What to Do

Biking and Trails

With gasoline approaching $4 a gallon and traffic that seems to rival New York City at rush hour, Nantucket Island would seem the perfect place for visitors to take their transportation into their own hands, or at least their own feet. And thousands do every day, trading the inconvenience and expense of automobiles for the freedom of the island’s many excellent bike trails.

And what could be better than having to make a choice when there’s no possibility for error. That about sums up the situation facing visitors looking for a place to ride. On an island renowned for its beauty, every possible turn brings you to someplace beautiful.

Nantucket has already built an extensive network of bike trails, one that continues to grow this year. The bike trails offer even the most inexperienced riders a chance to see the island free from the worries of motorized traffic.

A couple of ground rules are in order. Bicycles must follow the same traffic rules that apply to vehicles. The roads in town are narrow, filled with traffic and not much fun. The happiest riders are those who head out of town the quickest. Helmets are recommended for all riders, but required for those under 16 years old.

Harvey S.Young, owner of Young’s Bike Shop, says they encourage all riders to wear helmets and provide them free of charge. Only about half of the adult riders choose to wear helmets, however.

If you are renting bikes, there are several reputable companies that can offer well maintained bikes, set up specifically for island riding. Most of these bikes fall under the general heading of comfort bikes. They are generally fitted with comfortable seats and handle bars that allow for upright riding. Most shops also offer hybrids, bikes that offer some of the features of mountain bikes, such as wider, more aggressive tires, shock absorbers and special gearing.

James Hatcher, manager of the Nantucket Bike Shop, was a competitive mountain biker in his native United Kingdom. His shop offers mountain bikes for those who want the added performance.

Make sure that the bike is properly fitted. Bikes come in several frame sizes for men and women and a properly fitted bike could be the difference between a pleasant ride to Surfside, or another vacation nightmare tale.

The bike shops can also handle families of all shapes and sizes. For the under 35 pound set, bike seats offer a free ride behind mom or dad. Babies must be old enough to hold their heads up with the weight of a bike helmet, so some of the tiniest family members might not be ready to ride. For an older child, or two, there are trailers that fit on the back of their parents bikes. Youngsters who may be old enough to contribute some pedal power, but not ready to tackle the traffic can be accommodated on a contraption that can convert any single bike into a bicycle built for two. Of course older children, able to ride on their own will have a choice of frame and wheel sizes to choose from.

If you have your own bike, by all means bring it along. The main ferry lines will transport bikes at an additional charge. The local airlines will fly your pet, but unfortunately will not fly your bike.

But even many bike owners find it advantageous to rent on the island. For one thing, you are getting properly maintained bikes, built exclusively for island riding. And a huge plus is that most rental shops offer free roadside service. If you’d rather not find yourself performing bike repairs on your valuable vacation time, renting may be just the ticket.

Once you have your bike you are set for adventure. The first stop ought to be for provisions. You will need water and a light snack. Once out of town the places offering refreshment are quite limited, so it’s best that you stock up first.

The good news is you are not really going to have to worry about hills. The island is only 110 feet or so at its highest, so you are just not going to see any really long uphills. A bigger concern is the wind. You might not notice a 10 or 15 mile an hour tail wind on your way out, but after a long day at the beach, you certainly will notice the same breeze and a headwind on the ride back.

Make sure you have a decent map. It’s a small island, but sitting on a bicycle, it’s not that small. It’s better to make sure you are clear on your route so that you can avoid traffic snarls and cobblestone streets.

Virtually all the rental shops offer maps of one sort or another, but Young’s bike shop deserves special recognition. They have been producing a map since the 1930s and currently offer an excellent map designed specifically for bike riders.

If you are in Young’s shop check out the old map mounted on the wall by the cash register. It was published when Harvey Young’s grandfather ran the shop. Harvey bought it on E-Bay a couple of years back. He’s not exactly sure the date it was printed, but is sure it was prior to World War II. One of the photos shows the old steam ferry Nobska docked at Steamship Wharf.

Suggested rides

Harvey Young of Young’s Bike Shop and James Hatcher of Nantucket Bike Shop offered some of their favorite routes.

Harvey calls this one the Triple Crown. In one ride of approximately 15 miles, you get to see Nantucket Harbor, Nantucket Sound and the Atlantic Ocean. From town you follow S. Beach Street to Easton Street and out to Brant Point. You may want to stay there all day. Plenty of people do. If you want to go further, follow Hubert Avenue to the entrance to Jetties Beach. Again, stop there if you’d like or turn left and then right onto North Beach St. Your first left will be Cobblestone Hill. OK, OK, so there one hill, but this one is cool. At the top turn left and then right and then right again onto Cliff Road. Follow Cliff Road, and then the Cliff Road bike path to Dionis Beach from Dionis, head back Eel Point Road. Take the Madaket Road bike path out to Madaket Beach and the Atlantic Ocean. The wimps among us will be happy to hear you can catch a ride back on the shuttle bus, if you must. The buses can carry a couple of bikes on outside racks.

James Hatcher offers this ride to Altar Rock for more aggressive riders looking for some adventure. Head out the Polpis Bike path. Watch for a dirt road on right just after the Nantucket Life Saving Museum. This ride along hard packed sand will bring to the Altar rock, at one time thought to be the highest point on the island. As it turns out both Sankaty Head and Folger Hill are higher, but the ride to Altar Rock is more than worth it. One note about offroad riding. Avoid soft sand at all costs. It’s the quickest way to see the inside of Cottage Hospital, not a trip to right home about.

Another off road trail will bring the hardy cyclists to Hummock Pond Beach. Follow Milk Street out to Hummock Pond Road. You will leave the pavement near the end. Stay to the right to reach the pond, or to the left to reach the beach.

For the less adventurous, both Harvey and James recommend the ride to Surfside. It is about three and a half mile along the Surfside bike path and more often than not, you will be returning with a southwesterly tail wind for the ride back.

Bicycling is a great way to see the island.

Inquirer and Mirror photo