Biking on Martha’s Vineyard

“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.” — Ernest Hemingway

Among the many reasons why a bicycle is the best way to get around Martha’s Vineyard is that, at least on the eastern side of the island where you are likely to spend most of your time, there are very few challenging hills. Combine that with ample bike trails, many along spectacular coastal views, and then think about the expense of bringing a car on the ferry, just to deal with horrible Vineyard traffic (we’re called Massholes for a reason, and the Vineyard is among the worst driving conditions in the Commonwealth). There are a lot of reasons why a bike is your best choice, but there are some things you should know.

[Editor: Martha’s Vineyard Bike Rental’s notes that they pick up and deliver anywhere on Martha’s Vineyard. ]

What if I can’t bring my own bike?

I live close enough that I’ve always just brought my own bike. That said, Anderson’s Bike Rentals is about a one-block walk from the Oak Bluffs ferry, will deliver to and pick up from the Island Inn, and has wonderful give-away bike maps of the Island.  No matter what you do, get one of these maps.  Another convenient choice is Martha’s Bike Rentals.  They are about a block away from the Vineyard Haven ferry, although I don’t believe they will deliver to the hotel.  Both rent by either the day or the week.

What kind of bike will work best?

You are on an island.  An island with sandy beaches.  Those bike trails I mentioned?  There are lots of sandy patches.  You have a Bianchi road bike with slick tires?  That is a really, really bad choice.  We’ve had people get hurt by sandy patches.  Don’t spend your workshop at the hospital (we’ve had that too).  Get something with nice fat tires.  Your goal is to see the sights anyway, not go as fast as you can.

I don’t like helmets. I never wore one as a kid, and nothing bad happened to me.

Like I said, we’re called Massholes for a reason.  And sandy patches.  And rental bikes that you are not used to.  And lots of other things.  I’ve had a cop hand me back a helmet that was split clean in half when my head hit the pavement.  Wear a helmet.

Anything else?

Rental bikes don’t come with lights.  Spend five bucks ahead of time and get a clip-on light, or a reflective vest, or better still, spend ten bucks and get both.   And use the water bottle cage – water is your friend.

If I get a bike, where should I go?

The Island Inn is right about halfway between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown.  Both towns are technically within walking distance, but I’d rather ride than walk.  You definitely don’t want to park in either town.  If you want to escape the hotel (and you will), you want to ride.

In Oak Bluffs itself, you want to ride out to Methodist Munchkinland.  You aren’t supposed to ride through it, and really, don’t be that kind of biker.  Get off and walk those blocks.  You also want to ride north out of Oak Bluffs to the East Chop Lighthouse.  Further on, you’ll find yourself in Vineyard Haven.

There is a rather nice State Forest right in the middle of the island.  If you are ever here for a vacation, you should check it out.  But your time is limited, and this is maybe the least interesting of the cool rides.

If you ride out to Edgartown, you are right next to the Chappaquiddick Ferry.  This is my favorite ride, but you do need to know some things ahead of time.  Not only is Chappaquiddick pretty deserted, but a little ways past the ferry, the road stops being paved, and starts being sand.  That road bike with slicks I told you not to bring?  You absolutely don’t want it on Chappy.   I ride a hybrid, and there are times I’ve had to get off and walk.  Chappy is what big fat wide tires were made for.  And even with fat tires, use caution.

A little ways down the sand road you will come to Mytoi, a Japanese-style garden now open to the public.  Make it to the end of the road and you will find yourself at Cape Poge.  Cape Poge is where that unpleasant thing that happened on Chappaquiddick happened.  It is also one of the most beautiful beaches in New England.

Any rides I shouldn't do?

If it is still open, your staff will probably organize a trip to the Menemsha Bite.  The Bite has the best fried seafood you will ever have.  It is also in Menemsha, on the western side of the island.  And on the map, it doesn’t look all that far.  But those nice flat trails on the eastern side give way to steep hills on the western side.  And if you have taken what looked like the shortest route, you will come in to Menemsha and find that the ferry you need to get across a 300-foot bay is closed for the season, and you have a 20-mile detour back the way you came over those steep hills.  And some cell carriers don’t have coverage that far out.  Don’t bike to Menemsha.

Anywhere else?

If you go to town to drink adult beverages, I know that it goes without saying that a bike is a bad way to get back.

That's it?

Well, biking is a risky activity.  As I said, cell coverage can be spotty, and you should not assume that staff will be your SAG wagon if you find yourself in trouble.  The instructors and staff of Viable Paradise assume that you know and understand the risks that biking entails, as well as your own physical capabilities.  All information above is presented for informational purposes, and should not be taken as an endorsement of any particular activity for any given person.  No rides, even rides where instructors or staff may be present, should be viewed as an event either organized or endorsed by Viable Paradise.  Also, you can look here for someone else’s writeup, which has a bit more info on the western side of the island.

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