Life in La Crosse County can be very fulfilling for bicyclists.
If you want to ride your bicycle and you want to ride it where you like, there are many decisions to make.
Are you a trail rider? There are bike trails that can take you from the Mississippi River in downtown La Crosse to Hixon Forest and onto the state trail system, which then can hook you up to Onalaska and then Trempealeau or Sparta, and beyond.
Or maybe you prefer the challenge of long-distance road rides? You can travel the many concrete and blacktopped roads – some with formal bike lanes – that take you up the bluffs and down the valleys in almost every direction.
To get acquainted with your choices, why not join the sixth annual La Crosse Area Bicycle Festival, which is a free event hosted by Explore La Crosse that offers rides for all skill levels of bicyclists on Labor Day weekend? Here are five reasons to join the fun:
If biking is your thing, then they’ve got you covered. Make sure to hook up with the Driftless Region’s Most Scenic Ride. This 82-mile loop starts by traversing the bridges across the Mississippi River and entering Minnesota to explore the bluffs and farmland near La Crescent, Houston, Brownsville and Hokah. There are wide-open landscapes and four good hills, including one of the area’s most challenging climbs. If that’s too much, but you still want a good workout, you can do the optional 35-mile trip, which begins the same way and includes some of the same scenery. Or you might like the 7th annual La Crosse Gravel Classic, a 56-mile road trip on the gravel back roads of Minnesota that can be done as a race or tour.
If you are exhausted just reading about the options for serious bikers, I have an even better deal for you: Ice Cream Rides. These are among the Social Rides designed for families and leisure riders, where bikers visit different shops that make their own ice cream. Bike a rocky road – then have some Rocky Road. The newest Social Ride designed for families is the Ice Cream and Playground Ride, where guides lead you through quiet city streets in La Crosse to Ranison’s for ice cream and then Weigent Park for play time. There is also a Social Ride that involves biking and yoga. Or bike at night and listen to the “Dark La Crosse” history tour. There are plenty of less serious options to choose from.
The beauty of this festival is that if you enjoy your alone time on your bike, you can participate without having to be social. The Featured and Optional Road Rides outside of La Crosse are self-supported and self-guided, which means there will be turn-by-turn smartphone routes online. Maps with cue sheets will also be distributed for free at Cameron Park. Featured Road Rides also have volunteer ride ambassadors who will leave from Cameron Park at select times, but you don’t have to wait for them. Go it alone, or make up your own group if you want.
Have you ever seen those mountain bikes with the super fat tires? The kind that are so wide that they look like you could probably ride on a sandy beach? Well, they are called fat bikes and you could win one just by going to the Explore La Crosse Web site and registering. Imagine how cool you would be riding your fat bike around in the snow this December. Or ride it on rough terrain all summer without hurting your rear. You could fat bike around town like no one’s business if you win.
They say you have to see it to believe it. A group of several hundred bikers – some dressed in homemade super hero costumes – get together each month to ride bikes in La Crosse and drink beer at area taverns and restaurants. The Beer By Bike Brigade comes by storm, and it includes some of the gnarly-est looking bikes equipped with coolers and other Beery McBiker accessories. So if you ever see a huge group of fun-loving bikers who travel together at night, lock their bikes up to anything stationary and then head into brew-serving establishments, it’s probably them. Come meet these folks at the festival, as they will be there.
Anastasia Penchi is graduate of UW-La Crosse and a long-time Coulee Region writer who has written for area newspapers and magazines (www.loislaneforhire.com).