Congratulations. You’ve made it over the canal — your bike survived the trip, too — and you’re ready to unwind with a ride on Cape Cod. But first, a few words of advice.
A pickup truck that I see from time to time on the back roads of Cape Cod sports a bumper sticker that reads, “I am not on your vacation.” Translation: You may be enjoying a needed break from everyday rules, but this is a work day for me and I don’t have time for daydreamers. So even though you may be on holiday, pay attention to your surroundings and follow the rules of the road. You can’t have fun on your bike if you’re not safe on your bike.
Whether you are biking on Cape Cod or in downtown Boston, make sure to ride with the flow of traffic; do not be a salmon heading upstream. You must use a set of lights if you bike at night: It’s the law. Skip the iPod; you’ll miss the sound of shorebirds, peepers, and that motorist behind you. Finally — and people tire of hearing it but it can be life-saving advice — wear a helmet. If I hadn’t been wearing one a few years ago, I probably would not be here.
Just before heading out on your ride, use the ABC rule to inspect your bicycle: A) Make sure there is air in your tires; B) Test the brakes to ensure that they will stop you when a pickup truck that is not on your vacation cuts you off, and C) Check that your bike’s cranks and cogs turn smoothly when you pedal.
The scenic roads on Cape Cod are frequently narrow and winding. Some of the best roads down here are back roads that twist, turn, and have limited visibility. For this reason, I always use a bicycle mirror so I can keep my eye on what’s coming behind me. Mine is attached to my helmet, but a mirror clamped on your handlebars will do the trick, too.
One of the great things about the Cape is the sandy beaches: miles and miles of shoreline, most of it readily accessible by bike. The downside of all of this sand is that it can work its way into your gears and your chain, which will wear out your parts. Fortunately, the antidote is simple: Make sure that your bicycle chain is clean and well lubed.
Most of the roads on the Cape are flat or gently rolling. On some days, days that I’d like to bottle up and save, the biking is so good that it seems like every road flows downhill. But the Cape juts out from the coastline, so it is often buffeted by high winds, especially in the afternoon. With the wind at your back you can imagine yourself racing in the Tour de France. But turn into a steady headwind and your dream will be blown to bits. So plan ahead: if you have a choice, head into the wind as you start riding and use the wind to push you home on the trip back.
A midride swim is one of life’s great pleasures. Sure, there are occasional sharks on the beaches of Chatham, but they tend to go after fat seals and incautious surfers. And with a bicycle, parking at one of the 115 Cape Cod beaches is a breeze. So throw a towel, some sunblock, and a snack into your backpack and explore along the Cape’s 559.6 miles of coastline.
If your idea of the perfect vacation involves shopping, then a bicycle with a basket or a trailer is the perfect way to scout the local stores and haul your trophies home. You’ll avoid the double hassle of traffic and parking. Many town centers along the Cape are increasingly bicycle friendly. My favorite bakery, Pie in the Sky Bakery & Cafe in Woods Hole, has a pump and a set of Allen wrenches chained to their bike rack, for anyone who needs a little mechanical help.
Here are just a few of my favorite rides on Cape Cod: the bike path from Orleans to Wellfleet, the bike trail from Vineyard Haven to Edgartown, the roads that cut through Nickerson State Park, and the east side of the Cape Cod Canal. On my bicycle I am never lost, though sometimes I explore a little more than I’d planned. And even if I were to get lost and end up far from home, I can always log on to capecodtransit.org to find a bus that will bring me (and my bicycle) home. It may involve a wait or a transfer or two, but it’s a whole lot easier than calling a friend to come pick you up.
When is the best time to ride on the Cape? Early in the morning means you won’t need sunscreen, though after dark the fireflies come out. The only time I would discourage a ride is high noon, when the sun can bake the road and broil an unprotected cyclist at any speed.
Sadly, there is no tunnel connecting the Cape to the mainland, and unless you hop on the Cape Flyer train with your bicycle (there’s no charge for bringing your bicycle, but space is limited and it’s first-come, first-served), you will have to deal with traffic coming over the bridge.
But if you are coming by car and do a little planning, all of the aggravation from a long drive will fade the moment you jump on your bike saddle.
Put streamers on your handlebars and a baseball card in your spokes. Smile and have fun. Remember: You’re on a bicycle on Cape Cod. And even if you’re not on vacation, what could be better?Jonathan Simmons can be reached at JonathanSimmons@me.com.