* “Complete” is probably doing a lot of work here
With Jingle Cross in the rearview mirror, the cyclocross caravan has packed up and headed eastward toward Madison, Waterloo and the 2019 Trek CX Cup and World Cup Waterloo.
As a decade-plus-year resident of Madison, your humble editor can confirm Madison and its surrounding area are like the best city ever, and whether you are here now or coming soon, there are a lot of good riding and dining options to make your stay a good one.
Here are some suggestions for where to ride, eat and drink, but really it is largely an excuse to invite everyone to our weekly cyclocross practice at Badger Prairie Park in Verona held Wednesday night. More details below.
At 255,000 residents plus a ton of college kids, it is my opinion that Madison is the perfect size to balance easily accessible cycling with a lot of the entertainment and dining options of much larger cities. Good riding is at most 15 minutes away from most parts of the city, meaning you can easily get out for rides on both weekdays and weekends.
The best riding this week is obviously the weekly Madison-area cyclocross practice. Sponsored by Neff Cycle Service and the local IMBA Chapter, this week’s practice is at Badger Prairie County Park in Verona at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday night.
If that sounds familiar, it is indeed the venue that hosted the 2012 and 2013 Cyclocross National Championships, albeit with much warmer temps and fewer frozen ruts.
Practices feature a skills clinic for beginners and two sets of hot laps for experienced riders. Isaac Neff helps run the practice, and perhaps if we ask nice enough, he will run it back on the old Nationals course, for nostalgia’s sake.
Badger Praire is a 10-mile bike ride from the State Capitol via the SW Commuter Path and Military Ridge bike trails.
If you cannot make practice and still want some cyclocross efforts on the east side, CamRock Park in Cambridge is worth checking out. Located about 30 minutes east of Madison off Highway 18, Cam-Rock Area 2 has a network of double track where Wisconsin cyclocross races have been hosted in the past.
For general riding around Madison, Westward Ho is the way to go.
The city of Madison sits just east of the edge of the Driftless Area, which is a really neat geologic anomaly in southwest Wisconsin and northwest Illinois that was never glaciated. Since it was not flattened by sheets of ice, the region features an endless network of steep hills and valleys that are quite pretty—and also challenging to ride.
Waterloo, which is located east of Madison, was smushed by up to a mile of ice, making the terrain on the east side of Madison heading out to Trek Headquarters much flatter, with the occasional drumlin providing some elevation.
Your best bets for reaching Madison’s best riding are Seminole Road to the south and Old Sauk Road to the west. En route, the University’s urban Arboretum is worth cruising through. Heading out east … I don’t really ride that way, so pick a road and roll the dice?
Riding through Paoli to the south is a classic Madison ride. Heading a bit further west takes you to Observatory Hill and Schaller Road, both of which are steep climbs great for repeats if that’s what you’re looking for.
To the west is Mt. Horeb, which is well known for the trolls that line the main road through town. Like, literal trolls, not obnoxious online people. Roll through the Garfoot Valley and Barlow Road if you want to have your soul crushed in ways you did not think a 2 to 3-minute climb could.
Commuting around town is relatively easy as well. The city has bike lanes everywhere, as well as the aforementioned SW Commuter Path on the west side (everything is relative to the Capitol) and Capital City State Trail on the east side.
The City of Madison and its surrounds have admittedly been a bit behind cities such as Asheville, Boulder and Portland on the craft brewery front, but the city has been catching up in recent years.
Madison is divided into neighborhoods, and three of them on the east side have pairs of breweries worth checking out.
Closest to Trek are the far east-side Ale Asylum and Karben4. Both breweries are known for their strong flavors and the Fantasy Factory from Karben4 and Hopalicious from Ale Asylum are among the best flagship beers in the state.
Moving closer to downtown, the Atwood neighborhood is home to Next Door Brewing and One Barrel. Both breweries have well-balanced menus, and the neighborhood is one of the best in the city for food and local taverns.
The Alchemy across from One Barrel is like my favorite restaurant thanks to its rotating beer menu, locally sourced menu and killer sweet potato fries (not on Friday though, because fish fry, because Wisconsin).
The Willy Street neighborhood is home to Working Draft and Giant Jones. Working Draft does mostly IPAs, so if you are a IP(h)Ater, then it’s probably not the best choice. Giant Jones does a ton of really strong beers that are really good—it has quickly become a personal favorite.
Willy Street is also home to Cafe Domestique, which is a cycling-themed coffee shop located adjacent to a cargo bike store. If you’re looking for some joe, you are certain to find a welcoming atmosphere there.
If you absolutely absolutely have to have a Belgian beer, Brasserie V just west of campus in the Monroe Street neighborhood has an incredible tap list and even better collection of bottles from Belgium and across the world.
Finally, no trip to Madison is complete without a trip to the Memorial Union Terrace. Located on campus along the shores of Lake Mendota, the Terrace is a giant outdoor beer garden that is pretty unique. If beer is not your thing, Babcock ice cream made on campus has a strong rep as well.
If you are staying in Sun Prairie, there are two new breweries located there—Right Bauer and Full Mile. Right Bauer is TheShoeStar-approved, while I have not been to Full Mile yet. With multiple Wisconsin races in Sun Prairie and Waterloo this season, that will change in due time.
Also in Sun Prairie is the Nitty Gritty, which is owned by cyclocross racer Lee Pier. As Sun Prairie’s official birthday spot, if any of the days this weekend are your birthday, drinks are on Lee.
Like most metro cities, Madison has like a billion good restaurants offering all kinds of food. I will defer to Yelp on that front. It is tough to go wrong.
One hole-in-the-wall I am more than willing to hype is a wing spot called Chicken Licks (it just changed its name from Chicken Lips). Set on Highway N just south of Sun Prairie, Chicken Licks is a vintage Wisconsin dive, but it has quite possibly the best chicken wings you will ever have. You shan’t be disappointed with a stop there. Chances are good that is where I will be after Saturday night’s Legends’ race.
Another crown jewel of Madison is the Saturday Farmer’s Market. Supposedly (?) the biggest in the world, vendors line the Capital Square every weekend from April through November selling whatever is in season. The spicy cheese bread from Stella’s Bakery is also a can’t-miss that would totally be appropriate as pre-race fueling. Or at least pre-race fueling for the Legends’ race on Saturday evening.
Get to the Farmer’s Market early, especially this weekend given it’s a home football weekend. It opens at 6:30 a.m.-ish, so “early” can mean “really early.”
Finally, if you are looking for the all-important fried cheese curd experience—which you should obviously be looking for—my favorite is the Old Fashioned on the Square. Fashioned as a metro supper club, the OF also has a long tap list exclusively from Wisconsin breweries.
With a full weekend of racing at the Trek CX Cup and World Cup Waterloo, that should be more than enough to keep you busy. If you’re looking for ride ideas, holler on the Twitter machine @TheShoeStar or send me an email at zachary [at] cxmagazine [dot] com.