Skip to Content

Badgers and Bikes


Everybody knows bicycling is popular in Portland, Ore., where about 6 percent of people bike to work each day.

But did you know the same percentage of people in Milwaukee do the same thing?

The Badger State is quickly transforming into the bicycle state, as more Wisconsin residents ditch their cars in favor of a two-wheeled ride. In major cities in the last decade, there’s been up to a 250 percent increase in the number of people biking to work, according to Jessica Binder, director of the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin’s southeast region and Milwaukee chapter.

“Biking in Wisconsin is growing and is really active,” the Leader tells the Inside Track. “I think some of the issues we face as a society can be solved by bicycling, and it’s such a cheap solution.”

A big chunk of that growth can be attributed to the efforts of the federation, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary next month. The organization has come a long way since its launch, when it was home to a small office and one executive director who only worked part-time — and had to live at a board member’s house to save money.

These days, the federation operates four offices across the state and is home to 10 full-time staff, who actively work on a number of efforts to make it easier to bicycle in Wisconsin. For example, staffers work on bicycle and pedestrian planning, initiatives to help create bike-friendly business services, operate bicycle camps and sponsoring Bike to Work weeks and a bicycle summit.

The federation also assists on advocacy efforts, is part of the Wisconsin Safe Routes to School State Network and regularly lobbies members of the state legislature to support complete streets initiatives.

“Our vision is to make Wisconsin a fantastic place to bicycle,” Binder says.

Bicycling in Wisconsin poses challenges that residents of other states might not face, Binder admits — including frigid temperatures and plenty of snow. But with a little bit of planning (and the right clothes) Binder says she finds that she can bike to places such as her office, the grocery store or even her son’s daycare any time of the year.

“Sometimes there’s obstacles, and that’s OK,” Binder adds. “I do try to bike year-round, and even on Tuesday I was biking in the snowstorm, and I was reminded that it is even fun to bike when the snow is coming down.”

With a growing level of interest for bicycling in the state, the federation is planning to expand its efforts. In about a month, the organization will host the first meeting of a citizen-driven group that will advocate for improvements in the state’s bicycle infrastructure, for example. In addition, the organization hopes to make connections with the public health community, as bicycling helps people incorporate physical activity into their daily routine (and thus reduce their risk for obesity).

Initiatives to support off-road bicycling also are a priority, Binder says. Wisconsin is home to a community of mountain bikers, and so the federation is aiming to help create an interconnected network of trails to encourage activity across the state.