New England Motorcycle Travel Destinations

Northeastern states provide prime riding venues

story by Jeff Cobb, Photograph by Forrest Frazier, Created Jul. 01, 2009
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Many people consider New England to be one of the most beautiful regions in the U.S., and home to some of the most ideal places to ride a motorcycle.

Comprised of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, the northeastern region is bounded by New York state, Canada, and several hundred miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline.

If taken as a whole, New England’s population is smaller than Florida’s, but parts of its southern end are still considered densely urban.

Also like Florida, the region was a landing point for some of the earliest European settlers who carved out a new life from the land and sea.

Today the region’s mountains, beaches and rural areas remain a draw, as do many historical sites, natural preserves, and numerous lakes and waterways.

New England has four distinct seasons, which for most riders means spring-to-fall is prime time, although some do ride all year.

In exchange for earlier, colder winters, riders are rewarded with one of the most scenic, environmentally rich, historically significant, and culturally interesting places anywhere.

The culture has evolved from that which was first planted by the first conservative Christians – the Puritans – who in the 1600s fled religious persecution in Europe. Many historians agree that once they were free from stifling European codes of conformity, they then set up their own rigid social and political system merging church and state.

In the present time, however, while plenty of exceptions remain, much of New England has come full swing to the other end of the ideological spectrum.

Since an independent spirit has always pervaded the region, this is not so ironic. Further, it has long been home to many top-level schools and colleges, and along with an early Puritan work ethic, New England has given America many free thinkers, scholars, artists, scientists, and several U.S. presidents.

It is at least a little ironic that New England states were the birthplace of Republican presidents George H.W. Bush (Massachusetts), and George W. Bush (Connecticut), a fact downplayed regularly in the polling places, where a majority of New Englanders have for some time voted Democratic.

At the end of the day, however, nothing about New England detracts from what it offers motorcyclists. People fly into hubs like Boston from not just the U.S., but Europe, South America and elsewhere to travel the famous region.

Books have been written about each state, and obviously more research would be necessary, but following are some highlights.

Massachusetts

Boston

This historic town is best seen if you park the bike, and travel by underground, bus or taxi. It is worth the time, however, and many riders make it the beginning or end of a trip.

Fall Foliage in Massachusetts

Cape Cod

The best times to travel to this large peninsula are weekdays. Traveling down Route 6A, you will find things offered nowhere else, like maritime and whaling museums, and glass shops that hearken to the days when glassmaking was a major industry.

Roads

According to Massachusetts-based motorcycle blogger, Liz Frazier – also known as the Rippin' Kitten (http://www.rippin-kitten.com/), along with her husband Forrest, a motorcycle photographer – some riders like to bypass Massachusetts altogether and head north, but if they did, that would be their loss.

If you are not put out by the fact that cops frown on loud pipes, and it is a helmet-law state, a few routes are worth heading for.

Mohawk Trail/ Route 2 – This is a good ride from Cambridge right out of state to Troy, N.Y., and back. During the fall foliage season, there are especially beautiful views, though other “leaf peepers” will be out in their four-wheeled cages. On the way, you’ll pass historic sites, Tanglewood, and no shortage of great diners and little shops.

Quabbin Reservoir Loop – This basically follows routes 2 – 202 – 9 – 32 – 101. You’ll pass quaint little towns, and see preserved Victorian homes. If you are ambitious, you can try to cross all the covered bridges. There are a lot of them, here and throughout New England.

Cape Ann – This area is gotten to by riding 1A up to Ipswich (for some of the best fried clams you will ever have), then 133 to Gloucester finally looping 127 through Rockport and down south to Salem. It takes you through woods and past the ocean. Many riders also take 1A up to Salisbury, Mass., and then continue to Hampton Beach N.H., into Rye, N.H., and up to Kittery, Maine where they loop 107 to York, Maine and back on to 1A north to destinations beyond.

Riding the Kancamangus

Rhode Island

Here's a state you can practically see in a couple hours if you are in a hurry. But slow down, and spend some time, because some parts are pretty biker friendly.

Rhode Island is only about 48 miles long, and 35 miles wide, yet it has over 400 miles of coastline (if measured following the water’s edge). Also tucked inland are rural agricultural areas, woodlands, little villages and a couple of cities, Providence and Newport.

Providence is the capital, but many people prefer the more affluent Newport. Route 24 takes you there, past where the Great Gatsby was once filmed. Outside of town are rock cliffs and dunes on which to have a picnic.

White sand beaches face the Gulf Stream, so the water is somewhat warmer than up north.

