has put in promoting biking as a fun option for fitness and commuting, and we do too. There are 175 miles of bike paths in Tempe, great bike shops, and lots of places to ride outside town as well, including the Crosscut Canal Path through Papago Park.
Tempe is a great place in general to live car-free, there are lots of great bike shops, and with so much sunshine in Tempe, it’s always a good time for a bike ride.
9th in our ranking is Burlington, VT. Home to Bernie Sanders and the University of Vermont, Burlington is a great place for bike commuters and serious cyclists alike.
Popular trails around Burlington include the Island Line, also called the Burlington Bike Path, the South Burlington Recreational Path, and “Old Town Forest” with over eight hundred acres of wooded trails.
In addition, the Burlington Greenway is eight miles of paved path connecting parks and other locations along the Lake Champlain shoreline, while Cycle the City is a self-guided bike tour of Burlington’s history and culture.
In Burlington you won’t hurt for any number of quality bike shops, contributing to Burlington’s reputations as a health-conscious and family-friendly college town that makes owning a car merely optional.
Eugene, OR is the 10th stop in our ranking of the 25 best college towns for cyclists. The University of Oregon is located in Eugene, as are plenty of opportunities to cycle and mountain bike in and around town.
In fact, there are nearly 8,000 bike trails in the Eugene area. Eugene streets feature protected bike lanes, there’s a bike share system, loads of convenient bike parking, and all sorts of other bike-related events, races and club rides, like Greater Eugene Area Riders or GEARS.
In the Eugene area, you’ll also find 3 of Oregon’s official scenic bikeways, and nearby Oakridge is home to all sorts of world-renowned mountain biking trails. You can even catch a shuttle from town to the mountains for a day on the trail.
In addition, Eugene’s public transit is also very cycle-friendly, as is the lodging. And overall, Eugene is a very eco-conscious community, easy to live without a car, and perfect for anyone looking to prioritize cycling in their life.
With nearly 130 miles of on-street bikeways and just under 100 miles of off-street bikeways, Minneapolis is our next pick in our ranking of the 25 best college towns for cyclists, home to the University of Minnesota and a Gold Level Bicycle-Friendly Community as awarded by the League of American Bicyclists.
To help keep bikes safe, Minneapolis recently launched the bike corral program. Installed adjacent to the curb, a bicycle corral is a grouping of bicycle racks that provides bicycle parking in the same space that would otherwise be occupied by a car. Just one of the things that make Minneapolis a great place for a bike commuter.
Popular bike routes in and around Minneapolis include the 10 mile Lake ride, and the just under 24 mile Theo Wirth ride. Another notable amenity for cyclists in Minneapolis is the “bike freeways,” or dedicated bike paths built in the Grand Round Scenic Byway that encircles the city.
Next up is Lawrence, KS, where the University of Kansas is located. Lawrence is home to several bike clubs and bike-related community events. Recently the city of Lawrence committed to the ambitious Lawrence Loop, a 22-mile biking and walking path on the outskirts of the city and passing through nearby Rock Chalk Park and Baldwin Creek Trail.
In addition, Lawrence renovated two major thoroughfares into “bicycle boulevards.” Designed for bicycle travel of all skill-levels, bicycle boulevards are both pedestrians and bicycle-friendly, allowing only low-speed motorized vehicle traffic
And Ride Lawrence is a community service where all sorts of bike-related events and news can be found, including rides and clubs, where to find bike racks and corrals, and other bike-centric community information.
State College, PA
The campus of Penn State University is located in State College, PA, our 13th choice in our ranking of the 25 best college town for cyclists.
In fact, the Borough of State College was recently tapped as a Bicycle Friendly Business by the League of American Bicyclist, recognizing all sorts of efforts by employers in State College to efforts to encourage a more bicycle-friendly atmosphere for its employees and customers.
Another nice amenity for cyclists in State College are bike repair stations located around the greater State College area where you can adjust your brakes or change a flat, and the State College Riding Club offers a variety of rides and events to further build the community of cyclists in and around State College.
