Pedaling for Pints: Three Great Places for Mixing Bikes and Beer
Some cities have a famously vibrant bike culture. You might suspect that you’re in one of them if you see the following signs: a fitter-than-average population, prominent bicycle lanes complete with bicycle stoplights, art installations involving spokes and chains, bike parking lots, bike valets, the strange cuffing of single pant legs, and moving constellations of tiny flashing lights after dark. Car loyalists beware – bike friendliness in these places is contagious.
Then there are cities that have famously refined craft beer scenes. Signs that you’re in an enchanted place for beer include: a portlier-than-average population, pubs with confusingly many taps, and a general aversion to anything mass-produced. In these places, it is considered polite conversation to inquire about the health of others’ home brewing, and preferences run strong about things like hoppiness.
What if there were places with the best of both worlds? Imagine a society where beer calories and bike commutes cancel each other out, and where sophisticated microbrews are just a leisurely pedal away. These places are not the stuff of fantasy. Here are a few that come pretty close to the ideal:
Flanders is a region of northern Belgium where scenic country roads carry bicyclists from one beer wonder to the next. The beauty of these roads isn’t just the little villages you’ll pass through, or the old farm houses you’ll cruise by, or even the traffic-free bike lanes that run alongside the many canals of rural Belgium. The real beauty is that the roads use a navigational system that is easy enough for even a buzzed foreigner to figure out. It’s a number-coded system called “fietsroute.” Just note the number on the “feitsroute” map (available online or at any tourist office) and the corresponding signage is everywhere.
Belgium has made a place for itself on the beer map of the world through a centuries-long history of beverage fermentation. As any true beer fan knows, some of the finest styles of beer trace their roots to Belgium. It’s the birthplace of the Dubbel, Tripel, Quadrupel, Wit, Saison, Lambic, and the Gueuze, to name a few. “Whether your looking to tour a large production brewery, sample beers at a small village’s nano-brewhouse, or sit down at a bar with 2,000 beers on the menu, you’ve come to the right place,” says Evan Cohan, founder and guide of beercycling tours. “A trip to Belgium will surely open up your palette to new levels. Just remember ‘Proost!’ (Cheers) and you’ll make many friends.”
A highlight of Belgian beer tours is a visit to the “Trappist Abbeys” where local Belgian monks brew delicious craft beers according to age-old traditions. Only seven breweries in the world can designate themselves as authentic “Trappist” and six of them are in Belgium, including Chimay, Orval and Rochefort.
Portland takes great pride in its bike-friendly urban planning, and everybody else has taken notice. Virgin Vacations named it the second most bike-friendly city in the world, beat only by Amsterdam. Other ‘top cities for bicycling’ lists agree. From a network of bike lane routes that connect the entire city, to an active bike culture to advocate the cause, Portland has its cyclists covered. Combine this with world-class breweries and its diverse collection of food carts, and you’ll find plenty of places worth parking the bike to check out. “Portland’s food cart scene has grown exponentially in recent years,” observes Jeff Pietka, a Portland native. He designs and guides people-powered city tours for Portland Urban Adventures. “There are so many possibilities that with a local in the lead, you could bounce from brewery to street food snacks and back again all day long, biking just a mile or two in between stops.”
Where to start? Check out this Portland-by-bike beer itinerary by Draft Magazine. Or grab a Portland bike map and figure out the districts and bridges – the Willamette River bisects the city into the east and the west sides, each with its distinct neighborhoods, and a total of ten bridges span the river, eight of which provide some level of pedestrian and bike access. For a tour of Portland’s bridges and some of the best breweries that straddle them, start at The Lucky Labrador northeast in the Overlook neighborhood. From North Portland you can head south, cross the Steel Bridge into downtown, and then ride along the west side of the river, through Waterfront Park. Cross the SE Morrison Bridge, and you’ll find the Hair of the Dog brewery, where you can sample an unusual variety of fine bottle conditioned beers.
