Whether you’re an experienced cyclist or you’re just getting into the sport, the North Shore has some of the best routes for biking around. Here you’ll find some suggestions for mountain biking, road biking, and rail trails, plus tips and tricks from some area bike experts. Take advantage of fall, one of the loveliest times to get out and enjoy the North Shore.
“Not knowing everything you’ll encounter is part of the fun,” says Peg Conlon, shop manager at Riverside Cycle’s Manchester-by-the-Sea location, of recreational biking. Conlon recommends rail trails for those new to cycling since they’re off-road and paved or hard-packed, and “because they run along rail lines, they’ll connect towns to make it easy to find a fun spot or two to stop at.”
Jim Goldberg, clerk of North Shore Cyclists, encourages riders who own a bike they haven’t ridden in a while to get a tune-up at a local shop. While you’re at the shop, says Conlon, “ask about places to ride and mention where you plan to go. You’ll get great advice, and they may know of a cool secret spot or favorite lunch stop to check out.”
Other cyclist tips? Make sure to take water and snacks, no matter how short your ride. And speaking of short rides, keep your first ride more concise, says Conlon. This way, you’ll learn your speed and can plan accordingly next time. Make sure you familiarize yourself with the rules of the road for cyclists, says Goldberg, including “always ride in the same direction as traffic, use hand signals, wear bright colors and a helmet, and no earbuds.”
For some companionship, Goldberg suggests North Shore Cyclists’ group rides—they host frequent weekly rides for folks of all abilities, like the “Turtles” group, with an average speed of 11 to 12 mph. Rides range in length from 20 to 50 miles. You can check out the North Shore Cyclists at nscyc.org.
Riverside Cycle in Manchester has group rides, too—its biweekly “gravel rides” leave from the shop and head down various carriage roads and wooded paths on Cape Ann.
In addition to the routes below, a few more off-road biking trails north of Boston are currently under construction. The Middleton Rail Trail, phase two of which is almost complete, will run along the old Essex Railroad from North Andover to Middleton, joining with the Danvers Rail Trail extension to Middleton. The Northern Strand Community Trail, mostly finished but currently under construction, will run from downtown Everett to Nahant Beach at completion.
Coastal Trails Network
Salisbury, Newburyport, Amesbury
A network of trails, known as the Coastal Trails, runs through the Newburyport area. Off-road trails in the network include the Marsh Trail, a paved path connecting Salisbury and Newburyport, and the hard-packed dirt Ghost Trail, which “parallels Route 110 between Salisbury center and Rabbit Road,” says Chris Scott, a sales associate at Riverside Cycle in Newburyport, “with another connection to downtown Amesbury and all it has to offer: restaurants, coffee shops, and breweries.” You can continue around downtown Newburyport on the Clipper City Rail Trail. Find a complete map of the trail system at coastaltrails.org.
Danvers Rail Trail
Danvers, Peabody, Wenham, Topsfield
The Danvers Rail Trail spans four and a third miles of gravel path connecting Peabody, Danvers, Wenham, and Topsfield. The route was once part of the historic Boston to Maine railway. The trail currently has seven parking areas, indicated on the trail map at danversrailtrail.org. “Choate Farms is a nice spot to have a picnic and relax,” says Conlon. The trail is expanding out to Middleton over the coming years, increasing its length by three miles. Bicyclists must yield to pedestrians on the multiuse path.
Bradley Palmer State Park & Willowdale State Forest
Ipswich, Hamilton, Topsfield
These two abutting state-run properties in the Ipswich area encompass many miles of wooded trails perfect for mountain biking. While the areas include some more challenging trails, most of the paths are perfect for mountain biking beginners. There’s also no shortage of beautiful meadows, rolling hills, and forest. Free parking for Willowdale is located off Ipswich Road, while Bradley Palmer charges five dollars for lot parking. Check out trailforks.com for a detailed interactive map of mountain biking trails.
Lynn Woods Reservation
One of the largest municipal parks in the country, Lynn Woods Reservation spans 2,200 acres and features 30 miles of trails. Its proximity to Boston plus its bird-watching and wildlife-spotting potential make it a bit of a hidden gem. Bikers must stay on officially marked trails and avoid areas marked “foot traffic only.” Parking is located off Pennybrook Road and Great Woods Road.
Old Stone Walls Ride
This ride starts in downtown Ipswich, heading out Argilla Road to Crane Beach. On the way back inland, travel down Choate Street and Fellows Road to Waldingfield Road and Highland Street, where you’ll pass Appleton Farms. Bradley Palmer State Park Road takes you through the preservation, and you can head back to downtown Ipswich on Topsfield Road or extend your ride out into Topsfield.
Salt Marshes Loop
Route 1A from Rowley to Newbury is “flat, scenic, and has a decent shoulder,” says Goldberg, and you can connect with the Clipper City Rail Trail in Newburyport. Take advantage of the Plum Island Turnpike’s bike lane, and once you’re on Plum Island, turn right on Sunset Drive to head down to Parker River Wildlife Refuge for a picturesque ride. Retrace your path back to Rowley when you’re finished.