Iowa City, IA
Staying in the midwest, Iowa City, IA is the next stop in our ranking of the 25 best college towns for cyclists. Iowa State University is located in Iowa City, and it’s a great place for cyclists of all sorts, from casual riders and commuters to the serious cyclist.
Bicyclists of Iowa City is a bike club with over 400 members, and is known for planning and spreading the word about cycling events as well as advocating for cycling issues in local government.
Popular bike routes and trails in and around Iowa City include the Iowa River Corridor Trail, and the Sugar Bottom Recreation Area is a favorite for mountain bikers. All told there are over 24 trails around Iowa City covering over 4,000 miles. Iowa City is also home to all sorts of bike shops to keep your ride operating at peak potential.
15th in our ranking is Charlottesville, VA, a “Bicycle Friendly Community” as designated by the League of American Bicyclists, and home to the campus of the University of Virginia. In 2015, the UCI World Road Cycling Championships (Worlds) took place in nearby Richmond, and team U.S.A. trained in Charlottesville.
Charlottesville is a great place for cyclists for a lot of reasons, including bike-friendly infrastructure and community, plenty of bike shops, and beautiful places to ride both in and around Charlottesville, which is near the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.
Recent statistics show nearly 20% of commuters in Charlottesville choose biking or walking as their preferred mode of transportation. And the Charlottesville Bicycle Club helps facilitate all sorts of rides, from paved routes to major climbs.
The next college town for cyclists we want to tell you about is Hartford, CT, where the University of Hartford is located. Hartford was recently designated a bike-friendly community by the League of American Bicyclists, with plentiful places to ride, cycling clubs, and a downtown designed to promote biking and walking.
A popular route near Hartford is the Farmington River Trail, a 26-mile road ride on Asphalt and some crushed stone. The Farmington River Trail takes riders by all kinds of New England beauty, including old architecture, waterfalls, forests, and prairies.
Back in Hartford, there’s Bike West Hartford, hosting and participating in events like the Park to Park bike ride between Hartford’s Fernridge and Westmoor Park, and Ride a Bike to Night Fall in Colt Park, a community event celebrating the arrival of fall with art, music, and dance.
We turn now to Morgantown, WV, home base for both West Virginia University and Fairmont State University. In Morgantown, May is bike month, with events like bike-to-work week, and the family-friendly Motown Bike Bonanza, with free helmets, skill tests and more.
Bike Morgantown is a one-stop place for all things related to biking and Morgantown, and the Morgantown Bicycle Advisory Board is working to make Morgantown even more bike-friendly with improved signage, safety measures, and on-street bicycle facilities.
Popular places to ride around Morgantown include the Caperton Trail, with 6 miles of paved surface, and Coopers Rock Trails, with 21 trails to choose from ranging from easy to moderate.
18th in our ranking is Lincoln, NE home to the Nebraska Cornhuskers. In Lincoln, there’s BicycLincoln, a community group that supports and promotes bicycling in the city by listing bike-friendly businesses, recommending local bike shops, and bike organizations.
Great Plains Bicycling Club is a popular cycling club in Lincoln, organizing rides, club meetings, and even publishing a newsletter. Some popular rides around Lincoln include the Billy Wolff trail, a roughly 12-mile paved trail, and MoPac Trail West, a 6-mile paved ride.
There’s also a bike share program in Lincoln, called Bike LNK, and Lincoln Celebrate May, or National Bike Week, with Bike to Work Day, and in 2019, Lincoln looked to repeat as National Bike Challenge champions.
Surrounded by rolling hills and beautiful valleys is Binghamton, NY home to Binghamton University. Binghampton is an outstanding place for cyclists, and notable bicycle clubs in Binghamton include the Southern Tier Bicycle Club, a non-profit recreational bicycling club in Binghamton boasting over 400 members.
