January 7, 2015 | Posted in:Places, Wisconsin

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:

1.     Taverns

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.

Wisconsin tavern

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.

Wisconsin tavern

The crusty old tavern is a great place to refuel and chat with some friendly locals.

Indoor area of Memorial Union in Madison, WI

During the off time at one of my favorite places, Memorial Union in Madison. Not your typical crusty tavern.

2.     Lakes

Wind surfers on Lake Mendota in Madison, WI

Lake Mendota in Madison

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.

Clouds over Lake Superior in Wisconsin

The grandammy of of Wisconsin lakes, Lake Superior.

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.

An empty road in the bicycle mirror

Note the heavy traffic

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.

A bike repair station on a trail outside Wausau, WI

A bike repair station on a trail outside Wausau

5.     These friggin’ maps

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!

Riding out of Wisconsin Rapids on a great paved trail with our Warm Showers host

Riding out of Wisconsin Rapids on a great paved trail with our Warm Showers host

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.

Sun filtering through trees at our stealth camping spot

Yet another great camping spot a few miles from a cheap diner breakfast!

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.

Hammocks hanging in a misty forest

A misty morning camping at Buckhorn State Park. It was warm enough for the hammocks without drowning in a pool of sweat.

8.     Topography

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.

Brandy on a rolling road in Wisconsin

Some gentle rollers from our first Wisco trip

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.

Fully dressed up in cheesehead and other garb

We’re friendly folk, unless you interrupt important cheese-related business.

Sunset over the Wisconsin River

I think I’ll start ending every post with a sunset photo, just because…


  1. Alison
    January 19, 2015

    Hi! Just found your blog through Christine’s new facebook group. We’ve only been to Wisconsin once, and it was a super fast visit, but we definitely liked the views of beautiful lakes as we drove. Anyway, we look forward to following along your journeys in the future!

    • Lewis
      January 19, 2015

      Wisconsin is really a lovely place that I never really fully appreciated until I had been away for several years. It is not epic like a lot of places, but it is still, well, lovely and unique. Thanks for following!