While it may be better known for its eponymous motor speedway, Indianapolis has, over the past decade, earned a reputation as one of the best U.S. bicycling communities. According to local bikeshare data, at least 10,000 visitors were psyched to cycle the Circle City’s lanes and trails last year. But how did a city deep in the heart of car-loving Indiana manage to adopt such a progressive attitude toward bikes and their infrastructure?
Much of the credit goes to former mayor Greg Ballard. Once a Marine colonel, he doesn’t resemble your typical middle-aged, Lycra-wearing biker; constituents would often spot him getting in his morning laps atop a Cannondale road bike, but he was typically clad in basketball shorts and baggy T-shirt, not colorful cycling attire. While he may have been hesitant to label himself a cyclist, Ballard did more for cycling than anyone else in the city’s history. When he took office in 2007, Indianapolis only had about a mile of bike lanes; by the time he left eight years later, there were more than 200 miles of bike lanes, greenways, and cycletrack. Although some of the moves were controversial at the time—many drivers didn’t like the idea of giving up road space—Ballard was undeterred. He wanted to leave a legacy of connectivity throughout the city.
Now, most of the city’s top tourist attractions, like the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and Monument Circle, are easily accessible via a combination of greenways and bike lanes lined with bikeshares. Navigating unfamiliar city streets and trails is made easier thanks to the Ride Guide maps put out by advocacy group IndyCog, which are available at most local bike shops or libraries. If you’re looking to tackle some more serious road or trail, Bicycle Garage Indy offers rentals for $45 a day. Here are a few of the best ways to explore this city’s flourishing bike scene.
Indianapolis Cultural Trail
The acclaimed Cultural Trail traverses downtown’s hip neighborhoods and captivating artistic districts. Casual riders can rent from the Indiana Pacers bikeshare and use the Cultural Trail to explore neighborhoods such as trendy Mass Ave and Fountain Square. With 29 stations scattered along the eight miles of trail, visitors can almost always find a bike.
More than a million people a year pedal (or walk, jog, or roll) the 22-plus mile Monon Trail, which bisects the northern half of Indianapolis. It’s the social hub for the city’s active community, dotted with dozens of bars, restaurants, and coffee shops. Bikes are also the best way to sample Indy’s massive craft beer scene; many breweries are located just steps off popular trails. End your Monon ride at the Broad Ripple Brewpub, Indianapolis’s oldest brewery, where you can cool down with a pint of its signature Lawnmower Pale Ale.
Fall Creek Greenway
This paved trail follows the Fall Creek waterway up to Fort Harrison State Park, a popular destination for hikers and urban mountain bikers. Thanks to an ingenious system of underpasses, riders can traverse almost the entire length of the trail without stopping at an intersection. If you visit the park, be sure to take a short detour to Triton Brewing Company, which is a popular gathering place for local riders, and enjoy a Railsplitter IPA.
Central Canal Towpath
This five-mile crushed-limestone trail on Indianapolis’s near west side connects several culturally significant stops, including Butler University and the sculpture-filled 100 Acres: Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park near the Indianapolis Museum of Art. (Note: A portion of this trail is temporarily closed for a major infrastructure project, but is scheduled to reopen in the fall.)
Crown Hill Cemetery
A final resting place of poets, gangsters, and a U.S. president, Crown Hill Cemetery is also a popular training site for road cyclists, thanks to its more than 20 miles of well-paved, lightly trafficked roads. The punchy climb up to James Whitcomb Riley’s tomb takes your breath away in more ways than one: It offers a great view of the downtown skyline at the top. (The rules for riding inside Crown Hill can be found here.)
Local mountain bikers love this city park’s fast, varied singletrack, highlighted by big banked turns, tough climbs, and a recently constructed white-knuckle of a downhill (by Indiana standards). For more of a challenge, head 40 minutes south of Indy to Brown County State Park, an International Mountain Bicycling Association–certified Epic Ride Center with more than 30 miles of top-notch singletrack.
This one is for serious cyclists only! The Major Taylor Velodrome, named after the first African American world champion in any sport, has track racing on select Thursday and Friday nights during the spring and summer. Competitors hurtle themselves around the 333-meter oval on fixed-gear bikes with no brakes. Operated by 26-time national collegiate cycling champion Marian University, the velodrome offers special Track 101 classes and bike rentals for beginners to try it out.
Don’t like riding alone? Check out the Central Indiana Bicycling Association’s ride calendar to find organized rides for every skill level throughout the week. If you’re in town on the second Friday of the month, hop in the Bike Party Indy, where participants ride, laugh, dance, and share a few drinks along the way.