Garmin Heat Maps: A Tale of Four Bicycle Friendly Cities

While doing a little digging this morning I discovered that there’s a heat map feature in Garmin Connect that allows users to identify good places to ride based on where other Garmin users ride.  I find this feature intriguing, mostly because I think the truest measure of whether a place is bicycle friendly or not boils down to how many people ride and where they ride.  These are things that heat maps show really well.

So I pulled up heat maps for cities I know best just to see what they look like.   Now I realize that this data is comprised only of Garmin users so it’s not representative of the general biking population, but I think that you’re probably a pretty serious cyclist if you own a Garmin and that, in turn, means you’re more likely to get out on the streets than the general population.  As a result, I think the data has validity even if it’s not 100% representative.   Here are my observations filtered against my knowledge that comes from riding in these cities.


Denver is one of America’s truly great bicycling cities and it shows.  There aren’t many areas of town that don’t show up as at least warm on the heat map.  The most popular areas are along Cherry Creek from downtown to the Tech Center and Cherry Creek Reservoir, along the Platte River South of its confluence with Cherry Creek and then along the hogback in Lakewood and in the foothills west of town.

Denver has broad coverage and a high concentration of cyclists all over town.  This is as good as it gets.

Denver has broad coverage and a high concentration of cyclists all over town. This is as good as it gets.


Indianapolis is working hard to become bicycle friendly, but at present most of the cycling in this metro occurs outside the city limits  in the affluent suburbs to the north.  The one exception is the Monon Trail from around 38th Street on the north side to the northern fringe.  There are large swaths of the city where very few people cycle.  That will undoubtedly change as the city continues to build out infrastructure and makes it easier to get around on a bike.

Bicycling in Indy is mostly a Monon Trail/northside thing.

The orange line running north/south is the Monon Trail.  The red dot in the northwest quadrant is Eagle Creek Park.  There’s very little cycling activity on the east, south or west sides of town.


Like Denver, Minneapolis is one of America’s best bicycling cities.  This is especially impressive in light of less than ideal weather conditions that are so prevalent here.  The Minneapolis heat map shows that people cycle just about everywhere in the City of Lakes.   The most popular areas include the Lakes neighborhood to the west and southwest of downtown and the Mississippi riverfront between downtown and St. Paul.  With the exception of the western suburbs and Eagan/Apple Valley, most of suburbia is cycling Siberia.


Large swaths of Minneapolis proper are orange or red. Lots of people cycle to lots of places here.  Like Indianapolis, cycling is popular in affluent suburbs like Edina, Eden Prarie, Minnetonka, St. Louis Park and Golden Valley.

Salt Lake City

The Wasatch foothills rule in Salt Lake City and with good reason.  There are some one of a kind rides into the mountains from just about anywhere in town.  That said, like Denver, coverage is very broad here.  The heat map covers most of the area where people live.   This will only improve with time, as the stated vision of UTA (the region’s transit authority) is to make it easy for people to use bikes to access transit.


With the exception of West Valley City, virtually all of the Salt Lake Valley is at least warm on the heat map.  The canyons heading up to Park City are also popular.


After looking at these maps, I’ve come to realize that there’s a reason I feel safer cycling some places than others.  Wherever there are large numbers of cyclists, there is also (generally) a little more caution on the part of motorists.  Heat maps like these show us where those places are.  That, in turn, allows us to be a little safer.  That’s a good thing.

California’s eBike Law Turns One

I missed this when it happened, probably because I have been a little slow to embrace eBikes, but I think it’s important and so it’s something I want to share with you today.  I’m talking about A.B. 1096, commonly known as California’s eBike Law.  It was signed by Governor Jerry Brown last October 7 and has been the law of the land in the Golden State for a year now.

eBikes are currently the fastest growing segment of the bicycle market.  Though they have been slow to gain traction in the United States, they’re already quite popular in Europe and Asia.  Manufacturers know this, and so companies as disparate as Ford and Polaris are getting into the eBike business.  They see big profits ahead and the only way that’s going to happen is if American bike shops (and car and RV dealers) start selling a lot of eBikes.  I think they will.


There are a lot of different types of eBikes.  All are motorized…some more so than others.  A few of these vehicles blur the lines between traditional bicycles and motor vehicles and that has all sorts of legal implications.  Should eBikes be licensed?  Should there be a minimum age for operators?  What sort of safety equipment (helmets, head and tail lights, turn signals) should be required?  Can you ride them on shared paths or only in the street?

