Riding in the Summer

One of the great pleasures of living in Vermont is taking long bike rides.  I ride all winter and in the spring I gradually lengthen my rides. This past winter I had some issues with my right knee, and so I have been very cautious about building up to longer mileage.  It makes sense for everyone to take a gradual approach to building up strength and stamina.  Pushing too hard can result in an injury. 

I have some favorite rides that I do over and over again. As you ride more you will find your own favorite routes. It is always exciting when the Bike Ferry opens. I really enjoy riding around the perimeter of South Hero and Grande Isle. On May 24th Local Motion sponsored a ride from their headquarters on the Burlington Waterfront to the Bike Ferry. I went along and got to be on the first voyage of the season! Along the way I saw many old friends and made some new ones. It reminded me how important it is to be part of the biking community.

When I take a long summer bike ride I like to prepare the day before. Leaving early helps me avoid rush hour traffic and jump starts my ride. I am an absent minded person so I depend on checklists. Here is my  summer bike ride checklist. I have included explanations for all of the items on the list. You can make your own checklist.

  • Sunglasses, Clear Glasses, Reading Glasses - Sunglasses are a must. I also bring clear glasses in case it is a really cloudy day or I find myself riding after dark. Both sunglasses and clear glasses protect my eyes from dust, bugs and other road debris. I have reading glasses for using my phone and map.
  • Phone - Years ago I got my first mobile phone so that I could call for help on a ride. I have a friend who will come and rescue me. It is good to have a backup plan in case you get stuck on a long ride. I also take photos with my phone. Some people ride in order to get photos but for me photographs are incidental. Once in a while I will stop and take a shot, but mostly I like to keep riding until my next scheduled stopping place. In the winter months I look at the photos I take in the summer.
  • Sun Block - I tan pretty easily so by the end of the summer I don’t need sun block, but for early summer rides it is important. I apply sunblock before I ride and bring along some to reapply if necessary.
  • Bug Spray - Bugs are not usually a problem when I am riding but sometimes they are when I stop for a break. I use bug spray before I set off  on my ride.
  • Snacks - On a long ride I like to eat snacks every hour or so. I take along dried fruit and a peanut and raisin mixture. Sometimes I buy a snack along the way. 
  • Maps - For most of my rides I don’t need a map. I have been riding in Northwestern Vermont for so many years that I know the area pretty well. When I do try unfamiliar routes I use Ride with GPS to map out where I am going. This is a free service. One great feature of ride with GPS is it will tell you whether a road is paved or dirt.  This can make a big difference if you own a gravel bike as well as a road bike. When I am on an unfamiliar ride I like to use a paper map.
  • Repair Kit - I keep a spare inner tube and tire tools in my pannier and I have a good pump attached to my bike frame. A bike tool with allen wrenches is good to have in case you need to make minor adjustments. At the beginning of the summer biking season I check that my pump still works and I inflate my spare inner tubes to make sure don’t have any holes in them.
  • Water - I bring along one water bottle because for most of the routes I take, I know places to get a refill. In unfamiliar territory it is good to bring along extra water.
  • Lights - I have rechargeable lights and I charge them the night before I ride. I have four lights, two for the front, two for the back. On long rides I use one pair of front and back lights and when they run out of juice I replace them with the second pair. Except on bike paths I always ride with my lights on.
  • a view over a lake on a sunny summer dayBathing Suit, Towel - I love to ride and swim. I use a lightweight camping towel. Some people just swim in their bike shorts but I don’t like riding with wet bike shorts. Most swimming areas are free to bike riders.  If you live in the Burlington area, Charlotte Town Beach is a great destination. There is a changing room and the water is usually clean. Also, you get a great view out over Lake Champlain. Overade has a bike lock that has a pouch for my keys, wallet and phone. I don’t like worrying about my stuff when I am swimming. I also have a very light weight lock made by Otto. I use it when I am leaving my bike for just a few minutes.

On longer rides I pace myself. As I have gotten older I have slowed down, but I still have good stamina over the long haul. Last summer my longest ride was 72 miles. I take breaks to eat a snack and also to recover and get ready for the next section of the ride. On rides that I have done many times, I know where I will be stopping. In less familiar territory I keep a lookout for good places to stop. I want a location that is near the road, has some shade and also a place to relieve myself. If there is a wall to lean against, and a source for water, so much the better. Libraries are great places to stop.

I try to balance bringing along essentials with riding with as little weight as possible. I have a variety of back packs and waist packs and panniers. I figure out what I want to bring along and use the appropriate pack. If you really don’t want to carry much you can buy your snacks along the way.  

Even if you only take a short ride, you can enjoy the beauty of our magnificent state!

About the Author: 

Peter Burns

Peter Burns is a long-time bike enthusiast, and one of the original year-round bike riders in the greater Burlington area. In addition to writing about walking and biking, Peter teaches a variety of bike workshops. He also works at a group home for people with psychiatric disabilities, teaches classes for the Vermont Humanities Council, teaches swimming at the Burlington YMCA, and is a regular host of Storytelling VT.  You can contact Peter at [email protected].