From there, explore the Hawthorne district and the rest of the east side of the city with its ‘bike boulevards.’ These residential streets run parallel to major roads, with stop signs oriented to favor bicycle traffic. You can easily make your way southeast toward Hopworks Urban Brewing. Its interior is decorated with a recycled-bike-parts motif and your tasters will be served on trays made of bike wheels. Hopworks also masterminds the annual BikeToBeerFest, “the world’s only bike-in Oktoberfest party.” Coming soon from Hopworks: a bike bar on the N. Williams bike corridor.
Fort Collins, Colorado
Fort Collins is a top destination for the beer-thirsty bike enthusiast, but it’s not the only urban area in Colorado that loves good beer and bicycles. Boulder gets the most credit for an active bicycle culture, and with award-winning microbreweries like Boulder Creek and Twisted Pine, it may seem like the most obvious pick in Colorado. The capital city of Denver is also a contender. It can claim craft breweries like The Great Divide and bars like the famous Falling Rock Tap House that keeps a constantly changing selection of over 75 beers on tap, combined with emerging bike infrastructure like the B-cycle public bike sharing network.
So why does Fort Collins win out over both Boulder and Denver? Two words: New Belgium. Fort Collins is home to the New Belgium Brewing Company, a philosophical intersection of beer and bikes. They combine European-style beer brewing craftsmanship (its most widely distributed beer being Fat Tire) with a culture of environmental sustainability and a passion for fun bike-centric events. What other brewery sponsors a bike-in cinema? How about a series of Urban Assault bicycle scavenger hunt rides? Its grandest and most wild event is the Tour de Fat, which spans 13 cities over the course of four months. Participants dress up in costumes, pimp out their bicycles, and celebrate “the positive societal offerings of the bicycle,” all to the tune of live music and abundant New Belgium beer.
In the chance that you miss a New Belgium event, a fun bike route to the six best breweries in town is doable any day. One popular circuit will take you through Funkworks, Odell’s, Fort Collins Brewery, New Belgium, Coopersmiths and Equinox. Just be sure to pace yourself, especially if you’re getting behind the handlebars.
How not to mix bikes and beer
Trading tasters for pints
In bike-friendly beer havens, human power on two wheels is the best way to get from pint A to pint B. But what if you’re planning to hit three, four, maybe even five breweries in one afternoon? Be responsible. Not only do your odds of crashing increase as blood alcohol level rises, you’re also still legally at risk for a DUI. In most places, bicycles are considered a form of vehicle and the same legal limits apply. Stick to the 4oz taster glasses and hold out on the pints until you’re not planning on driving anything home.
The beer bike
For those who haven’t seen one of these barreling down the road, a beer bike is a music-blaring pedal-powered bar on wheels. The biggest, most famous beer bike tour is in Amsterdam. There’s seating for 17 pedalers and up to 30 liters of beer on board. Their popularity is spreading, and now beer bike tours are available in cities like Berlin, Budapest, and Munich. It may sound like a good idea in theory, but in practice the beer bike has been poorly received by local residents. Beer bikes create traffic jams and make motorists, cyclists and pedestrians uncomfortable. According to German paper The Local, several cities have motioned to ban them. Opt out of the beer bike tour, unless any of the following apply:
- You are a committed, lifelong frat boy
- You are planning the most obnoxious bachelor party possible
- You love Segway tours so much that you’re looking for yet more tacky ways to blaze a tourist trail through a city
- You’re not that into the personality of beer – you just want a lot of it as you pedal the bar-mobile.
Read more about beer travel and biking:
- Great Beer and Wine Festivals Around the World
- Germany By the Glass: Three Drinking Destinations Not to Miss
- Place in a Pint Glass; Traveling Around the World Through Beer
- Best Selling Beers Around the World
- The First Time Guide to Renting a Bike in Amsterdam
- Two Wheel Tourism: How to Plan a Cycling Trip in Europe
Read more about author Cynthia Ord and read her other BootsnAll articles here.