Biking In Massachusetts Is Awesome

Known more for the hurling expertise of Pedro Martinez, institutions of higher education such as Harvard and the blissful strings of its orchestras, Massachusetts is a New England biking hot spot.

Not that it matters, but the first bike tour I ever did was a Bay State island hopping adventure on Cape Cod. Camping and staying in hostels like the former Coast Guard station on Nantucket, the Cape and its islands are peaceful riding, complete with bike paths and now rail trails.

Cape Cod’s beaches provide a scenic backdrop and cooling off place for bicyclists in Massachusetts. Marty Basch photo.

Bikers smack in Boston can get around the banks of the Charles River on a multi-use path while opportunities about in the hills and mountains of the Berkshires in western Massachusetts.

Cranberry Bogs, Forest
Cranberry bogs and forests are all part of the mostly flat Cape Cod Rail Trail, a 25-mile trek along a former railroad bed. The trail, and be prepared to share it with walkers and skaters, extends from South Wellfleet in the east to Dennis in the west. On the eastern end, the trail is near the Cape Cod National Seashore, which is well worth a visit. Get a copy of the state’s brochure by calling 617-727-3180 or in state at 1-800-831-0569

Bicyclists in the Cambridge area don’t have to go far for a bike path. The 11-mile long Minuteman bike path runs from Cambridge through Arlington, Lexington, and into Bedford. In Lexington, keep on eye out for the Minuteman statue. The common is the site of the American Revolution’s first battle in 1775. Get a brochure at 781-861-1199.

In western Massachusetts, give the 9-mile long Norwottuck Rail Trail a try. The paved path extends between Northampton and Amherst. The highlight of the ride is crossing the Connecticut River on a half-mile bridge.

The Massachusetts seaside community of Gloucester has been in the public eye recently due to the book and movie “The Perfect Storm.” Riders wanting to sample the Boston area’s North Shore along Cape Ann can do so during a 22-mile loop ride from Gloucester. The circuit mainly uses Routes 127 A and 127. To give directions here would just be confusing. The best bet is to get it from Paul Thomas’ “Best Bike Rides in New England” book. The ride provides a glimpse of Cape Ann’s rocky shores and the rugged mariner now synonymous with Gloucester.

Mount Greylock: Highest Point
Another rugged piece of the Bay State can be found far from the Atlantic, in western Massachusetts. There stands Mount Greylock, the highest point in the state at 3,491 feet. What’s so good about it from a cyclist’s perspective is that a paved road graces its summit, making it possible to ride there. But it’s a grunt. Imagine climbing 2,800 feet in about eight miles. The average grade is 6 percent. Put it in granny gear and start spinning.

There are a couple of ways to get to the summit, but the popular way is out of Williamstown, which is about a 12-mile ride to the summit, making it a 24-mile up and down adventure. From Williamstown, ride on Main Street to Lucy Road, Notch Road and on to Greylock Mountain Road. Even before seeing the sign for the Mount Greylock State Reservation, your quads will know there’s a hill. Up top is a lodge run by the Appalachian Mountain Club, a Boston-based hiking organization. Take a look around before enjoying the fruits of your labor on a scintillating downhill.

There is a wealth of information out there for Bay State riders. One ubiquitous resource is the Bicycle Coalition of Massachusetts, a cycling advocacy group. The group’s web site (www.bikemass.org) is rife with links to places to ride, cycling regulations and just about everything there is for bikers. Another stop on the web is the state’s tourism page (www.mass-vacation.com), which has some suggestions for riders. Bike maps are essential and Cambridge-based Rubel Bike Maps (www.bikemaps.com) turn out several. They’ve got maps for several regions in the state from the Cape to the Berkshires. The maps show bike-friendly routes and also point out bike necessities from bike shops to ice cream shops to where to stay.

Like books? Author Howard Stone has a couple of books on pedaling in the Land of the Minutemen. He’s got two in Globe Pequot’s Short Bike Ride series, one on eastern Massachusetts and the other on central and western areas. Robert Morse has his “25 Mountain Bike Tours in Massachusetts” (Backcountry) effort while Nancy Jane has penned “Bicycle Touring in the Pioneer Valley” (University of Massachusetts).

Marty Basch is the author of several books, including “Against the Wind,” a Maine to Alaska bicycling adventure. He is also a Boston Globe correspondent.

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