Binghamton recently revamped their bike plan, adding safer bike lanes and more road markings. Binghamton University has also gotten into the act with a bike share program, in partnership with Gotcha Bike, and there’s a student-run bike shop on campus. Well-traveled rides around Binghamton include Chenango State Park, Oakley Corners, and Jenksville.
Home to Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR is the next college town in our ranking. Nearly all of Corvallis’ arterial and collector roadways have bike lanes, equalling nearly 50 miles of bike lanes and just under 20 miles of mixed-use paths.
Recent surveys show about 82% of Corvallis’ residents walk or bike regularly, and the League of American Bicyclists noticed when they awarded Corvallis Gold level Bicycle Friendly Community in the year 2000.
Corvallis’ terrain is relatively flat, making it easy to commute by bicycle, but there is also lots of interesting nature around Corvallis for more serious bikers to enjoy on routes like the 12-mile Corvallis Bike Loop.
We now head back to the desert Southwest, to Flagstaff, AZ, where Northern Arizona University is located. In Flagstaff, bicycle enthusiasts will find 130 miles of dedicated bike lanes or rideable shoulders on roughly three-quarters of the major streets in Flagstaff, and there are nearly 60 of multi-use paths all over town.
In addition, statistics show roughly 30% of Flagstaff residents ride a bike at least once a week for business or recreation. Many Flagstaff cyclists use “FUTS” or the Flagstaff Urban Trail System, perfect for beginners to get out into all the excellent mountain bike trails Flagstaff offers.
There’s also The Arizona Trail, passing through the Flagstaff area and running all the way from Utah to Mexico.
Palo Alto, CA
Home to Stanford University and smack dab in the center of Silicon Valley, Palo Alto is also a well-known capital for cycling. In fact, the bike boulevard concept was innovated in Palo Alto, taking steps to make heavy traffic corridors more bike-friendly by removing stop signs and restricting cars to one-way traffic only, among other changes.
There’s also The Bay Trail in Palo Alto, a direct route to the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve, over 2,000 acres of protected wetlands near Palo Alto. And the outlook for cyclists in Palo Alto should only improve with the city’s commitment to increase bicycle commuting to 15% by 2020.
Known by some as the Bike Capital of the U.S. and home to The University of California, there are many things that make Davis, CA, a great place for cyclists. Not least of which is that the fact Davis is where the U.S. Bicycle Hall of Fame is located.
In addition, there are over 100 miles of bike paths, trails, and lanes for bikers to enjoy all year long, and there are plentiful bike racks all over town for convenient parking. Which makes sense since nearly one in five residents report commuting to work by bicycle.
There are also several bike races in the Davis area, including The Amgen Tour of California and the Davis Double Century, and David Bike Club plans rides for all skill levels.
Boise, ID is the next college town in our ranking. Home to Boise State University, Boise offers a lot for the avid cyclist as well as recreational riders. For example, Bike Downtown Boise allows riders to explore downtown, whether that’s on their own bike or a rental from Boise’s bike share service, GreenBike. And while downtown, riders can plentiful bike racks and corrals.
Another popular place to cycle around Boise is the Greenbelt. At just under 50 miles, the Greenbelt offers scenic views of nature and wildlife, with easy access to popular parks and recreation sites.
Boise also all sorts of great bike shops, and among many bike clubs and organizations in Boise there’s Boise Bicycle Project, a non-profit organization promoting the cycling lifestyle.
Santa Barbara, CA
For our last stop, we head to Southern California, to Santa Barbara, home to the University of California at Santa Barbara. In 2019, Santa Barbara earned the distinction of the best bicycle city in California, based on ridership, safety, networking, how quickly the bike community is expanding, and outreach.
And besides the great weather, what got us going for us about Santa Barbara as a bike town were the beach-front bike paths, including the Cabrillo Bike Path, a nearly 5-mile path connecting Leadbetter Beach and Butterfly Beach.
Back in Santa Barbara, State Street is a great place to ride, whether for business or pleasure, and there are lots of great intermediate trails in Santa Barbara such as the Obern Trail to Goleta Beach Park.
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