During the past two summers, My wife and I hosted a one-week family vacation on Cape May, New Jersey. Since I’m not much a a beach person, I rented a bicycle to explore the island. The Village Bicycle Shop was a short walk from the house. They have a large inventory of rental bikes that are in good condition. I got a helmet, a lock, and a basket to go along with the bike, which were included in the rental price. All of the bikes have water bottle cages and I brought my own water and bottle.
I have previous positive experiences with this shop. During a ride a year earlier, one of the six bikes that we rented from them had a flat several miles from the shop. We called them and they quickly sent another bike to us so that we could continue our ride.
The bike that I rented both times was a Jamis Commuter, a low-end hybrid. The one that I had this year was equipped with a fat memory foam saddle. Both front and rear brakes were operated by a single brake lever on the right. It had five speeds selected by the right hand twist grip. The rental would not be a good touring bike, but it worked fine for me for three days and relatively short rides each day. The bikes available at the Village Bicycle Shop are all suited for the tourist clientele of Cape May.
Most often I started my ride on Beach Avenue by riding west toward The Cove. The north side of the street is lined with shops and restaurants and the south side has the beach and boardwalk. It can be very crowded with auto traffic, but I found the drivers on Cape May to be bicycle friendly. That’s probably because there are lots of bicycle riders on the island. The Cove itself is a popular place and it has a small restaurant right on the beach. The waves seem to gather as they break toward the beach. That’s why boogie boarders like to hang out in the water there.
The Sunset Beach and Cape May Light attractions are a short bicycle ride from The Cove. Sunset Beach has some small shops and a restaurant. The wreck of the SS Atlantus is visible just offshore. It was one of a small fleet of concrete ships built during World War I and it rests where it ran aground during a storm. The route I chose by accident to get from Sunset Beach to Cape May Light went through a residential area with some beautiful homes and picturesque frame churches. At the lighthouse, there are several trails for hiking and birding. There was a food trailer selling frozen treats, soft drinks, and water. I enjoyed a flavored ice cup before ascending the light.
The 199 stair climb is worth the effort because of the view from the top. From there you can see the entire island of Cape May and the salt marshes surrounding the light. There is a military bunker on the beach just east of the light and hiking trails below. It’s a perspective that you can’t get from a map and it is an interesting experience once you complete the climb.
Riding toward the interior of the island I found the Willow Creek Winery. Last year my daughter-in-law and I took the winery tour and did the wine tasting. This year I did just the wine tasting with extended family. The best thing that Willow Creek Winery has at the bar is their frozen sangria. They usually have two different mixtures, one white and one red. Both are outstanding frozen concoctions. The wine is good, but not good enough to join the club or to haul home. You can still have a good time there and take home some great sangria in a refillable growler.
There are also at least three farm stands that are off the usual tourist beat. In August they offered fresh peaches, tomatoes, and cantaloupe, among other things. One day I made a special shopping trip and bought five tomatoes, a cantaloupe, and a jar of homemade bread and butter pickles. It was tough to get all of that stuff into the basket on my bike, especially since I happened to pick up a growler of sangria while I was out on the road. By the time I got back to the house with my groceries, the cantaloupe was pretty beat up and two of the tomatoes were reduced to mush by the jarring ride in the basket. The things that survived tasted very good including the scarred cantaloupe.
In the northwest corner of the island a dirt road takes you to the place where the Cape May Canal opens to the Atlantic Ocean. There are some hiking trails there and there are people who park and hike to the beach to fish. The Cape May ferry can be seen on the opposite side of the canal. It’s a quiet spot where you can sit for a while and just reflect for a moment before heading back into the tourist crush of the beach to the south.
The longest ride that I took was a little over 17 miles and I rode the route twice because I liked it. A ride on the island can probably stretched to about 20 miles. In my opinion it is dangerous to venture off the island because none of the bridges are bicycle friendly. You can ride to the northeast corner and, if you are careful, you can make it across the first, smaller bridge to the marinas where you can parasail, jet ski, and paddle board. Those places require reservations, but if you plan your bicycle trip you can make that work. If you do the winery, a restaurant, and water sports, you can easily stretch a Cape May bicycle ride to almost a full day.
Many vacation areas offer similar bicycle riding opportunities. It is worth the effort to rent a bike to enjoy the scenery at a relaxed pace even when the equipment is not ideal. I discovered that Cape May is a great place to enjoy by bicycle.