By Kim Covell
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a bike. My first was a Schwinn Sting Ray, the kind with the banana seat, sissy bar and the tall handlebars. I’m pretty sure there were streamers leaking from the bar ends. A few years later, it was a big deal to get a 10-speed bike with drop bars, further opening up more distant places in the neighborhood.
Now, I’ve got a road bike, a mountain bike, a fitness bike and a tandem bike, each of which I ride with some regularity, some more than others. I put the most miles on my road bike, have the most fun on my mountain bike, do errands on my fitness bike, and have fun with a friend on the tandem.
On the East End there are myriad scenic and, sometimes, for me, challenging routes on the North and South forks, plus endless trails in the woods. I have the good fortune to live in the heart of it, but I have many friends who think nothing of driving out for a ride or, for the truly obsessed, riding their bike out here to meet up for a ride. Like so many, with last year’s shutdown as the pandemic moved in, I put in more miles, along with many more who have discovered the joy (and maybe some of the pain) of cycling.
Why do we love it? My friend Andy Drake summed it up perfectly: “It’s the perfect speed to see the world.”
It really is.
Drake, 34, is back in the saddle again after open heart surgery earlier this year. Before that, he’d regularly clock 100 to 200 miles a week, often commuting between his home in Southampton and his job as a land manager in East Hampton. And get this: it takes him the same amount of time to pedal the 16 miles as it does to drive the car. “I’d rather spend a good hour on a bike than a bad hour in a car,” said Drake.
Last year, he did two 200-mile rides to Manhattan and back, riding the roads to the north on the way in, looping Central Park and then taking the southern route home.
As a land manager, Drake used to walk or run the trails to check for downed trees and other maintenance issues but now, when he’s out riding his mountain bike he gets it done more efficiently. Rest assured, his skills on the MTB are as good as the road bike; he rode the entire Paumanok Path, 129 miles, in 25 hours.
Drake is not alone in being as comfortable on a mountain bike as he is on a road bike. Loreta Krivickiene is something of a legend to her followers on Strava [a social media app for athletes). Known simply as Loreta K, she first started cycling less than three years ago but her athletic gifts quickly allowed her to clock rides in excess of 50 miles on a regular basis. Last year, the eyes of her Strava followers popped when she looped around the roads and lanes of Suffolk County for 500 miles in 27 hours.
Naturally shy, she’s been a bit overwhelmed lately with all the attention. The bottom line, she said, is that she loves to ride. And it’s clear she’s great at it. A year after getting on a bike, she took to the dirt and did her first sanctioned cyclocross race in Delmar, New York. Earlier this year, she rode her mountain bike to take fourth overall and second in her age group at the Super Cup in Rainey Park in Queens.
“I don’t have my favorite road, route or trail to ride,” she said. “You tell me a location, time and I’ll be there; it doesn’t matter if it’s a slow or fast ride, road or trail. I’ve never said no to any group rides yet.”
While Krivickiene uses group rides to hone her cycling skills, and where she finds advice, support and encouragement, she slows down long enough for a ride from her home in Hampton Bays to appreciate a sunset on Dune Road where she often goes for a recovery ride after a weekend of long hauls.
A word here about organized road cycling groups. Most adhere to their own rating system. The fastest riders are usually rated A+ (moving at least 21 miles per hour on flat roads) but it varies by group. The speeds go down with B riders averaging about 18 mph and C riders around 15 to 16 mph on the flats. This information is important because if you can’t keep up, most likely you’ll be left on your own, especially if you fall behind while riding with A riders. B-groups and below may have a “regroup” area where all the cyclists catch up with one another.
Someone like Krivickiene relishes rides with A+ cyclists because they “push you to your limits” she said.
Mountain biking has its own classification system, usually in terms of beginner, intermediate and advanced. In general, the groups are the same but at half the speed of road. For instance, an A group cyclist would average about 10 to 12 mph and be considered advanced. I have yet to join a group of cyclists at a trail where the fastest riders drop the slowest (me) and won’t wait for you at a catch-up point. That said, if you join an advanced group and you can’t keep up, be prepared to be left behind — just like the spandex-clad counterparts on the road.
“My friends leave ya for dead,” said Darren Feller, owner of Carl Hart Bicycles in Middle Island, which has an organized mountain bike team. “To be clear,” he added, “THEY would, not me.”
Getting on a bike doesn’t always have to be about speed or threading the needle on a single-track mountain bike trail. A mosey to the beach counts. A cruise around the neighborhood counts. Pedaling to the coffee shop counts. It’s all about getting out and seeing the world from another perspective.
And then there are fatties. Fattie bikes have super wide tires, usually 4 to 5 inches, making it possible to slog through sand. On the East End this is an incredible alternative where you can ride the coastline until you get tripped up by a jetty or a seapoose.
Patrick Kelly of Huntington said that all his rides on the North Fork “include beer or wine.” He was only half kidding. He posts on a cycling Facebook page that he will be at a certain spot for a ride and usually 10 to 20 people show up, most recently for a ride from Mattituck, on the beach, all the way to Greenport and, of course, the Greenport Harbor Brewery. Group rides, under Kelly’s leadership, move along at a “party pace.”
Kelly has the right idea: cycling should be fun, which could be about pushing your limits, shredding a trail or spinning your wheels on the beach until you get to a brewery.
Go find your ride!
Hitting The Road
It’s always easy to start from your own home but when cycling with others, there is often a starting point. For me, a frequent start is Flying Point Beach in Water Mill and then head to the Shinnecock Inlet at the end of Dune Road.
A route from anywhere that takes you over the Ponquogue Bridge is one you’ll never forget and then you can stop at the beach where the snack bar is open in the summer.
