Study reveals 'Least Bike-Friendly State' in America is North Dakota

When the League of American Bicyclists released its annual Bicycle Friendly States Rankings on May 1 there were few surprises near the top, with bike-happy states like Washington, Colorado, Oregon, and Minnesota taking top spots.

But down there at the bottom, just behind Alabama, sits North Dakota. The largely rural, conservative state scored dead last in each of the five categories used by the organization to rank.

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We made a few phone calls to find out what’s the deal with NoDak, a state we know to have some epic mountain biking, long gravel roads, and beautiful Great Plains scenery.

“The main goal of the rankings is to motivate states to do more for cycling,” said Nicole Wynands, a program manager at the League of American Bicyclists.

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States near the bottom are poorly ranked because they lack laws protecting cyclists, including safe passing distances by cars, as well as a shortage of dedicated cycling infrastructure outside of major metropolitan areas.

Off of its roads, North Dakota has some pretty amazing bicycling, including the famous Maah Daah Hey Trail. It offers more than 160 miles of singletrack through the wild and remote countryside of the Badlands.

maah daah hey trail image.jpg

Maah Daah Hey trail courses through the Badlands

Said Jennifer Morlock, owner of Dakota Cyclery and Mountain Bike Adventures, “What the state lacks in paved roads it makes up for in natural beauty and mountain biking.”

She added that bikers in North Dakota are working on legislation for safe passing distances but that, even unregulated, most drivers in the state are courteous to cyclists.

“Shoulders are an issue,” she conceded.

Wynands agreed that many states near the bottom of the list have the potential to become great bike destinations with the enactment of regulations to protect cyclists and education.

“There are other rural states that are doing very well, like Maine, Iowa and Vermont,” she said. “They do more, they appreciate cyclists more and make it a policy priority.”

With a sparse population but one heck of a great offroad trail, North Dakota seems like a place with plenty of potential for improvement if residents ever make cycling a priority, which seems a little unlikely.

Alabama, New Mexico, Kentucky and South Dakota round out the bottom five.

“Most of these states near the bottom are beautiful. A poor ranking doesn’t mean it’s not pretty to bike there,” Wynands said.

—Sean McCoy is a contributing editor based in Denver.

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Mountain biker in North Dakota (near Grand Forks)

Posted by Troy - 05/06/2013 07:15 PM

What can one do to make a bike friendly city?

Posted by S.M. - 05/06/2013 07:40 PM

Troy, the LAB looked at five categories to rank states: Legislation and Enforcement, Policies and Programs, Infrastructure and Funding, Education and Encouragement, and Evaluation and Planning.

Posted by Brian - 05/06/2013 07:45 PM

You know the list is BS when you see an urban state like New Jersey in the top 10. I’d rather ride for 7 days in North Dakota than 7 minutes in New Jersey.

Posted by Steve - 05/08/2013 09:35 PM

I guess when they rated Texas they didn’t take Houston into account. Its got to be one of the most UNFRIENDLY bike cities in the US, if not the world.

Posted by Phil - 05/13/2013 10:28 PM

I hate to get political, but #s 28-50 are mostly
red states.

Posted by Lithe - 05/14/2013 12:46 AM

I live in WA ranked #1 and i’m hear to tell you if you give them to much freedom they abuse it so much…. like here even if there is an unobstructed sidewalk or bike lane they use the middle of the road at 10-20 mph and never let you pass… ever. They are practically invisible and throw up there arms like they are personally insulted every time you get even close to them. I ride a motorbike and cycle but i wish we had cops here that ticketed cyclists even remotely the same as cars or motorcycles.

Posted by Tony - 05/14/2013 10:47 PM

I find it interesting that IL is ranked in the top ten. That’s the most bike unfreindly place I have ever ridden. I think one reason ND doesn’t have a bunch of laws to protect cyclists is because they haven’t seen a need to enact them. The motorists in ND are generally very courteous to cyclists.

Posted by bikermanlax - 06/07/2013 09:22 AM

My info is dated but 30 years ago I did a cross country bicycle trip. By far, ND was the friendliest state of all, with neighboring Minnesota being the least friendly. New York was also very friendly.

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