Colorado, with about 5,000 miles of designated bike paths — like this one in Greenwood Village, is one of the best places to ride in the United States.

If you want to get somewhere on two wheels and under your own power, then Colorado, with about 5,000 miles of designated bike paths, is one of the best places to be in the United States. And although national media and organizations rate some places higher, the state has plenty to offer and hopes to offer more.

Bicycle paths and trails encourage cycling as a fitness activity and an environment-friendly, alternative mode of transportation that reduces traffic on congested urban streets. Perhaps most importantly, paths reserved for cyclists and pedestrians protect commuters from crashes with motor traffic.

The number of fatal bicycle accidents in Colorado hit a record high in 2016, with 16 riders dying from injuries suffered on the state’s roads. That’s up from 14 riders in 2015, 10 riders in 2013, and more than in any year since at least 2002, the earliest year for which data is available. Although it’s difficult to draw statistical conclusions from such small numbers, it’s clear that bicycle accidents and deaths in Colorado are increasing and should be countered.

More Bicycle Trails

The answer could be more bike paths and trails, which will be the case if the state follows through with its plans. In September 2015, Gov. John Hickenlooper announced a state initiative to spend more than $100 million over four years to add to its more than 5,000 miles of biking trails. The governor said:

“Our goal is to make Colorado the best state for biking in the country. These investments will help fuel our economic growth and tourism industry, move us toward a cleaner environment and advance our goal of being the healthiest state in the nation.”

Mixed Ratings

National bicycle ratings have been good but not uniformly superior for Colorado and its cities. Reviewers each seemed to be focused on particular audiences and issues, including cycling sports, health, and commuting to work.

Boulder stood out in May 2015, when the Travel Channel named it the best cycling city in the U.S. The channel reported:

“This picturesque mountain town at the base of the Rockies is a cyclist’s paradise. Boulder boasts hundreds of miles of bike paths, nearby access to world-class mountain biking trails […]”

And that wasn’t the only review:

  • In May 2016, Fortune magazine named downtown Denver, Co., its No. 4 most bike-able downtown, following Philadelphia, Tucson, Arizona, and Austin, Texas. Its biggest interest is people commuting to their downtown jobs.
  • In November 2016, Men’s Fitness magazine featured Denver as one of America’s top-10 cycling cities.
  • In May 2010, Bicycling magazine rated Boulder No. 3 in the nation, in good company with No. 1, Minneapolis, and No. 2, Portland, Oregon. But by 2016, it had fallen out of the top 10 altogether.

New rankings generally come each year in May, National Bicycle Month in most of the country (Colorado celebrates it in June).

The Road More Taken

Coloradans are using their bikeways in impressive numbers. The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) keeps ongoing counts of bicycle and pedestrian usage of trails across the state.

Take, for instance, Denver’s Cherry Creek Trail. In a recent count conducted at the point where the trail meets Champa Street, the path was used more than 1,500 times each day of the week. The highest traffic of the week was a Wednesday, when the count, back and forth, was 2,026.

The Foothills Trail in Boulder saw daily usage ranging from 304 on a recent Monday to 745 on a Saturday.

Finding Your Own Path

You can navigate your own course through Colorado’s vast system of bicycle byways by downloading electronic maps or requesting paper copies at the CDOT website.

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