Cyclists seek scenic routes, but safety is paramount
Cyclist Jim Hamilton lives in Brunswick but travels to the Falmouth area to ride with the Casco Bay Bicycle Club because their riders ride roads that keep them safe from harm.
“There are much better options than in Brunswick. And we try to choose the safest routes,” Hamilton said.
Now the leader of rides with the club, Hamilton also appreciates that the club’s rides have a ‘no drop’ policy, where riders wait for those at the back. But avoiding the roads of the Midcoast Peninsula is part of the reason he goes where he rides. He is not alone.
“Coastal peninsulas across the state are known to be some of the worst places because they don’t have shoulders,” said Patrick Adams, Maine’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator with the Maine Department of Transportation.
Safety is a major concern for cyclists, whether they use their bikes for recreational purposes or simply for commuting. Maine has averaged two bicycle fatalities since 2015, according to MDOT.
Several Maine communities are taking steps over the next three to four years to make it safer for bikers, Adams said, with improvements in the form of bike lanes, widened shoulders and more bike signs.
Safety improvements are planned for Freeport, Yarmouth and Falmouth. Bike-friendly upgrades are also planned for York, Kittery, Norway, Lewiston and Auburn, among other cities, Adams said.
Last year, the state invested about $3.5 million in self-driving bike projects, Adams said. But when you combine that with walking bike upgrades built into MDOT projects, the statewide average spent on safer walking bike upgrades over the past three years was about 24 to 25 million dollars, he said.
“Ogunquit is kind of the poster child,” Adams said. “They have spent a lot of time and money improving walking and cycling opportunities. It has made a big difference to ride through this area compared to what it was 10 years ago for cyclists.
Adding narrow bike lanes and shoulders has improved cyclist travel, he said. Road markers and new, more visible speed signs to slow traffic on the popular and scenic Shore Road also made it more attractive to drive on.
“Shore Road in Ogunquit is famous among cyclists. This route is now very well marked and cyclists can take a lane (as cyclists say). It’s clearly marked — and the mileage,” said Jerry Morin, owner of Jerry’s Bike Barn in Berwick, who travels to Ogunquit frequently.
Across the state, the favorite road rides of local cycling clubs and bike shop owners are a mix of rolling hills and scenic views, but also roads with shoulders and bike lanes. In a large state where the roads deteriorate in the winter, you sometimes have to hunt to find the right lanes of traffic.
The Casco Bay Bicycle Club, like most bike clubs in Maine, features its favorite routes on its website. A regular favorite starts at Falmouth Community Park and descends to Route 88, where it heads to Cousins Island, then leaves the ocean views behind with a round trip via Yarmouth’s inland roads.
But Casco Bay riders also roam further afield – like along the York coast on Route 103, which is a popular 20-mile round trip among cyclists there, said Scott Berger, owner of Berger’s Bike Shop in York.
There are also many shorter rides along the coast that cyclists prefer.
Benjamin Nadeau, the manager of Wheels N Waves in Wells, sends bike rental customers along Ocean Avenue in Wells to the Wells Beach Pier. From his store on Furbish Road, it’s a family-friendly 7-mile round trip.
“You don’t have to touch Route 1,” Nadeau said.
The MDOT also lists dozens of road trips around the state on the Explore Maine website. Adam recommends driving a road before driving it, to see traffic patterns clearly.
“Some are definitely a lot more relaxing than others. Some are for more experienced riders, who are more comfortable getting into the lane and being in heavier traffic,” Adams said.
Here are several popular road routes recommended by clubs, bike shops and bike enthusiasts:
FRIEBOURG: The western foothills are full of short loop hikes with mountain views and lots of climbing opportunities. For a 12 mile drive out of Fryeburg which is listed on the Explore Maine website, take River Street to Route 113 and turn right. Follow it past the Saco River and area farms to Corn Shop Road. Take a right and head to Route 5 for the return trip – or stop and dip into the Saco River.
HOULTON: Adams, a Houlton native, said the drive along Route 1 from his hometown to Van Buren is better than anyone imagines, especially when you compare it to the Southern Maine version with its fast-paced traffic . In the county, this 75-mile route takes on a very different vibe, with views over farm fields and rolling hills. For a 50 mile ride, exit and return to Mars Hill.
LEWISTON: The Dempsey Challenge routes can be found on the Maine Cycling Club website, including the 25, 50, 65 and 100 mile loops. Starting at Lewiston’s Simard-Payne Memorial Park on the Androscoggin River, the 25-mile route heads to Lincoln Street on River Road where it hugs the river for a few miles before turning inland. It’s a pleasant ride on back roads before returning to River Road for the return trip.
YORK: The 12-mile Nubble Light Ride found on the state’s Explore Maine website departs from York Village on York Road and travels up Route 1A along the coast to Long Beach. Bear right on Nubble Road towards the lighthouse. It’s narrow and windy here, but traffic usually slows down. After driving around the peninsula, turn left onto Ridge Road and return to Route 1A, where you will take a left and return to the village.
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