Connecticut

This state is home to New England’s fifth through ninth largest cities by population. If you can pick your way around I-95, there are terrific ocean views, and classic New England images, like tiny shacks by the sea.

Towns to see include Mystic, a seaside village in eastern Connecticut and New Haven, one of the state’s major cities, which has turned its main street into an overdose for shopaholics, and offers a wide variety of restaurants.

There are also a number of scenic roads with more stuff to do along the way.

Route 146 – This road leads to Stony Creek and the Thimble Islands.

Route 7 – Ideal for leaf peeping starting in September. It winds through the Litchfield Hills area and crosses the (covered) Bull’s Bridge to the village of Kent, where shops and fine dining are available.

Another cool town is Riverton, where you can see Greenwoods Glass, a working glass blowing studio and gallery located in a former church that dates back to 1829. Nearby, West Cornwall features more inspired arts and craft galleries.

Route 9 – Heads through central Connecticut’s River Valley region. If you want, you can park the bike, and hop on the RiverQuest for a narrated cruise of the lower Connecticut River. Here also, the views in the fall are especially nice.

Riding at the MA, VT and NY border

Vermont

Many agree this state may offer better riding opportunities than the previous three thus far mentioned. It is more rural, with curvy, mountainous routes.

The Green Mountains, part of the Appalachians, and home to several world-class ski resorts, offer roads where you can follow a tour guide’s pre-determined route, or make up your own.

This year Vermont is celebrating its 400th anniversary of Lake Champlain, the sixth largest lake in the U.S. It was named for the French explorer who also founded Quebec City across the northern border in Canada. Forty percent of Vermonters claim French-Canadian ancestry.

Some good roads include Route 2 through the Lake Champlain Islands, Route 17 between Waitsfield and Addison, Route 108 between Stowe and Cambridge (known as Smuggler’s Notch), and Route 9 between Bennington and Brattleboro.

But to top them all is Route 100. This may be one of the best rider roads in New England, and it runs from the Massachusetts border up the entire length of Vermont into Canada.

You can shoot off any one of a number of side routes to find great twisties and pristine scenery.

New Hampshire

Competing with Vermont for awesome riding is the state that boasts the country’s highest rate of motorcycle ownership of 6.8 motorcycles per 100 people. On the other hand, the population of New Hampshire as of 2008 was just about 1.3 million.

Any way you slice it though, New Hampshire is a destination for riders. The Laconia Motorcycle Week this year attracted visitors numbering over one-quarter the population of the state.

New Hampshire has the White Mountains, which are taller than Vermont’s Green Mountains. Routes include a run from Rindge to Rochester, and a ride from Nashua to Canada.

On top of the list is “the Kanc,” or Route 112, the Kancamagus Highway. According to motorcycle photographer Forrest Frazier (http://www.ffphoto.com/), this is "The Motorcycle Road" in New Hampshire.

He also recommends seeing Mount Washington, where an eight-mile road takes you up the highest peak in New England (6,288 feet/1,917 meters).

Ride to the Sky, the Mt. Washington auto road open only to motorcycles

Maine

Maine is almost as large as the other five New England states combined, and is worth spending many days, or longer just to hit the high spots. It is not as much about twisties, as it is about phenomenal vistas, local towns, parks, inland waters, and more.

According to the publisher of Ride Maine, a comprehensive guidebook, the massive state can be divided into six regions: Aroostook, Down East & Acadia, Central and Kennebec Valley, Mid Coast, Western Lakes and Mountains, and Southern.

One of the most well regarded rides is Route 1, which skirts the coast, offering unparalleled views. There are close to 50 peninsulas you can shoot down and explore, and also along the way are more than 60 lighthouses.

One thing you can do from Portland is to take a motorized catamaran ferry to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. Transporting your bike and a two night’s stay can be had for around a couple hundred bucks. Ride north along the Bay of Fundy to see the highest tides in the world.

Maine has three National Scenic Byways along with the All-American Road that loops around Mount Desert Island. The views, history and local culture make a nice mix.

Another must-see – on Mount Desert Island – is Acadia National Park (http://www.nps.gov/acad/).

This place is "one of the seven wonders of the world," according to Brad Stone, a veteran New England moto-tourer, and general manager for EagleRider of Boston.

All kinds of edge-of-the-sea natural features are there, as is Cadillac Mountain, commonly believed to be the place in the U.S. where the sunlight first touches each day.

Summary

Much of New England is a tourist's dream. The place attracts people to visit again and again, and many have even relocated to live in a location unlike any other.

While maybe less true a few decades ago, today riders are very welcome, and there is a thriving moto-tour industry, with rentals conveniently located if you want to fly in.

This article hopefully will give you some ideas to look into further.

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