Faraday's Porteur is a Class 1 eBike.  It is so elegantly designed that people often don't realize it's electric assist.

Faraday’s Porteur is a Class 1 eBike.  It is a pedal assist bike with a top speed of 20 mph.  Photo:  Faraday Bicycles

A.B. 1096 addresses these issues by defining three types or classes of eBikes.  Different rules relating to users and access to infrastructure apply for each class of bike but it basically boils down to top speed.  Type 1 and 2 eBikes are limited to a top speed of 20 mph.  For all intents and purposes, A.B. 1096 views these vehicles in the same manner as human powered bicycles.  Type 3 eBikes have a maximum speed limit of 28 mph.  The rules here are slightly different due to the higher top speed.  If it goes faster than 28 mph, it’s not an eBike, at least not in California.

Juiced Bikes ODK Platform bikes are Class 2.  They are throttled instead of pedal assist, but limited to a maximum speed of 20 mph.

Juiced Bikes ODK Platform cargo bikes are Class 2 bikes. They are throttled instead of pedal assist, but like the Faraday Porteur, they are limited to a maximum speed of 20 mph.  Photo:  Juiced Bikes

New Zealand's SmartMotion offers the Pacer, a Class 3 eBike with a maximum speed of 28 mph.  Photo: SmartMotion

New Zealand’s SmartMotion offers the Pacer, a Class 3 eBike with a maximum speed of 28 mph. Photo: SmartMotion

So how’s it working out?  Overall, pretty well in spite of the potential for some confusion.  Type 1 and 2 eBikes are allowed on Class 1 Bike Paths (think shared use trails).  Type 3 are not.  All are allowed on bike routes and paths on the streets (Class 2-4) whether they be painted, buffered or protected.  Type 1 bikes are also allowed on many mountain bike trails and other public lands.  Local officials can override state law and have in some cases.  There have been few controversies. In fact, mountain biking website MTBR forum posts marveled that “peace had broken out” after the law passed.  That’s no small thing.

By defining what is and isn’t an eBike, California officials have laid out a clear framework that other states can adopt…with or without modification.  They have also distinguished between eBikes and motor vehicles like scooters, mopeds and motorcycles.  The idea is not to create an unworkable bureaucracy but rather to keep the public safe as new classes of vehicles hit the roads and bicycle paths.


The Green In Greensburg

I have been following the rebirth and greening of Greensburg Kansas since that fateful night in May of 2007 when the town was leveled by an EF5 tornado with 200 mile per hour winds.   The storm hit at approximately 9:45 PM.  It was 1.7 miles wide which is wider than the town itself.  As you can see below, it scored a direct hit.

Greensburg Kansas ten days after the tornado.  Photo FEMA

Greensburg Kansas ten days after the tornado. Photo:FEMA

Until you see such devastation with your own eyes, it’s difficult to imagine what it’s really like.  Pictures don’t do it justice.  Nine months after Hurricane Katrina, I visited the Gulf Coast.  The abandonment, particularly in New Orleans, still haunts me.   I wasn’t ready for the tears and the abject hopelessness of so many, so long after the storm.  Given that, I can’t begin to imagine how it affects those who were there and actually had to endure it.

And so when people come out the other end of such an event, pick themselves up, dust themselves off and decide to make the world a better place, well, they have my attention and respect.  That’s what Greensburg has done.  Though the population of the town shrunk by half, those who stayed decided to rebuild their community as the greenest town in America.  That’s what they’re doing. Most of the public buildings that have gone up since the storm are LEED certified.  Greensburg has the highest concentration of LEED-certified buildings anywhere.  There are wind turbines and solar panels and native landscapes and rainwater capture systems.  Greensburg is walking the walk.

The rebuilt city hall is an example of the new greener Greensburg.  Rooftop solar, passive elements and ground source heat pumps have reduced energy usage by 38%.  It's all complimented with native, low-water consuming landscape that's perfect for the high, dry plains.

The rebuilt city hall is an example of the new greener Greensburg. Rooftop solar, passive elements and ground source heat pumps have reduced energy usage by 38%. It’s all complimented with native, low-water consuming landscape that’s perfect for the high, dry plains.  Photo:Greensburg KS

People have always been resourceful in this part of Kansas.  The Big Well is the world's largest hand dug well.  It was completed in the late 1800s and is now the site of the Big Well Museum.

