As we take a break from riding here in Hermosillo, Mexico, I want to give a shout out to my home state, Wisconsin. We made our first tour here on some crappy rental bikes in 2012, and spent about a month on this trip cycling around the state. Wisconsin is a terrific place for bicycle touring, especially for taking a first tour. Here are ten reasons why:
Almost every little town has at least one small hometown tavern. Taverns in Wisconsin are a special breed of bar with a special feeling I cannot describe that I have rarely seen outside of the Upper Midwest. Almost every tavern will at least have New Glarus Spotted Cow on tap. It is a somewhat basic beer, but still very solid. Most taverns will also have food, and often it is the place to go for dinner for miles around.
If you want to do a bit of gambling, you can play the video poker, or try your hand at the shake of the day. Every bar has one, and each one is different, although they all include tossing a shaker full of dice with the possibility of winning free beer or the pot, which is just the accumulated cash from people shaking. Usually you must get some variation of a full house or multiples of a single number within a certain number of rolls. Some allow ‘farming’, others do not. Farming is where you get to set aside dice from one roll to the next. You are always only allowed one play per person per day.
The crusty old tavern is a great place to refuel and chat with some friendly locals.
Wisconsin has over 15,000 lakes. Some may be nothing much more than a muddy leach-filled puddle, but many are not only beautiful, but are great for a cool dip on a hot afternoon. If you’re carrying a pole, you can also fish your anus out.
3. Dense network of low-volume paved roads
The state is gridded with an abundance of great county highways and local roads with very little traffic. Even where traffic does pick up you will often find a nice paved shoulder. Many of the county highways are also well-graded, despite the lower volumes.
4. Commitment to bicycling
The state of Wisconsin has been pushing bicycling and other active uses with public policy and infrastructure improvements. The state has a long history of trail development for snowmobiling and ATV use, and has naturally expanded into bicycling and walking. As a result there is now a huge network of off-road trails available to bicycles throughout the state. Many miles are unpaved, but there are also a surprising amount of paved miles, even in the middle of the Northwoods. Municipalities have also gotten onboard by developing bicycling improvements to make access to population centers much more pleasant than in other places.
Holy crow! This really could be an extension of the previous point, but these county bicycling maps are such a boon to the bicycle tourist that I think they deserve their own point. The state provides printable color maps in PDF for every county in the entire state. They accurately portray the desirability of each county and state highway based on traffic volumes and shoulder availability. If anything, I have found that they seem to overestimate what is ‘moderate’ or ‘high’ volume. The only shortcoming is that they gloss over urban areas, but many urban areas have their own bicycle maps.
I used these maps exclusively because they are the perfect scale and show just about every road. I really can’t say enough how awesome they are. I just can’t believe more states don’t do this!
6. Rural balance
Outside of the bustling Milwaukee area and the empty far Northwoods, most of the state is rural enough to get away from the traffic and provide plenty of camping spots, but populated enough that you usually will not have trouble finding supplies.
7. Mild summers
Unlike much of the country, Wisconsin summers aren’t an onslaught of eyeball melting heat. Warm days and cool nights make riding a breeze instead of a slogging sweatfest. Highs are generally in the 70s and low 80s without the insane humidity you find on the east coast and South.
Wisconsin is great for riding, especially for a first tour because the gently rolling terrain will give your legs a break without mind-numbing flatness. There are some pancake flat spots and there are some quad busting death grades, but much of the state is dominated by gently rolling hills.
9. Courteous drivers
Of all the places I have cycled (mostly on the east coast), I have not yet encountered more courteous drivers than in Wisconsin. People seem to go out of the way to give you space. If there is oncoming traffic, they will usually slow down behind you until it is safe for them to completely enter the other lane. When they need to pass closely, they usually slow way down. The times where some knob blazed by uncomfortably close at speed became the great exception as opposed to the vast majority as on the east coast. Oncoming traffic even edges away from you onto their shoulder.
It should be noted that I did get hit by a car in Wisconsin, but that just goes to show that you need to be careful wherever you ride. Also, I was on a busy highway with an uncomfortably narrow shoulder.
Maine drivers were previously my top pick. They are still pretty awesome.
10. Friendly people
The Midwest is known for the friendly folks, and Wisco is no different. People will smile and chat and make you feel at home.