Cycling: ‘One of life’s greatest pleasures’

  • This route, around 21 miles, around Levrett features a three-mile, winding downhill payoff toward the end.

  • Len Seeve of Amherst rides up Cave Hill Road in Leverett along one of the routes provides in today’s story. Gazette Staff/Carol Lollis

  • Pfarrer’s Ashfield route, about 23 miles, features stately trees on either side, with sweeping fields visible in all directions and hills in the distance; you really feel you’re in the country. Gazette Staff/Carol Lollis

  • A road sign serves as a route marker on the Ashfield ride. Gazette Staff/Carol Lollis

  • A view of farmland from Hawley Road on the Ashfield route. Gazette Staff/Carol Lollis

  • A gravel portion of Hawley Road seen on the Ashfield route. Gazette Staff/Carol Lollis

  • Len Seeve of Amherst rides up Cave Hill Road in Leverett. This route, around 21 miles, is one of Steve Pfarrer’s suggested rides through western Massachusetts. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • This route, around 23 miles, around Hawley and Ashfield showcases attractive views but includes a 4.5 stretch uphill that might intimidate some newer riders.

For The Recorder
Friday, October 13, 2017

Years ago, I took an extended bike trip through the northern Rocky Mountains, from Glacier National Park in Montana to Yellowstone and Teton parks in Wyoming and back again. It was a great experience that had its challenges — climbing 7,000-foot mountain passes with 35 pounds of camping gear on your bike is not fun — but it also offered fantastic scenery, and I lucked out with plenty of warm, sunny weather.

But because of its rugged terrain, and the scattershot way much of it was initially settled, with mining towns springing up in the middle of nowhere, the places I cycled had a pretty limited number of paved roads, especially in river valleys. I sometimes shared narrow, two-lane highways with considerable traffic, including scary logging trucks whose drivers honked at me to get off the road because they had no intention of slowing down to pass me safely.

I’ve had similar experiences cycling on occasional rides in Vermont and New Hampshire: As pretty as the scenery is, mountainous terrain there also limits the road networks, particularly crossing Vermont’s Green Mountains.

That’s not the case in western Massachusetts. I can’t say that I’ve cycled in a ton of different places, but based on where I have been, I haven’t found a better mix of challenging terrain, fine scenery and a plentiful network of lightly traveled roads, including good-condition dirt and gravel ones. All this gives bicyclists plenty of trip options.

We also have a number of popular bike trails, like the Norwottuck and Manhan rail trails. But if you’re looking for somewhere more challenging and less crowded to ride, you’ll want to hit the roads.

Here, I’m highlighting some bike rides that feature moderate mileage — between 16 and 24 miles — right here in the Pioneer Valley. There are plenty of rolling terrain and hills for exercise. Bombing down them on a bike is one of life’s great pleasures.

It’s also a good time of year for cycling. I like summer myself, but fall brings more modest temperatures for climbing those hills, and it offers the changing tree colors that are one of New England’s calling cards.


Distance: 23 miles

Start at Belding Memorial Park on the south shore of Ashfield Lake, near the intersection of routes 116 and 112. Cross the intersection on 116, and head west on Hawley Road, which climbs steadily (though not too steeply) to the Hawley town line. Near there, you’ll hit a section of gravel road that runs between stately trees on either side, with sweeping fields visible in all directions and hills in the distance; you really feel you’re in the country.

Bear right onto Ashfield Road, where the pavement resumes, and then right onto Plainfield Road, which quickly becomes East Hawley Road; it goes past a historical site noting the town’s earliest settlement. A thrilling, winding downhill of close to three miles runs through thick forest, then emerges by farms and fields near the Deerfield River.

Turn right onto South River Road, which parallels the Deerfield and passes Berkshire East Mountain Resort. This pleasant, rolling route then becomes Charlemont Road as you cross into Buckland: It bears right and goes straight up a hillside. I had to get into my lowest gear, stand up on the pedals and switchback up the road on parts of this section. But after a tough slog a bit less than three miles, with a few flat sections along the way, you reach an intersection with Route 112.

