Bicycling Capital of America Less than 3 Hours From Rockford
During my drive back from Montana to Illinois, I encountered many odd roadside attractions trying to lure me off the interstate hoping that I'll make a quick stop in their town and infuse some money into their local economy.
From the world's largest buffalo to the wood chipper used in the movie Fargo, some communities really have to stretch to create a landmark worth a visit.
But there is one town just a short drive from Rockford, Illinois that not only has a claim to a "world's largest," but also is known as America's Capital for this popular activity drawing tens of thousands of visitors each year.
Located just off of Interstate 90 between La Crosse and Tomah, Wisconsin is the city of Sparta. With a population of just over 10,000 residents, the town gets more than 60,000 visitors each year for the local bike trails, according to an article from the U.S. Army.
Sparta was the first location in the U.S. to transform old railways into paved bike trails along the Elroy-Sparta State Trail back in 1967 with over 30 miles of multi-use trails that pass through former train tunnels and rural scenery.
The LaCrosse River State Trail is also nearby and adds 22-miles of trail from Sparta to LaCrosse, Wisconsin along the former Chicago / Northwestern railway.
Now known as the Bicycling Capital of America, Sparta also lays claim to the World's Largest Bicyclist.
Standing 32 feet tall, "Ben Bikin" was constructed by a local fiberglass company and features a cyclist on a Victorian-era bike and sits in a park on the corner of Wisconsin Street and Water Street in downtown Sparta.
In an effort to start a yearly bike ride from Sparta, Wisconsin to Port Byron, Illinois, a nearly identical statue standing 30 feet tall named Will B. Rolling was erected by the former mayor of the Illinois town.
If you want to make a road trip to the Bicycling Captial of America, it's just under a 3-hour drive from Rockford, Illinois to Sparta, Wisconsin. CLICK HERE to find out about all the activities and events happening in town.