With lots of bike trails and a pitch as gentle as a summer breeze, the Cape is a great place to explore on two wheels.
Not long from now on a Friday morning in August, Kevin Leach will climb on his bike in Plymouth and pedal 100 miles to Provincetown.
He and a few friends will cycle hard for six or seven hours. They’ll cross the Bourne Bridge, traverse the Service Road, follow back roads to the Cape Cod Rail Trail in Dennis, and pass Cahoon Hollow Beach in Wellfleet.
From there, the group will take the back roads in Truro and finally get into Provincetown, feeling like kings of the road as they breeze down Commercial Street. There, they will stop for lunch—and a quick change of clothes—at the Crown & Anchor.
“That’s a great day,” Leach says of this trip he makes every August, usually on a Friday because the bike paths are less crowded. “The whole thing is great. It’s so different throughout. … Probably the most memorable part is the end of the bike path all the way to Provincetown. The scenery and the whole idea of being out on the Outer Cape and then heading into Provincetown and being on Commercial Street is fun.”
As you might imagine, Leach’s trip is not for the biking novice, and it certainly is not for anyone new to biking on Cape Cod. But it offers a sampling of most of the biking experiences you can have on Cape Cod: quiet byways, crowded main streets, and protected bike paths.
The Cape Cod landscape, which for the most part is relatively flat, offers biking experiences for almost every level of expertise and appetite for challenge, including off-road biking. From the shore-hugging Shining Sea Bikeway in Falmouth, to the dirt road adventure of riding through conservation land in Barnstable, to the rolling paths tracing kettle holes in Nickerson State Park in Brewster, Cape Cod biking is as varied as its weather can be.
But while the terrain offers an assortment of riding possibilities, there are two constants with biking here: the wind, and during high season, traffic. As a peninsula, the Cape is frequently battered by winds, and if you’re pedaling against Mother Nature, you may be in for more of a workout than you bargained for.
“There is always a breeze on the Cape,” says Leach of Falmouth. “It’s great to have a tailwind, but it’s tough to have a headwind.” He tries to make his rides “wind friendly” by determining which direction it’s blowing from and plotting a ride that keeps the draft at his back.
As for traffic, crowded bikeways—the paths along the Cape Cod Canal during July 4th weekend are a good example—make for slow going. And because the Cape lacks bike lanes on its roads, the traffic congestion common during the heart of the summer can make cycling difficult and possibly dangerous.
Longtime cyclist Stace Beaulieu, who served on the Falmouth Bikeways Committee for six years, gets around that problem by riding early in the morning this time of year. She says this is especially important when it comes to bicycling along Route 6A, the historic, narrow, but especially beautiful two-lane road on the Cape’s north side that winds past old sea captain’s homes, expansive flowering trees, and stunning marsh views. “It’s challenging on roadways,” she says. “You should be relatively experienced to ride the roads.” If you’re inexperienced, check the bike route maps for more rider-friendly trails.
One of the West Falmouth resident’s favorite rides is on the Upper Cape through the Bourne villages of Cataumet, Pocasset, Monument Beach, and Mashnee Island. The route hugs Buzzards Bay, and pedaling along the causeway out to Mashnee Island makes “you feel exposed,” she says. “You’re just kind of out there in the wind.”
“I like those roads,” she says of the route that includes Nashawena Street in West Falmouth, Quaker Road in North Falmouth, and Shore Road through the Bourne villages. “They’re relatively quiet and have somewhat of a rolling nature. You pass a lot of coves and different things to look at—lots of sailboats. And every so often you get a glimpse of the sea.”
Another favorite excursion for her is biking the Cape Cod Marathon route, a 26.2-mile trek through Falmouth that begins and ends on Main Street. (The actual race is run each October.) Painted numbers along the pavement tell you how far you’ve gone throughout the course.
“It’s a great ride for when you don’t want to think that much,” she says.
Those looking for a shorter ride that includes a ferry trip over to Martha’s Vineyard should consider Leach’s suggestion: the 14-mile round-trip route between the Steamship Authority ferry terminal in Oak Bluffs and downtown Edgartown. Bring your bikes over on the ferry or rent one near Oak Bluffs Harbor. Most of the bike trip is on a flat, designated bike path along the water.
“If you’re in halfway decent shape you can do it,” he says.
Donna V. Scaglione is a freelance writer living in Falmouth.
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