"You've got everything here," says Mike Kruimer, president of the Central Jersey Bicycle Club, one of the state's numerous cycling clubs. "You've got mountains to the north, flats to the south. It doesn't get very boring around here."
New Jersey has routes to suit various preferences and abilities, says Michael Suber, trustee and bicycling advocate for the Princeton Freewheelers, another bicycling club.
"Some cyclists like to ride on the roads," he says. "We have the right to ride on the road just like cars. And some cyclists prefer to ride off-road on trails."
Skilled riders who enjoy racing or mountain biking will also find areas to suit their tastes. Racing clubs regularly organize events around the state, and those interested in the history of competitive cycling can even visit the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame in Bridgewater. The Hall of Fame includes a collection of historic bicycles, medals, trophies, jerseys and other memorabilia. It is open from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, and by appointment. It is located at 941 E. Main St. in Bridgewater. Call (732) 356-7016 or visit www.usbhof.com.
New Jersey's industrial past has left the state's landscape scarred with abandoned railroad beds, but state and local groups have converted many of them into multi-use trails perfect for cycling. The trails pass historic bridges, small towns and railroad relics, and there seems to be something different around every bend. Many of the parks and natural areas in the Skylands Region are popular mountain biking destinations.
A wealth of cycling information, including safety tips, route maps and a list of bicycle clubs in New Jersey, is available from the New Jersey Department of Transportation at www.state.nj.us/njcommuter/html/rtfoot.htm.
If you just want to pedal away a leisurely summer day, here are three ideal places to start, followed by a roundup of more areas favored by cyclists.
The D&R Canal Towpath
Built in the 1830s, the Delaware and Raritan Canal created a waterway for shipping freight between New York and Philadelphia. The canal thrived for decades until railroad technology proved to be superior, and canal traffic disappeared.
The canal was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and was made a state park the following year.
Today, a towpath follows the D&R Canal from New Brunswick in the east to Trenton in the west, and then heads north to follow a feeder canal beside the Delaware River. Along the way, the trail skirts picturesque small towns and passes locks, mills and parks.
One popular starting point is Frenchtown, about 28 miles north of Trenton, where there is a parking lot, easy access to a local bike shop, and a cluster of restaurants and shops.
The trail of crushed stone is suitable for bikes, and scenic views along the river keep the ride interesting. On the way south from Frenchtown to Trenton, the towpath passes through Washington Crossing State Park. The park commemorates the crossing of the Delaware River by George Washington and the Continental Army on Christmas Day 1776, one of the turning points in the Revolutionary War.
Cyclists who follow the D&R Towpath down the Delaware River can complete a circuit ride by biking back on Route 29, much of which is a tree-lined two-lane road with wide shoulders. There is also a companion trail across the river in Pennsylvania.
Mike Kruimer, who along with his wife rides a tandem bicycle, says the two of them enjoy the D&R Towpath. Most of the time they ride on-road next to the path, but they prefer the trail in hot weather.
"The best time to do it I think is in the middle of the summer, when it can be 10 degrees cooler there," he says.
Paulinskill Valley Trail
For a taste of quiet solitude, head to the Paulinskill Valley Trail in Sussex and Warren counties in northwest New Jersey.
This wooded 27-mile trail intersects the 20-mile Sussex Branch Trail, creating a trail network with many possible route variations.
The Paulinskill Valley Trail was once a right-of-way for the New York-Susquehanna and Western Railroad. The trains stopped running in 1962, and the state purchased the old rail bed for recreational use in 1992.
In addition to being relatively flat and straight as it slices through rolling hills and sails over gullies, the trail betrays other evidence that it was once a train track.
Ruins of old railroad property are scattered alongside the trail, and some are labeled with little white markers to indicate the former "Swartswood Jct. Telegraph Office" or "Water Tower," among others.
Additional scenery includes lakes, swamps and rivers, and the trail runs near several parks. The area is sparsely populated, and chances of spotting wildlife are good.
The trail is mostly smooth packed stone, but there are rocky spots and places where missing bridges require short detours.