People have always been resourceful in this part of Kansas. The Big Well is the world’s deepest hand dug well. It was completed in the late 1800s and is now the site of the Big Well Museum.  Photo:Greensburg KS

These days, bikes are a big part of Greensburg.

These days, bikes are a big part of Greensburg.  Photo:Greensburg KS

Bikeshare at the Big Well Museum.

Bikeshare bikes, ready to roll.  Photo:Greensburg KS

Or maybe I should say Greensburg is biking the bike.  Earlier this year, this town of just under 1,000 people initiated their very own bike sharing program.  I spoke with Stacy Barnes, one of the people who was responsible for bringing bikeshare to Greensburg.  She told me that there are a total of twelve bikes in the program and they can be picked up at the Big Well Museum.  These pleasant looking bikes were purchased through Kent Bicycle and they’re branded with the city logo.

Ms. Barnes told me that the bikes are popular with both tourists and local residents alike.  They’re free to use.  She’s seen locals choose to hop on the bikes for quick trips instead of getting in the car.  The program has been so popular, in fact, that Greensburg may expand it and place more bikes around town in the future.  Since the storm, people here are just a little more aware of how fragile the natural world is.  Bikes help.  Bikes heal.

The people of Greensburg Kansas continue to inspire me.  They are a living testimony to the power of the human spirit, and I am really excited that bicycles are part of their vision for the future.  Jan and I will be heading through in the spring.   I’m looking forward to meeting Stacy Barnes, visiting the Big Well and seeing this amazing town on the high plains of western Kansas…from the saddle of a bicycle.  In the meantime, if you’d like more information about Greensburg, check out the links below:

The Heart of the Matter

I’m not a happy camper tonight mostly because I read the story of a bicyclist in Indiana, a relatively young woman with everything to live for whose life was taken from her by a motorist in a box truck today.  It breaks my heart and makes me profoundly sad.

It also makes me angry.  Whenever this sort of thing happens I always try to see both sides but to be perfectly honest and blunt, I’m tired of trying to see the other side.  The other side is not worth seeing.  All I know about this particular crash is that the driver drifted off the road and into the cyclist.  That’s from the Indiana State Police.  So, as is usually the case, it appears that either driver inattentiveness, substance abuse or sheer maliciousness was a root cause.  If you’re a cyclist, you know what I’m talking about.


Ghost bike, Monon Trail, Indianapolis

For a developed first world nation, we Americans sure are willing to put up with an awful lot of road carnage.  Roughly 30,000 of us are going to die in traffic crashes this year.  Of those, over 5,000 will be bicyclists and pedestrians.  According to the World Health Organization, we’re ranked 60th in the world when it comes to traffic mortality.  You’re actually safer on the roads of Panama, Croatia, Serbia and Cuba than you are in the USA.   Think about that as you strap the youngsters into their car seats.

With the exception of two tiny countries that are statistical anomalies, Sweden has the safest roads in the world.  You’re four times as likely to die on American roads as on Swedish roads.   This makes perfect sense to me because I know that the Swedes are serious about having safe roads and we’re not.

Let me give you an example.   Vision Zero is a Swedish initiative that deals with designing roads and other transportation infrastructure in ways that put human life first.   It has nothing at all to do with behavior modification or education…just road design.   Nobody in the US has come up with anything like Vision Zero so it’s good that the Swedes are magnanimous and willing to share.

The Swedes are also serious about educating all road users, and this starts with the licensing process for drivers.  It’s hard to get a driver’s license in Sweden.  You don’t just waltz into the DMV with your debit card.  That’s not how it works.  I remember going out to a restaurant in Malmö with my corporate host when I worked for TetraPak AB.  He was a drinker, but he wouldn’t have even a single beer because he had to drive home and did not want to put his license at risk after working so hard to get it.  I’ve never forgotten that.

Netherlands and Denmark are also in the top ten when it comes to road safety.  As most of you know these are generally acknowledged as the two best countries in the world for bicyclists.  This suggests to me that there is a correlation between the number of bicycles on the road and overall road safety.  That, in turn, suggests that the best way we can work to make our roads safer is to get more people to choose bicycles.

Back to where this started.  Mobility is a basic human right.  Somewhere along the way, we in the US have lost sight of the fact that we should not have to put our lives at risk to get from where we are to where we’re going.  People in other countries don’t.  We shouldn’t either.