Bear right and go gradually uphill for about 4.5 miles on 112. It’s a bit of a grind in places, but it’s a pretty ride, and there’s a wide shoulder and relatively little traffic for a state highway. Turn left at the intersection with 116, and ride the short distance back to Belding Memorial Park.

North Amherst-Leverett-Shutesbury

Distance: 21 miles

I’ve ridden this loop as part of a longer ride from my home in Northampton. You begin here just north of Cushman Village in North Amherst at the intersection of Leverett and East Leverett roads, just past the bridge over Cushman Brook.

Head north on Leverett Road, which becomes Amherst Road as you cross into Leverett. Bear right on Depot Road, then left through Leverett center on Montague Road.

About two miles further north, bear right onto Cave Hill Road (Montague Road goes left) and continue past the entrance to the New England Peace Pagoda. At the intersection with North Leverett Road, turn right. Follow this winding, pretty road through North Leverett center and prepare for some steady climbing.

You cross the Shutesbury town line just before reaching Lake Wyola. At the lake, turn right onto Locks Pond Road and head south over rolling, forested terrain for about four miles to Shutesbury Center, where you turn right onto yet another iteration of Leverett Road.

Now comes the payoff, as you get about a three-mile, winding downhill to the next intersection. Turn left here on Shutesbury Road, then take a quick right onto Cushman Road, which heads southwest and becomes East Leverett Road before reaching the tour end at the junction with the first version of Leverett Road.


about 24 miles

From Florence Center, take the Northampton Bikeway west past Look Park and into Leeds; turn left onto Florence Street, and go straight through a four-way intersection, past the Leeds post office, onto Audubon Road. Current construction on part of this road may close it or introduce temporary delays during working hours Monday to Friday.

The alternately hilly and rolling Audubon Road makes for a nice run to Williamsburg Center and Route 9. But if Audubon is blocked, there’s an easy detour: Take a right at the Leeds post office onto River Road, alongside the Mill River, to Haydenville Center, where you turn left onto Route 9 and continue to Williamsburg center. There are a lot more cars here, obviously, but there’s also a pretty wide shoulder most of the way.

From Williamsburg center, take Route 9 west to the intersection with Route 143, and bear left. This begins the toughest part of the ride, a six-mile, mostly uphill grind to the center of Chesterfield; a few flat and slightly downhill sections offer short breathers. But the payoff begins in the town center, when you turn left and enjoy a mostly flat run on South Street; you’ll get occasional views of the surrounding hills.

Turn left on East Street, and begin a fantastic, mostly downhill run — very fast in places — that runs about 10 miles to Florence, cutting briefly through a corner of Westhampton. East Street becomes Chesterfield Road, which merges with Spring Street in Florence; turn right on onto Spring, then left onto Meadow Street to come back to Florence center.

​​​​​ Florence-Williamsburg-Haydenville loop

Distance: 16 miles

This ride, which features some gradual climbs and one long downhill, begins exactly as the Chesterfield loop does, starting from Florence center. (Refer to the directions above to reach Williamsburg center.)

In Williamsburg, turn right off Route 9 onto North Street by the Meekins Library, then almost immediately turn right onto Nash Hill Road. You begin a steady climb of about two miles to the intersection with Depot Road, part of which is unpaved. Turn right to begin this nice downhill run; a paved section begins shortly before a four-way intersection, where you turn left onto Adams Road.

The latter takes you past a Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuary, Graves Farm, and picturesque fields and hills; a good downhill run brings you to Mountain Street. Bear right and take that to North Farms Road on the left. North Farms goes up a short hill, then rolls for a bit before crossing the Northampton town line. There are good views of the Holyoke Range before a long downhill takes you to the Fitzgerald Lake Conservation Area. You then cross Bridge Road onto North Maple Street to arrive back in Florence center.

Note: New water service connectors are currently being installed on North Farms Road, so there may be short delays where the road becomes one-way for short stretches during working hours.

Happy trails!