High on my list of longer rides is one I call “Two Ferries and a Muffin,” which starts at the Long Beach parking lot in Noyac, to South Ferry bound for Shelter Island, a half loop of the island to the North Ferry, and disembarking in Greenport for another bunch of miles to Orient Point State Park. The aforementioned muffin was obtained at Star’s Café bakery in Shelter Island Heights on the return trip. A word of warning, whenever you park at a beach, be sure you have the proper permit if you don’t plan to be open before the beach does (usually 9 a.m.).
Alternatively, park at either ferry terminal and walk on and then spend the day exploring Shelter Island; you won’t be disappointed. Make sure you get over to Ram’s Head Island and Reel Point … kick off your cycling shoes and take a walk on the beach here.
North Fork offers a number of options too. I’ve started at Indian Island from Hubbard Avenue and taken Peconic Bay Boulevard as far as it will go, and sometimes continuing on the Main Road. There are beaches to roll through along the way. If you make it as far as Mattituck, you definitely must stop at the North Fork Donut Company.
That route is a favorite of Thomas Houghton too. He added that from the Main Road he will “take a quick right onto New Suffolk.” “It’s a nice route consisting of very scenic backroads that are relatively quiet in the morning. There are some great water views along the way as well,” he said.
“Another good route is to hop on Oregon Road with a quick stint on 48 for a link up with Soundview Avenue. It pops out right near Town Beach for a great mid-ride stop. You can’t really go wrong cycling on the North Fork. I’d stay away from Sound Avenue for obvious reasons and stick to the quiet backroads for a great ride,” said Houghton
Besides the North Fork Donut Company, other cyclist friendly stops include Main Road Biscuit Company in Jamesport and Aldo’s Coffee in Greenport.
Off Into The Woods
If you travel farther to the west, even as close as Calverton or Manorville, you’ll find dedicated single-track mountain bike trails, most of which are maintained by the nonprofit Concerned Mountain Bicyclists of Long Island (CLIMB).
Michael Vitti, the president of CLIMB, said that there are unmarked trails at Peconic Dunes and Goldsmith’s Inlet Park, which can be combined with beach riding but would likely require a fat bike. Farther west, he suggested Robert Cushman Murphy Park, which is in the Calverton/Manorville area. Hallock State Park in Jamesport has some trails but Vitti said they are sandy so probably best for a fat bike. Laurel Lake and Peconic Hills County Park across from the Suffolk Community College in Riverhead has some trails.
The land off Route 111 that includes Manorville Hills County Park has a trail just over 13 miles long. While the single-track trail is specific to cyclists, there are crossover paths for hikers and horseback riders. You can connect to the Eastport trail from this trail, or start at the trailhead to the Eastport trail, which is about 10 miles long; you can still opt to add the Manorville trail.
On the East End, all trails are multi-use, which means that they are shared with hikers. Use caution and courtesy when cycling.
The South Fork has two trails frequented by mountain bikers: Northwest Woods in East Hampton and Hither Woods in Montauk. Northwest Woods has a starting point right on Route 114 and you can easily follow the trail all the way up to Cedar Point Park. Hither Woods has an extensive trail system, also very busy with hikers in some spots, and a route that includes the Coastal Trail is not to be missed.
And then there is the crown jewel of the trail systems for mountain bikers: Rocky Point. A bit of a hike for those of us out here but worth it because it has more than 20 miles of trails with varying levels of difficulty, and loops of any size to meet your endurance level, it’s a must-do for everyone who wants to ride in the woods.
A note about trail oversight: the land on which the trails are built are under the governance of different entities. For instance, Rocky Point and Eastport are New York State land managed by the Department of Environmental Conservation, and may require an easily downloadable permit to access. Manorville Hills is county land. Northwest Woods is town land. Be sure to check on any parking and usage restrictions before heading into the trail.
A Little Help Along The Way
Whether or not you are a seasoned cyclist, sometimes it’s fun to just follow the leader and literally stop and, well, sip the wine, so to speak. East End Bike Tours, based in Mattituck, offers guided and self-guided tours — and supplies the bikes — that wind through the North Fork’s wine country and quiet back roads with stops at wineries, farm stands and beaches, said the company’s owner Nicole DeLaurentis. The routes are between 7 and 19 miles and are all offered through an app that is accessible after you’ve registered for a tour. Bicycles are singles or tandems and the best part about this idea is that there is a support vehicle following along on the guided tours so that you can stow your gear and any purchases. For details, check out eastendbiketours.com.
A Little Energy Boost
Another way to get out there and see the area at that perfect speed is to get on an e-bike. These battery power-assisted bikes still require you to pedal but when the going gets tough, there’s that little extra umph. What better way to try one than to call on Electric Bikes A Go Go, the brainchild of Andy Morris, an early and vocal proponent of e-bikes? He will load up his van with bikes sized just for you and then take you on one of the many tours he’s got in Montauk, Shelter Island, Orient Point and Sagaponack. If you’re not interested in a tour, you can also just take the bike for a test ride. Find out more at electricbikesagogo.com.
Keep It Going
If you have or decide to get a bicycle of any kind, it’s important to properly maintain it. Get to know the folks at your local bike shop (LBS in social media parlance) and they will give you honest answers and sometimes will help you learn a skill if you ask in the off season. Basic skills may also be learned by watching YouTube videos. The Global Cycling Network has informative and fun videos. Always check your tire pressure before a ride with a pressure gauge (not pressing it with your thumb and saying “I think I’m good”) and fill with the correct PSI for your bike and skill level. Keep your bike clean and the chain properly lubed and it will last you a long time.