By Tom Hammell
For the past 2 years I have worked on a book called”Road Biking New Jersey”. This required me to research, map out, photograph and document a lot of different bike rides all over this state. It was a lot of work but it was also a lot of fun and reaffirmed by belief New Jersey is a great place to ride a bike. Now that the book is done and out I would like to share some of my experiences and observations with the members of the club to show you all the great things about riding in New Jersey.
The Weird Roads of New Jersey
When I tell people I am a bike rider from New Jersey they usually ask me if it is hard to find good roads in this crowded and congested state. My answer is the state’s long history and crowded nature actually helped make biking better in this state. New Jersey’s 200+ years of constant population growth forced the creation of a chaotic unorganized mess of roads that frustrates most drivers today. This mess that is the New Jersey road system is actually a good thing for bikers. There are lots of interconnected roads far from the main highways that are fun to ride and have some real character. Almost every road has an interesting history and a story to tell. This is why New Jersey is the birthplace of weirdness as documented in the popular cult magazine Weird NJ. Let me take you around the state and show you some of the great places that I found to ride.
The North East
The northeast part of the state, especially by New York, is one of the most crowded parts of the state. The opening credits of the Sopranos will give you a good tour of some of the uglier places here. That doesn’t mean there isn’t good biking to be found. Around the George Washington Bridge for example is an interesting contrast. This is a very urban area with a lot of traffic but there are also some great roads here. There is dedicated bike path across the GW Bridge that you can use to get tothe Hudson River Greenway that will let you ride along the river in Manhattan all the way down to Battery Park. If you stay on the Jersey side you can ride along the Palisades or if you don’t mind a few hills head north on 9W into New York.
A little west of the GW Bridge is Saddle River in Bergen County, home to a number of actors and sports stars. This is a densely populated area but the roads are wide enough to accommodate both bikes and cars so if youdon’t mind a little urban riding this isn’t a bad place to ride.There are a number of reservoirs in the area like Lake Tappan and Woodcliff Lake that offer a nice contrast to the residential landscape.The most interesting thing here is all the nice houses along Saddle River Road. Even the small ones that you can see from the road make you see how the other half spends there money.
Only 26miles from midtown Manhattan is the Great Swamp. This is a migratory stop over and home to many different birds so if you like to see some nice flora and fauna there are some nice views to be had here. There are also a lot of nice hiking trails so if you have time after you ride the Wildlife Observation Center in the Great Swamp is worth checking out.
The North West
In contrast to the northeast the northwest part of the state is surprising rural.It’s also very hilly. Most of the climbs are in the 200 to 300 foot range but there are a few 600+ foot climbs if you go looking.There are routes that minimize the climbing but there are very few flat roads so you need some hill training before you ride around here.
Don’t let the hills scare you away from this area because it is a beautiful place to ride and worth the pain of the constants ups and downs. One of my favorite roads in this area is Old Mine Road along the Delaware. This is one of the oldest roads in the country.It was used in colonial times to transport ore from the coppermines along to the Delaware all the way up to what is now Kingston, New York. Much of the original road has been modernized and is now part of U.S. Route 209. However, the part by the Delaware Water Gap is still intact & maintains its rural charm. The road is surrounded by acres and acres of state parks and has very little traffic even in the summer.
Another great area to ride around is Newton New Jersey. Here you will find the infamous “Shades of Death” road that has so many interesting stories, which always end in some one dying in a horrendous manner.Despite the scary legends this is a very quiet and scenic area that is fun to explore. The Morris Area Freewheelers have a couple of ride around here that are worth checking out.
Let’s not forget the area north of Frenchtown. If you like hills this is where you should head. Yes some of the climbs are tough but you will find some of the best scenery in the state here. I am always beat after riding here but I am never sorry I did the ride. I recommend checking out some of Michael Heffler’s rides to Bloomsbury or Merrill Creek or LauraLynch’s rides out of Pluckemen for a tour of this area.