Jim Nicholson, president of the Bicycle Touring Club of North Jersey, says many of the club's members enjoy the Paulinskill Valley Trail and other rails-to-trails paths.
Personally, though, he prefers riding on roads. "I like the speed," Nicholson says. "I just like the idea of being able to get on the road and get on my bike and go under my own power."
The Paulinskill Valley Trail is accessible from several parking areas, including a gravel lot at the junction of Routes 519 and 626 about three miles north of Newton.
On multi-use trails such as the D&R Towpath and the Paulinskill Valley Trail, bikes share the path with pedestrians and, in some areas, horses.
Cyclists should exercise care near joggers and walkers, and should yield to horseback riders as a courtesy. Also keep in mind that New Jersey law requires bikes to be equipped with a bell or other audible device.
Road riders, especially those with an interest in history, may enjoy a ride in the vicinity of Monmouth Battlefield State Park.
Monmouth Battlefield marks the site of one of the largest battles of the Revolutionary War in 1778, an important victory for the Continental Army.
The famed "Molly Pitcher" of Revolutionary lore was said to have brought water to her husband during the battle here.
The park itself holds limited opportunities for cycling, though there are some short trails suitable for bikes. Better for riding, however, are the nearby roads that crisscross the battlefield.
Congested highways pass through the area, but green hills of farmland appear when you stray a few turns from the main roads.
Kruimer says the area around Monmouth Battlefield has "all kinds of beautiful cycling," and the hills are just "light rollers."
By using the park's parking lot as a launching point, there are numerous ways to traverse the surrounding area on back roads. The state Department of Transportation provides a map of a 28.5-mile loop from Monmouth Battlefield to Holmdel County Park and back on its Web site.
Jim Nicholson also says the farmlands of northern Monmouth County are a popular riding destination. "There are some nice roads going through where the horse farms are, or used to be," he says.
Other places to explore
Generally, the further south and east you travel in New Jersey, the flatter the terrain.
Along the shore, ocean-side drives through Sandy Hook and the hillier roads of Highlands are popular areas for riding.
The vast, wild Pine Barrens region of southern New Jersey also attracts cyclists with its natural beauty.
If you're planning a cycling trip without the benefit of a car, consider Patriot's Path, a rail-to-trail project in Morris County. The path runs near both Bernardsville and Morristown, both of which feature New Jersey Transit train stations. Bikes may be carried on commuter trains during off-peak hours, with some restrictions.
In northern New Jersey, Nicholson enjoys biking on roads through Bergen and Passaic counties, but he stresses caution on the roads.
"You just cannot ever forget, in this area cars rule," he says.
A favorite ride of the Princeton Freewheelers runs from Princeton to Sergeantsville, home of New Jersey's only covered bridge.
In central New Jersey, Mike Kruimer says he and his wife are fond of riding the roads from Franklin Park to Kingston.
But for the ultimate New Jersey cycling experience, it seems impossible to top the Central Jersey Bicycle Club's "Longest Day Ride."
Each year, the club organizes a ride from High Point State Park - the highest and nearly the northernmost point in New Jersey - to Cape May, all the way at the southern tip of the coast. The ride is only open to club members, who bike the entire length of the state - an astonishing 205 miles - in a single day.
"It's all downhill," Kruimer says.
Here are a few places to rent bicycles in New Jersey. However, this list is not exhaustive and omits many of the seasonal shops that rent bicycles, especially in the Shore Region.
Freeman's Bicycle Shop, 52 Bridge St., Frenchtown, (908) 996-7712.
Bike-N-Gear, 1695 Amwell Rd., Somerset, (732) 873-0212.
Jay's Cycles, 249 Nassau St., Princeton, (609) 924-7233.
Cycle Works, 55 Route 206 South, near Netcong, (973) 347-3733.
Marty's Reliable Cycle, 1164 Route 10 West, Randolph, (973) 584-7773.
DJ's Cycles, 1318 Main St., Belmar, (732) 681-8228.