Car Space, Bike Space and the Coming Transportation Shift

I’m intrigued by the whole concept of car sharing and autonomous cars and I’m reading everything I can on what these developments mean in terms of how we will soon move around.  People a lot smarter than I am keep talking about how quickly this will be adopted and based on how quickly other transformational technologies have been adopted, I’m inclined to agree with them. This is coming much more quickly than most of us realize.


And so I find myself thinking about what it means in terms of bicycles, how I live and what I enjoy about the place I call home.  As I have, I’ve come to realize just how much space we waste on automobiles, not only in terms of roads and parking lots, but right here at home.  Our house in Ogden has a 350 square foot garage.  We also have a 10′ wide driveway that runs approximately 60 feet.  Combined, garage and driveway consume about 1,000 square feet of our 7,000 square foot lot.  That’s almost 15% of our entire empire devoted to storing an automobile and providing access to the street.

Typical lot configuration across much of America.  15% of the space is devoted to cars.

Typical lot configuration across much of America. 15% of the space is devoted to cars.  Here the garage is almost as big as the house!

The same is true of our cities.  Huge amounts of space and capital are allocated to highways, access roads and parking lots.  Like our driveways, these resources are only used a small part of the time.  Most of the day, even in busy locations, they sit empty.  This is a tremendous misallocation of capital.  It’s an epic waste.  No wonder our fiscal budgets are such a mess.


The typical American road is mostly empty most of the time.  It represents a tremendous waste of space and resources.

The typical American road is mostly empty most of the time. It represents a tremendous waste of space and resources.

Most of us believe this is just the way it is.  We’ve never known anything different, but if you talk to people who have been around long enough you will hear of cities where people could walk, bike or hop a streetcar to get where they were going.  This was the norm less than 75 years ago.  Our move to the car was a gradual process, one that continues to evolve today. More change is on the way.

Cars-as-apps will radically change this by increasing the rate at which we utilize motor vehicles.  They will radically free up space and capital.  They will cause us to think of transportation not as a sunk cost, but as something we pay for on a per trip basis.  This may bother some folks, but the reality is that it is the more appropriate way to value transportation.  The present model hides the true cost of moving about.

This is really good news for those of us who believe that bicycles are the best transportation choice for short trips.  These changes will make the bicycle a more attractive and obvious choice for such trips.  Our numbers are about to grow…dramatically.  As they do, society will discover something we cyclists already know.  Bicycles take much less space than cars.  They give us more while asking virtually nothing in return.  They make life better for ourselves and those around us.  Who doesn’t want that?

The 5 Cs of Climbing

I’ve discovered since moving to Ogden that I like to climb. I didn’t always.  I grew up in Indiana and spent much of my adult life in places as flat as a pancake. When we came back to the Rockies,  I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I knew I’d have to go vertical or go home.  Given that, the choice was easy.

It's climb time! Nowhere to go but up.

It’s climb time! Nowhere to go but up.  Let the fun begin.

When you're a climber faced with this decision, the answer is ALWAYS the same...

When you’re a climber faced with this decision, the answer is ALWAYS the same…

Nowadays I climb a lot …over 250,000 feet  year to date.  Last week  when I  rode the Tour of the Moon in Colorado, I climbed almost 4,000 feet and discovered that I’m pretty good at it.  Here’s what I look like when I have my climb in.  If you haven’t tried this, you should.  It’s a whole lot of fun.

So in spite of the fact that my approach has been mostly trial and error and there’s absolutely no science behind this at all, I thought I’d share what works for me.  I call them the 5 Cs of climbing:

Channel Your Inner Cannibal

Eddy Merckx was the greatest cyclist of all time and when Eddy talks, serious cyclists listen.  The Cannibal was fond of telling people to ride up grades instead of buying upgrades.  Even so, local bike shops love him.  Go figure.  Maybe it’s because he also said to ride lots and if you ride lots you’re going to buy a lot of bikes. Works for me.   If you want to be a good climber, climb lots.  Ride up grades lots.  Yes, it hurts at first but you can scream “Shut Up Legs” like Jens Voight and motorists will give you a little extra room because they’ll think you’re crazy.  As with a lot of things, it eventually hurts less.


You’re probably not going to climb anywhere near as fast as you’re going to travel on the flats and if you do I want to speak with you.   For the rest of us, we should focus on how fast our legs are turning instead of how fast we’re going.  This is called cadence, and if  you do it right it should be roughly the same as if you were on flat land.   For some reason, lots of people freak out when they see a hill.  They gear down and pedal furiously or they don’t gear down enough and then it’s too much work.  When you focus on cadence instead of speed, it will feel right.  You’ll be capable of climbing great distances without tiring.


