Madison Ridge and Valley Rides (Book Review)

Posted by Doug Shidell, December 13th, 2011

Francis Stanton, Madison Ridge and Valley Rides. Madison WI: Stanton Studios 2011.

Reviewed by Bruce Thompson

Let’s say you have just arrived in Madison and are wondering where the good rides are. Or you are an experienced Madison rider but find yourself in a sort of rut: it is time to try some new routes, to explore more of the countryside surrounding the city. For either bicyclist, the Madison Ridge and Valley Rides offers a solution.

The core of this guide is a set of forty maps of suggested bike loop routes in the Madison area. Most of the loops are between twenty and forty miles in length, although a few longer ones range up to seventy miles. Most routes are in Dane county, with a few in neighboring counties.

Accompanying each map is a page containing one or two cue sheets. This page also includes information on starting points, information on the starting point, a succinct summary of the terrain (for example “level and rolling hills”) and a paragraph summarizing the route and its attractions.

The author suggests that the map and cue sheet be photocopied back to back on the same sheet of paper. This advice is wise since the 8″ by 11″ spiral-bound, 110 page guide would be cumbersome to pack on a bike and would probably suffer a short life when subject to being stuffed into a bike pack.

Also included in the guide are nine strip maps showing “bicycle escape routes” leading from Madison to some of the rides outside the urban area.

Strip maps of the major trails in the area are included as well as a page describing these trails: the Military Ridge Trail, the Glacial Drumlin Trail (east to Lake Mills), the Sugar River Trail, the Badger Trail (south to Monroe), and the US 12 trail. As with the other maps in this guide, these are printed in black and white and are easy to read.

The guide’s introductory material includes a brief history of bicycling in the Madison area, a discussion of glaciers, some suggestion for safe riding, and a list of starting points with driving directions and whether they have restrooms, water, and shelter.

One theme that runs through the guide is the effect of glaciation on the terrain. The terminal moraine lies just to the west of Madison and two rides are deliberately designed to track the base of that terrain. Further west is the driftless (unglaciated) area, with the most challenging hills, particularly between the Military Ridge and Blue Mounds on the south and the Wisconsin River on the north. To the east is the area that was smoothed by the glaciers offering mostly level riding interrupted by drumlins, glacial river debris, and other glacial features. In a number of cases, the author suggests the glacial origin of the features the rider encounters.

This guide would be particularly useful to riders new to bicycling or to the Madison area, but it could also offer suggestions of new routes to experienced riders. It offers sufficient information for a rider to pick a route that fits his or her ambition and mood. The maps are sufficiently detailed to serve for navigating so long as the rider sticks with the route. I would suggest that the rider also carry a bicycle map of the area in case he or she decides to diverge from the suggested route because of weather or other reasons.

I do have one minor caveat as to the organization of the loop rides: they are organized alphabetically. I would prefer a geographical organizations, so that nearby rides are placed adjacent to each other in the guide.


Biographical Information on the book’s author: Francis Stanton is a Madison, Wisconsin cartographer and cyclist. Mr. Stanton has been producing maps for clients since the 1970’s, and has self-published several bicycling map sets for Southern Wisconsin and the Pacific Northwest. He specializes in bicycling event maps, including the Horribly Hilly Hundreds and The Wright Stuff Century in Wisconsin. He rides many miles every year commuting and touring the local back roads.

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