ADDISON COUNTY — During September, when the autumn cool begins to creep around the edges of the late summer warmth, you can be sure that somewhere in the mountains the leaves have already begun to change. As the color crawls down into the valley, what better way to get out and see it than on a bike?
“It’s a relaxing, slow-paced way to enjoy the foliage,” said Caroline Jalbert, the administrative assistant and leader operations coordinator at Vermont Bike Touring, based in Bristol. “And there’s good riding for every level.”
Easy and beautiful bike routes abound in the valley — town-to-town bike rides between Middlebury, Vergennes, Bristol and Brandon offer ample opportunities for lunch breaks, and side roads offer gently rolling hills and picturesque farms.
And for a challenge, just head into the mountains.
“The best routes depend on the time of fall,” said Justin Crocker, manager of the Bike Center in Middlebury.
The first trees to take on vibrant colors are high in the mountains, so if you are biking early in the season, it’s best to find a route with elevation. Even in the valley, though, any route with a view of the Green Mountains will score you plenty of foliage — Route 116 is a favorite for many for its good mountain views.
While a bike ride can be just the thing for seeing the countryside, it is important to keep in mind safety on the road. Jalbert recommended getting off of the main thoroughfares — there is less traffic on smaller roads, which makes them both quieter and safer.
Crocker had some other road safety advice for bikers:
• Ride single file unless there is a very wide shoulder
• Don’t ride in the gutter — it will make you harder to see on the road. Instead, ride three feet out on the road.
• You have the same rights and responsibilities as a motor vehicles — always obey stop signs!
• If you are biking with children, make sure they know the rules of the road.
• Beginning in mid-October, wear bright colors in order to avoid hunters.
Once you’ve gotten past the safety concerns, you’re all ready to plan your ride. A convenient planning tool is www.mapmyride.com, which allows you to plug your route into Google Maps. You’ll get elevation, street names and satellite maps of your planned route.
As for local routes, check out www.champlainbikeways.org. Their Heart of Vermont Bikeways brochure, which you can download from their Web site, offers nine Addison County bike routes, complete with maps, step-by-step directions and descriptions of the attractions along the way.
For a start, block out a nice weekend day and try one of the following three routes.
MIDDLEBURY TO SNAKE MOUNTAIN
Total distance: 20 miles
From downtown Middlebury, head west on College Street, then make a right on Weybridge Street, also known as Route 23. Continue on Route 23 and follow until the road intersects Route 17. Turn left on 17 and follow for about two miles. Take a left on Mountain Road.
After about 2.5 miles on Mountain Road you will come to a parking area on your right. The Snake Mountain trailhead will be a couple hundred feet further along the road. The trail is a nice 3.6-mile round trip hike with great views of the Adirondacks, if you’re not too tired.
To return to Middlebury, continue down south Mountain Road and make a left onto Mountain Road Extension, which will turn into Forrest Road. Turn left on Lemon Fair Road, which will run straight into Route 125 and send you right back into Middlebury.
For a slightly longer route, follow Mountain Road until it becomes East Street, then turn left when it crosses Route 125 and follow 125 into Middlebury.
VERGENNES TO MIDDLEBURY
Total distance: 28 miles
(Adapted from Champlain Bikeways route)
From Vergennes town green, turn right onto Main Street. After 0.7 miles, turn left on Hopkins Road (which is unpaved). In Waltham, turn left onto East Road and continue as it turns into Otter Creek Road. Turn left onto Route 17, then right onto Route 23. Follow Route 23 into Middlebury.
For the return trip, head north on Main Street through downtown. Turn left onto Seymour Street (just below Route 7) and follow it as it turns left at Greg’s Meat Market. Cross the historic Pulp Mill Bridge and make a right onto Morgan Horse Farm Road. Continue on the road as it turns into Pearson Road (after crossing the Otter Creek on the Rattlin’ Bridge) and then Green Street, which leads back to Vergennes.
MIDDLEBURY GAP TO BRANDON GAP
Total distance: 47.1 miles
(Adapted from Champlain Bikeways route)
Start in East Middlebury. Head east up Route 125 past Ripton and the Bread Loaf campus, to the top of Middlebury Gap (a rise from 407 feet above sea level to 2,149 feet. Follow Route 125 down the gap until you reach Route 100 in Hancock. Turn right on 100 and continue for just over 5 miles, passing through Rochester. Make a right on Route 73 west and climb to the top of Brandon Gap — the elevation change here is from 873 feet above sea level to 2,184 feet. After the descent, make a right on Route 53 and bike past Lake Dunmore. Make a right at Upper Plains Road, then a left at Beaver Pond Road. A right on Lower Plains Road will bring you back into East Middlebury.