5 Reasons Why Kentucky is a World-Class Destination for Cyclists

Cycling in Kentucky.
Cycling in Kentucky. Gene Bisbee
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Kentucky is known for its bluegrass and bourbon, but it’s on its way to recognition for it’s top-notch bicycling, too. Rest assured, the state is an awesome place to be a cyclist—from the Appalachian Mountains to acres of rolling hills and green pastures to metropolitan Louisville. Whether you’re pedaling around town or taking in the Bluegrass State’s natural wonders and scenic vistas from the saddle, you’ll be amazed at just how bike friendly Kentucky is.

1. Commuter-friendly infrastructure

The well-maintained roads through bucolic countryside in Kentucky make a lot of road riders happy.
The well-maintained roads through bucolic countryside in Kentucky make a lot of road riders happy. Susan Sharpless Smith

Kentucky is home to two communities recognized by the League of American Bicyclists’ Bicycle Friendly America program, along with six businesses and four university campuses. The league’s criteria includes, among other things, whether a community has a comprehensive, connected, and well-maintained bicycling network; hosts adult bicycling education courses or major community cycling events; and whether local ordinances recognize all road users, including those who lack motors.

In 2015, Louisville earned its Silver designation, joining the Bronze-ranked Lexington-Fayette County area. Louisville’s recognition was thanks in part to its excellent public education outreach—17 percent of schools offer bicycle education—along with its very active bicycling advisory committee.

2. A community of cyclists

Bicycling advocates in Kentucky look out for their own.
Bicycling advocates in Kentucky look out for their own. Charles

Looking for some guidance on cycling in Kentucky? You’re in luck. There’s no shortage of cycling clubs and advocacy groups in the Bluegrass State. The Lexington-based nonprofit Bluegrass Cycling Club (originally Bluegrass Wheelmen) was founded by cycling enthusiasts—mostly young professionals who bike commute to work—in the 1960s.

The group really came together when state legislation threatened to require cyclists to ride against traffic and carry slow-moving vehicle signs. The BCC eventually received an award from the Lexington-Fayette County Metro Environmental Commission for its role in creating the South Limestone Bikeway.

Other notable groups include the Louisville Bicycle Club, the Ashland Cycling Enthusiasts, and the Bowling Green League of Bicyclists meetup group. Wherever you’re headed, you’ll have no trouble finding a community of like-minded biking enthusiasts.

3. Landscapes perfectly suited to cycling

Kentucky’s open roads feel inviting to cyclists.
Kentucky’s open roads feel inviting to cyclists. Sali Sasaki

Kentucky’s thousands of miles of roadways are just begging to be ridden on two wheels, including a few specially designated Kentucky Bicycle Routes. In fact, the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail, which traverses from the Pacific Coast to the shore of the Atlantic Ocean, includes 600 miles of cycling in Kentucky (known as U.S. Bicycle Route 76).

The Kentucky section of USBR 76—just finished in the spring of 2016—passes through Daniel Boone National Forest and the scenic Red River Gorge, past white-fenced horse farms in the rolling hills of central Kentucky, then into the Appalachians of the challenging eastern part of the state. Local cyclists and volunteers also maintain and contribute to KY Bike Rides, a website containing cue sheets and maps for popular cycling routes.

4. See Kentucky’s rich history

The state is home to some of America’s most fascinating historical landmarks, and you can see many of them by bicycle. The incredible Mammoth Cave system, the longest in the world, is just a short detour off USBR 76, and historical parks like Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace, Fort Donelson, and the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail are well-signed and accessible to road cyclists.

For those looking to really experience Kentucky’s cultural heritage, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail—linking a number of bourbon distilleries—offers cue sheets and itineraries for hitting three to six distilleries by bicycle.

5. Incredible organized rides

Ride 2 Recovery Bluegrass Challenge riders don’t let a little rain deter them.
Ride 2 Recovery Bluegrass Challenge riders don’t let a little rain deter them. Joshua Livingston

With a rich horse racing history, it’s no surprise that Kentuckians like to race their bicycles, too. Kentucky cycling groups host numerous organized rides and races annually. In 2016, the Kentucky Century Challenge invited bicyclists to complete four century-length rides to earn a special-edition jersey.

Cyclists kick off the series with the Redbud Ride, hosted in London each spring, when the ride’s namesake buds are in full bloom. Georgetown’s Horsey Hundred heads through Bourbon County—just a few weeks after the Kentucky Derby. Bike Morehead offers a challenge unique to eastern Kentucky, where the roads twist, turn, and switchback their way through Appalachia, and Elizabethtown’s Hub City Tour wraps up the Challenge in September, when temps have cooled again.

Each ride offers shorter distances, so friends and family not up to the century-length rides can participate, too.

Originally written for Kentucky Tourism.

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