Biking the Vineyard
Reprinted from the 2004 Visitors Guide courtesy of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce. www.mvy.com
Many people are surprised to find that Martha’s Vineyard is larger than they think (about 100 square miles), so biking the entire Island can be quite a challenge. People who are occasional bikers will find plenty of exercise and wonderful sights by taking the down-Island route – Vineyard Haven to Oak Bluffs to Edgartown and back. This route is mostly flat and easy for children, as well as adults. More experienced riders can bike to Aquinnah. However, depending on the route, it can cover more that 20 miles each way. Additionally the terrain can be hilly and the roadway curvy. There are no bike paths or streetlights for the major part of this route. Some easier options are to bus up and bike back or to use West Tisbury as your starting point.
Starting from Vineyard Haven: From the Steamship Authority dock, proceed straight up Union Street one block to Main Street, turn right on Main and proceed out of the central shopping district. Bike Main Street out to West Chop (2 miles) to see the West Chop Lighthouse and the summer houses. The road makes a lazy loop just past the lighthouse, and returns you to Vineyard Haven center.
For a good view of the Vineyard Haven Harbor along a level bike path, take the Beach Road from Vineyard Haven to Oak Bluffs. (3.3 miles). When you get into Oak Bluffs, just past Sunset Lake on your right (at the foot of a hill on New York Avenues leading into town), turn right onto Dikes Country Avenue and then bear to the left to enter the Methodist Campgrounds. Ride around the charming circle of cottages and view the impressive wrought iron Tabernacle. Exit by the Wesley Hotel, the last of the grand hotels in Oak Bluffs, turn right and park your bike near the Flying Horses Carousel, the nation’s oldest continuously operating carousel. Take a ride and try for the brass ring. And take some time to look around; you are now in the heart of Oak Bluffs. On one side of the Flying Horses is Circuit Avenue, where you can enjoy an exciting variety of shops and on the other side is the harbor, where you can enjoy more refreshments and shopping.
If you continue past the Flying Carousel straight toward the ocean, you come to Seaview Avenue, which runs along the water past Ocean Park, with its famous gazebo and a circle of elegant Victorian summer homes. Biking on Seaview Avenue from Oak Bluffs to Edgartown (6 miles), you quickly come to a paved, off-road bike path along the Joseph Sylvia State Beach. The fantastic view from this path is what biking the Vineyard is all about. Park and sun for a while. Follow the Beach Road to Upper Main Street in Edgartown, just beyond the Edgartown Triangle. Just before you enter Main Street, traffic signs will direct you down Pease’s Point Way on your left. You can park your bike here for a walk through historic Edgartown.
Beautiful whaling captains’ homes line the streets of Edgartown. Main Street, with its elegant shops, ends at the harbor, where you can enjoy a picnic lunch, either purchased in town or prepared beforehand.
A short ferry ride on the On-Time Ferry (leaving from the Edgartown dock) will take you to Chappaquiddick, where you can bike to Wasque Beach two miles away, a beautiful spot for a swim or sunbathing. You can visit the My Toi preserve, a beautifully maintained Japanese garden.
Time to head back to your accommodation to get ready for dinner or back to the ferry for the trip home.
For the more physically fit and adventurous, the trip up-Island through West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Aquinnah is a challenge, but well worth the effort. From Edgartown, take the West Tisbury Road to West Tisbury Center (4 miles), marked by Alley’s General Store (a great place to stop for a drink and a snack), the Field Gallery, and the recently restored Grange Hall. Continue on South Road to Beetlebung Corner (5.4 miles), the center of Chilmark. Turn tight and ride on to Menemsha (1.5 miles), the Island’s small fishing village, where you can see the daily hauls of fish brought in by Island fishermen and buy fresh fish off the docks at two fish markets, Poole’s and Larsen’s. At the very end of the road, there is parking for the Menemsha public beach. There are also public bathrooms in Menemsha for that all-important pit stop. In Menemsha, you can take a rest and still get to Aquinnah with the bike water shuttle that operates in the summer.
The Gay Head Cliffs are not to be missed. The cliffs are a National Landmark and were formed 10,000 years ago as millions of toms of till and huge rocks were dumped on a base of tertiary sands, gravels, and clays when the glaciers retreated. The very foundation of the Island is exposed at Aquinnah in the magnificent colored clay cliffs. Many of the brilliant colors of the cliffs – reds, blues, greens, and ochres – have been washed into the sea by the constant action of the water.
Time to head back down-Island. Take State Road from Aquinnah to Beetlebung Corner (6.5 miles). On your way to Beetlebung Corner, stop and catch the view on top of the hill above Quitsa. You can see across Menemsha Pond to Menemsha Harbor. For a view of beautiful Vineyard vistas as you ride down a tree-canopied road, continue straight at Beetlebung Corner and take Middle Road to Music Street in West Tisbury (5.4 miles), so named because a number of the whaling captains who built their homes here in the last century bought pianos for their homes. In the summer, with the windows opened, the music would drift out into the street.
Turn left from Music Street to State Road. Continue on State Road toward Vineyard Haven (9 miles). In West Tisbury, about a mile off State Road, you can stop and visit Chicama Vineyards, the Island’s winery, take a tour of their wine-making facility, and taste some their excellent wines. Just before you reach the Vineyard Haven business district, you will pass the Tashmoo Overlook on your left, with a lovely view of Lake Tashmoo and Vineyard Sound. State Road ends in Vineyard Haven, where you can catch the ferry or stop to catch your breath before your evening begins.