My sweetheart and I brought our bikes along on a recent afternoon stopover in Missoula. Riding around Grizzlieyville for a few hours, we learned a lot about city cycling there.

Lots of people ride in Missoula. Almost none of them wear helmets. There are tons of bike racks for bike parking and people use them. The city is flat, small and easy to bike around, with some good trails and bike lanes. There are three cool places that every bike nut would want to visit: The Sport Exchange-a neat store that sells used bikes and outdoor gear, The Adventure Cycling Association headquarters-the nation’s premier bike-touring nonprofit, and Free Cycles Missoula-a community bike shop.

At Free Cycles Missoula, we met a young man named Jeremy, who was nice enough to fill us in on the history and workings of the organization. When he found out we were from Spokane, he started to lay into the Lilac City with abandon. “I rank it insanely low on the bicycle-friendly meter,” he said. According to him Spokane streets were too dangerous, people just ride on the sidewalk, and cars run red lights all the time.

(I don’t have enough space to refute all this and explain why Spokane is a great bike town, so instead I’ll be catty. Missoula, don’t tell me your poo don’t stink. While I was there for 3 hours, I almost got hit in a crosswalk, had to dodge a bike-rider on a sidewalk and saw a casino on almost every corner.)

Jeremy emailed me the next week and brought up some points about multi-use bike trails, which we had discussed:

“They’re for recreation and meant to keep bicycles from being a true mode of transportation,” wrote Jeremy. “They make you a second-class human if you are expected to commute on them alone, like you are a problem that is pushed out of the way. They make people believe you should be on them so they get upset when you are not.”
All good points, and ones Spokane should think about as we try to make the city more bike friendly. But I don’t believe recreation and transportation need to be mutually exclusive. A great bike town should have both.

Check out: The Sports Exchange, (406) 721-6056; Free Cycles Missoula: http://www.freecycles.org/freecycles.html; The Adventure Cycling Association: http://www.adv-cycling.org