As you can see there is no shortage of places to explore by bike in New Jersey.The two years I spent exploring the roads in this state just made me realize just how many more places I have yet to explore. Next time I will talk about some of the better places to ride in Central and South Jersey.
Part 2 –
Last month I talked about the Northern part of the state. This time let me share with you some of the highlights of the central and southern part of the state.
This is the place where most of us in the club ride and I think it is the most diverse part of the state. Whether you like hilly or flat rides there is plenty here to satisfy any rider.
For those who want scenic views and don’t mind a few hills there is no better place to ride than the Sourlands. The Sourlands is filled with rural farms, forested land, small streams and a lot of beautiful back roads. Starting by the canal in Rocky it’s easy to put together a number of nice rides to places light Sergeantsville, Round Valley or Neshanic Station. Yes this area will require you to do some climbing but there are no real killer hills here so don’t let your fear of climbing keep you away from this area.
If you are looking for less hilly rides then just join the club rides going out of Cranbury, or Mercer County Park. Although these rides usually end up with a rest stop Clarksburg, Allentown it’samazing how many different ways there are to get to each of these places. Of course there are also a lot of different roads that will take you to New Egypt or Chesterfield some other good destinations.
In the southern part of central Jersey you will find a lot of farms and small towns with quiet roads. If you have done the metric or the century at the event then you have seen some of these roads but there are plenty more to explore.The land down here is a patch work of farms and forested land and the towns, like Vincentown, New Lisbon, and Tabernacle, are a little more rustic so it is a fun area to ride in.Check out some of the rides out of Bordentown and you will see why these roads are popular with a lot of bikers.
Let’s not forget about the beaches which are easily with in riding distance. If you haven’t ridden to Belmar and back thenyou’re missing a great ride. Sandy Hook is also another good beach ride to do. Both these rides can be on the long side depending on where you start but there is nothing better than a rest stop on the beach.
South Jersey is flat, rural, and a little strange. After all it is the home of the Jersey Devil .Its main features are its vast pineland forests and its many square miles of farmlands. The area also some very nice less-crowed beaches in the eastern section. It is very different from the other parts of the state and in some ways doesn’tseem to be part of New Jersey at all.
This area is very rural and visiting some of the towns here seems like going back in time. This is a very flat area with a lot of nice forested land and some scenic rivers to ride along. One of the nicer areas down here is around Batsto where there are enough towns to find a couple of rest stops and but very little traffic since most of the area is dedicated to park lands. It’s easy to get lost down because of the lack of any major towns or landmarks so make sure to take good map with you.
If you go a little further south you will get to the area where the South Jersey Wheelmen ride. This area is full of large industrial farms and roads with almost no traffic. I highly recommend attending one of the South Jersey Wheelmen events down in this area since they have some nice rides that take you through the better parts of Salem and Cumberland County. Riding in this area you will see why New Jersey is called the Garden State.
Another nice area is the south west part of the state along the Delaware. Here there is some lot of little creeks and marshland that are fun to ride through. A good place to start a ride around here is Fort Mott State Park where you will see the ugliest lighthouse in New Jersey, Finn’s Point light which is looks like large stove pipe. There are an abundance of nice roads around here so no matter which way you head you will always find a nice ride.
Although you may have to drive a little father to get to the rides in the southern part of the state the different nature of the rides down there make it worth doing every now and then for a change of pace.
The Adventure Continues…
Writing the book about road biking in New Jersey has made me realize how many great places there are to ride in this state. Even though the book is done and published I still continue to explore the state and look for new places and roads to ride on. Back in May I found nice route through the towns of Roebling and Florence. This month I Will be up north by Chester exploring Schooley’s mountain.
So if you are tired of doing the same old rides try to exploring another area of the state. As I have found no matter what type of riding you like you there are plenty of good rides to be found. On my blog (http://www.frisket.blogspot.com/) I will continue to post my diary of rides around the state and the interesting things that I find. You will also find some ride sheets for nice rides that I have done butdidn’t get included in the book for lack of space. The list of rides sheets is small now but will continue to grow as I continue my exploration of the state.