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Two Wheels, Five Journeys

Summer’s on, bring on the bicycle

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Few things conjure summer memories like riding a bicycle. Coasting down a hill, sun on your shoulders, wind in your face, is as close as you come to flying without wings. With winding country roads, New England is the perfect place to relive childhood bicycling adventures, so ditch the gas-guzzler and take any of the following five bicycle rambles through small towns, past farms, orchards, and ice cream stands, over rivers, through woods, and along the craggy coastline. Each is accessible by MBTA commuter rail. Bicycles are permitted on trains any time except weekday rush hours.

Cape Ann Escape
The Cape Ann Escape circumnavigates the rocky peninsula on Massachusetts’ North Shore and follows the rugged coastline for nearly 22 miles. The ride begins in downtown Gloucester and passes through East Gloucester, Rockport, and Annisquam. Opportunities for side trips abound; visit Rocky Neck Avenue — home to the Rocky Neck Art Colony, the Eastern Point Lighthouse, or Halibut Point State Park, a former quarry that is now a 54-acre park. Coves and beaches provide lovely spots for lunch, naps, or a dip in the cold Atlantic.

Length: 22 miles
Terrain: Flat to slightly rolling coastal route
Directions are found here.

Topsfield Tour
This ride begins in Ipswich, a historic North Shore community that boasts more examples of pre–Revolutionary War architecture than any other place in America, and goes through the towns of Wenham and Topsfield. The winding backcountry roads pass horse farms, country estates, ponds, marshes, and the Ipswich River, home to the state’s largest Audubon sanctuary. If you’re a history buff, check out the Heard House or the Whipple House, two First Period (built between 1675 and 1725) homes that were converted into museums during the late-19th and mid-20th centuries. In Wenham, visit the Wenham Museum, which has an extensive collection of dolls, toys, and games from the 1800s. More about Ipswich is here.

Length: 23 miles
Terrain: Flat and rolling hills
Directions are found here. 

South Shore Exploration
The South Shore Exploration begins along a rugged coastline dotted with historic seaside mansions, travels past grassy wetlands and through a large state park, and ends at a popular swimming beach. In Scituate, the Maritime and Irish Mossing Museum is a nice stop; fresh spring water in the 3,500-acre Wompatuck State Park in Hingham is great for empty water bottles, and the antique Paragon Carousel in Hull is a moving respite. Each town offers a sampling of 17th-century New England history, from the Scituate Lighthouse to Hingham’s Old Ship Church. Allow a full day to explore.

Length: 26 miles
Terrain: Gently rolling coastal route, a few hills, suburban and rural landscapes
Directions are found here.  

Great Brook Farm Ramble
A route rich in history, the Great Brook Farm Ramble takes riders past Walden Pond, into downtown Concord, and through Great Brook Farm State Park. Walden Pond, where Henry David Thoreau retreated from civilization in 1845 to write his famous book, is a popular swimming hole and part of Walden Pond State Reservation, 462 acres of protected open space. In Concord, riders pass the Old North Bridge historical site and the Concord Battleground, where on the morning of April 19, 1775, British regulars clashed with colonial militia and minutemen, igniting the Revolutionary War. Halfway through the ride, cyclists come to Great Brook Farm State Park, 935 acres of woods, fields, and wetlands. An interpretive dairy farm and ice cream stand are in the center of the park.

Length: 30 miles
Terrain: Rolling hills with no climbs longer than half a mile
Directions are found here.

Cranberry Country Adventure
This ride begins in historic Plymouth and cruises past cranberry bogs before weaving through 16,000 acres of Myles Standish State Forest — an eerie landscape made up almost entirely of small pines, scrub oak trees, and sand. The second half of the route is along the coastline, skirting beaches and homes, before looping back into Plymouth proper. Numerous side trips are available, including Plymouth Rock, Plimoth Plantation, the Jenney Grist Mill, and the Mayflower II.

Length: 50 miles
Terrain: Rolling terrain, with no major climbs
Directions are found here. 

Before setting out, consider purchasing a road map. Rubel BikeMaps, a Cambridge-based company, publishes regional bicycle maps that include recommended bicycle trails and roads for cycling, as well as locations of bicycle shops, bed-and-breakfast inns, swimming holes, and ice cream stands.

Bicycles can be rented from Landry’s Bicycles, 890 Commonwealth Ave., for $35 for the first day, $15 for each additional day (includes helmet and lock). Call 617-232-0446 for more information. Bicycle rentals are also available at Boston Ski Market, 860 Commonwealth Ave., for $25 a day (includes helmet and lock). Call 617-731-6100 for more information.

Photos by Vicky Waltz.

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu.

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