Cyclist Jim Hamilton lives in Brunswick but travels to the Falmouth area to ride with the Casco Bay Bicycle Club because their cyclists travel on roads that help keep them out of harm’s way.
“There are a lot better options than in Brunswick. And we try to pick the safest routes,” Hamilton said.
Now a ride leader with the club, Hamilton also likes the fact the club’s rides have a “no drop” policy, where riders wait for those at the back. But avoiding the peninsula roads of the Midcoast is part of the reason he travels to where he rides. He’s not alone.
“The coastal peninsulas throughout the state are notorious for being 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 top concern for cyclists, whether they use their bikes for recreation or simply to get around. Maine has had an average of two bicycle fatalities since 2015, according to the MDOT.
Several communities in Maine are taking measures over the next three to four years to make it safer for cyclists, Adams said, with upgrades in the form of bike lanes, expanded shoulders and more bike signs.
Safety enhancements are planned for Freeport, Yarmouth and Falmouth. Bike-friendly improvements also are planned for York, Kittery, Norway, Lewiston and Auburn, among other towns, Adams said.
Last year the state invested around $3.5 million in stand-alone bicycle-pedestrian projects, Adams said. But when you combine that with bike-ped improvements that were embedded in MDOT projects, the average spent statewide on safer bike-pedestrian upgrades each of the past three years was about $24-25 million, he said.
“Ogunquit is kind of the poster child,” Adams said. “They’ve spent a lot of time and money working to improve the walkability and bikeability. It’s made a big difference going through that area compared to how it was 10 years ago for cyclists.”
The addition of narrow bike lanes and shoulders improved travel for cyclists there, he said. Markers on the road and new, more visible speed signs to slow traffic on the popular and scenic Shore Road has made it more attractive for riding, as well.
“Shore Road in Ogunquit is famous among cyclists. That lane is now marked up very well right now and riders can take a lane, (as cyclists say). That’s clearly marked – and the mileage,” said Jerry Morin, owner of Jerry’s Bike Barn in Berwick, who frequently rides to Ogunquit.
Across the state, the favorite road rides of area cycling clubs and bike-shop owners are a mix of hills and scenic views, but also roads with shoulders and bike lanes. In a large state where roads deteriorate in winter, sometimes you’ve got to hunt to find the good travel lanes.
The Casco Bay Bicycle Club, like most bike clubs around Maine, showcase their preferred routes on their website. One regular favorite starts at Falmouth Community Park and winds down to Route 88, where it heads out to Cousins Island and then, leaves the ocean views behind with a return trip through Yarmouth’s inland roads.
But the Casco Bay riders also wanders farther afield – such as along the York coast down Route 103, which is popular 20-mile out-and-back ride among cyclists down there, said Scott Berger, owner of Berger’s Bike Shop in York.
There are many shorter rides along the coast that cyclists prefer, as well.
Benjamin Nadeau, the manager at Wheels N Waves in Wells, sends bike renting customers along Ocean Avenue in Wells toward the jetty at Wells Beach. From his shop on Furbish Road, it’s a 7-mile round trip ride that’s ideal for families.
“You don’t have to touch Route 1,” Nadeau said.
The MDOT also lists dozens of road rides around the state on the Explore Maine website. Adams recommends driving a road before riding it, to clearly see the traffic patterns.
“Some are definitely much more relaxing than others. Some are for more experienced riders, who are more comfortable taking the lane and being in heavier traffic,” Adams said.
Here are several popular road routes recommended by clubs, bike shops and cycling enthusiasts:
FRYEBURG: The western foothills are ripe with short loop rides that offer mountain views and plenty of climbing. For a 12-mile ride out of Fryeburg that’s listed on the Explore Maine website, take River Street to Route 113 and go right. Follow it past the Saco River and area farms up to Corn Shop Road. Take that right and head to Route 5 for the return trip – or stop and take a dip in the Saco River.
HOULTON: Adams, who hails from Houlton, said the ride along Route 1 from his hometown to Van Buren is better than anyone would imagine, especially if you compare it to southern Maine’s version with its fast-moving traffic. In The County, this 75-mile route takes on a very different vibe, with views of farm fields and rolling hills. For a 50-mile ride take it out and back to Mars Hill.
LEWISTON: The Dempsey Challenge routes can be found on the Maine Cycling Club’s website, including the 25-, 50-, 65-, and 100-mile loops. Leaving from Lewiston’s Simard-Payne Memorial Park beside the Androscoggin River, the 25-mile route heads out Lincoln Street onto River Road where it flanks the river for a few miles before turning inland. It’s a pleasant ride on back roads before circling back to River Road for the return trip.
YORK: The 12-mile Nubble Light Ride found on the state’s Explore Maine website heads out of York Village on York Road and up Route 1A along the coast to Long Beach. Take a right on Nubble Road toward the lighthouse. It’s narrow and windy here, but traffic generally slows to a crawl. After circumnavigating the peninsula, go left on Ridge Road and head back toward Route 1A, where you’ll take a left and ride back toward the village.