Back in the day, I had this tendency to want to put the hammer down whenever I saw a hill coming up.  If this is you, try to resist this urge.   You end up tiring out pretty quickly…usually with a lot more hill to go.  Instead, focus on staying under control.  When you do, you’ll find that it’s easier to reach the crest now matter how far above you it may be.  Once you’ve mastered climbing and know what you’re capable of, then you can put the hammer down if that’s what you want to do.

Cross Over

I know it’s sacrilege, but if you’re primarily a mountain biker, grab some lycra and clipless pedals and hit the road.  If you’re a roadie, dress down and reach for the platforms.  Cross over to the dark side and ride with the enemy.  Here’s why.  Mountain bikers climb short but outrageously steep grades.  Roadies tend to climb easier grades but they go on forever.  You need to master both if you want to be King or Queen of the Mountains.


Talk to yourself and be sure you’re saying nice things.  The fact that you’re on a bike makes you special.  The fact that you’re on a bike and riding uphill makes you a beast.  A little happy talk is in order.  Try it.  It will make you a better climber.

Serious climbers know that polka dots rock.

Serious climbers know that polka dots rock.

Regardless of what you’ve been taught up until now, everyone looks better in polka dots.  I never thought I could be  a climber but now I am. You can be one, too.  I want that for you.  There’s no greater feeling in the world than finishing a long climb with your legs burning, looking back and muttering under your breath…Me One…Hill Zero.


Jan and I took the FrontRunner from Ogden to Farmington yesterday for a little bicycle exploration.  Our objective was to ride the Legacy Parkway and do a little exploring along the way.

Farmington is typical of many prosperous bedroom communities, but geographical constraints are forcing the community to develop a little more densely than it might otherwise.

Farmington is typical of many prosperous bedroom communities, but geographical constraints are forcing the community to develop a little more densely than it might otherwise.

Farmington is a suburb of Salt Lake City.  It’s located at the chokepoint between the Great Salt Lake and the Wasatch Range in the crowded I-15 corridor about 17 miles north of the state capital.  Although the community is not listed as a bicycle-friendly community by the League of American Bicyclists, it probably should be.   There’s a lot to like about Farmington.

At Farmington station. I-15 and the FrontRunner are to the left. Station Park is to the right. The Legacy Parkway, directly below.

At Farmington station. I-15 and the FrontRunner are to the left. Station Park is to the right. The Legacy Parkway, directly below.

Waiting on the train.

Waiting on the train.

Rolling on is about as easy as it gets.

Rolling on is about as easy as it gets.

As I’ve written previously, the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) has roll on service for bicycles on FrontRunner trains.  This is part of UTAs focus on encouraging transit use, and it makes it very easy to use the train to extend the range of the bicycle.  I’ve ridden to Farmington from our Ogden home before, but it’s a 60 mile roundtrip with some climbing and Jan didn’t want to go that far.  The train is a perfect alternative.

Station Park and Lagoon. Lots of bicycle infrastructure here!

Station Park and Lagoon. Lots of bicycle infrastructure here!

Farmington’s FrontRunner station is indicative of what much of Utah and other suburban places might look like in the not-too-distant future.  It is wedged between a clogged interstate highway (there was a wreck that backed it up for miles) and a multi use bicycle path that serves as a transportation reliever to the highway.  There are a number of additional sidepaths that connect the rest of the community to the main trail.

The FrontRunner station is connected to a mixed use development that includes a variety of shopping and dining choices.  Interestingly enough, the development is named Station Park.   It’s not just shopping, either.  Forward looking companies like Pluralsoft are headquartered here, giving their employees true transportation choice.   Directly across the highway is Lagoon, the Wasatch Front’s only themed amusement park.  It is easily accessible by bicycle.

It was Saturday afternoon and Station Park with its acres of parking was jammed with cars.  Even so, we were able to easily navigate the busy lots to various stores on bicycles.  That’s primarily because most motorists are used to seeing a lot of bicycles here and exercised appropriate levels of caution and consideration.

To me, Farmington is a good example of what a bedroom community can be, transportation-wise, if it makes good choices.  I get the feeling that anyone who wants to use a bicycle for basic transportation needs could do so here with minimal hassles.  It’s a shame more don’t.  Maybe they will in the not-too-distant future.