This remote archipelago in the extreme northwest of the United States is a bucolic paradise with bike-friendly roads that provide an excellent excuse to leave the car behind.

In a nebulous archipelago in the extreme northwest of the United States lies a diminutive island whose bike-friendly roads provide an excellent excuse to leave the car  behind.

Thirty-square-mile Lopez Island sits amid the jumble of 170 other islands, islets and rocky eagle perches that comprise the San Juan Islands, an idyllic rural escape popular with stressed-out Pacific Northwesterners, where traffic lights have yet to penetrate and malls are where people on the “mainland” go shopping.

For outsiders, Lopez acts as a bucolic bulwark to the sprawling suburban culture that has colonized so much of continental America, a subtle throwback to a simpler, less homogenized era; pastoral, distinct and unsullied by urban interferences. For the 2,200 local residents, it is a jealously guarded home, a place where you can leave your bicycle unlocked outside the organic coffee shop and it will still have both wheels attached when you come back a few hours later.

A trip to Lopez begins with a 45-minute ride on the Washington State Ferries San Juan Island service, departing from the port town of Anacortes, 40 miles south of the Canadian border and 70 miles north of Seattle. Weaving its way through a maze of broccoli-coloured islands in waters where Orca whales can be spotted during the summer months, the journey crosses the invisible frontier between the urban frenzy of Seattle and the soporific rhythms of the Puget Sound, the inland sea in which the San Juan Islands are located . If you are planning on cycling, leave your car in Anacortes. The island’s main accommodation, the Lopez Islander Resort, offers free parking at the Anacortes ferry terminal, while the local bike hire outlet, Lopez Bicycle Works will pick you up from  the island’s tiny ferry dock between May and September and kit you out with a two-wheeled rental. Bring your own bike if you are planning this trip any other time of year.

Upon arrival in Lopez, most people slip into a different mindset. While none of the San Juan Islands could be described as clamorous, “Slow-pez”, as the island has been honourably christened, is even more chilled-out than its neighbours. Bereft of the tetchy “no trespassing” signs that characterise intensely private Shaw Island next door, the bonhomie on Lopez is natural -- and contagious. Within minutes of leaving the ferry dock, visiting cyclists will encounter the customary “Lopezian wave”, a cordial acknowledgement offered by local motorists that involves lifting two fingers off the steering wheel in an energy-saving greeting. The ice can be broken further in the small selection of shops and coffee bars that pepper tiny Lopez Village, where opinionated residents happily incorporate outsiders into their feisty banter. Topics range from rising property prices to the best spots to forage for stinging nettles for a sustainable dinner.

If you can prise yourself away from the chitchat, circumnavigating Lopez’s teardrop-shaped landmass can easily be done in a couple of hours, though outings invariably get stretched to a full day. Aside from spontaneous delays (a busker in a tie-dye T-shirt strumming Pink Floyd songs or stall-holders swapping roast lamb recipes in the local farmer’s market), there is a small vineyard plying crisp, dry white wines, a selection of esoteric art studios displaying glassworks and metal sculpture, and the bird-watching bonanza of Spencer Spit State Park where two sand spits have formed a wildlife-rich lagoon where everything from ospreys to otters can be spotted.

Lopez’s popularity among cyclists stems from its flatness as much as friendliness. In the mountain-studded Pacific Northwest punctuated by such volcanic behemoths as Mount Rainier (14,411ft) and Mount Baker (10,781ft) -- the latter clearly visible above Lopez’s lazy pastures -- the island’s gradients are relatively minor, and a well-established bike culture means motorists give cyclists plenty of breathing space. The community even has its own bike race, the defiantly non-competitive Tour de Lopez where contestants race for burgers rather than a yellow jersey during the last weekend in April each year.

Lopez’s rural and coastal vistas have cyclists reaching regularly for their brake levers. There is a comforting gentleness to its agricultural landscape, less populated than nearby San Juan Island, the capital of the archipelago, and less precipitous than its northern neighbour, Orcas Island. Lowering the rural paranoia further is the lack of any dangerous critters and the fact that you are never more than a short pedal from the nearest bed and breakfast; The Edenwild Inn and the MacKaye Harbor Inn are two well-established favourites, and the latter has the added bonus of free mountain bike use. A patchwork of verdant fields is bordered by the kind of brambly hedgerows that would not look out of place in southern England. Cars, though common, drive slowly, and there is not a hint of road rage. Instead, Lopez’s fieriness is stored up and released en masse every Fourth of July during an Independence Day fireworks display that is, allegedly, one of the loudest in the state. 

When you run out of Lopez miles (pedal thirty and you will have covered the island’s highlights), numerous restaurants beckon. The most sought-after local delicacy is Lopez Island lamb, an item that finds its way onto the menus of establishments such as the gourmet Bay Café in Lopez Village. The Love Dog Café  specialises in locally-caught salmon and maintains a strong “fresh and organic” ethos. Holly B’s Bakery  leads the early morning coffee and pastry run, luring in the hungry with the aroma of freshly baked rolls.  

The San Juan Island boat-bicycle voyage does not have to end on Lopez though. Regular ferries connect to Orcas Island (30 to 45 minutes) and San Juan Island (80 minutes), both home to handy bike rental outlets and replete with dreamy rural lanes brimming with good old-fashioned romance.