If you are feeling strong, try the Gran Fondo route and take on the four most popular ones: the Lincoln, Appalachian, Middlebury and Brandon gaps, make up a great 100-mile route, commonly called the LAMB ride. Or start in Rochester and do the “Piccolo Fondo” (the easier Middlebury/Brandon gaps) and extend that ride by adding in Rochester or Roxbury gaps, as the Farm to Fork Fondo does.
There are few better views in Vermont than heading west down the Appalachian Gap with the Champlain Valley and Lake Champlain stretch out before you. But if you are following the Gran Fondo route, you’ll do it the other way. Going east, the App gap ride begins in Starksboro on Vermont Route 116 and travels north on mostly flat roads before splitting onto Vermont Route 17. From there, the road climbs east over rolling hills for roughly eight miles with views of Mount Ellen, Lincoln Peak and Mount Abraham while gaining a relatively gentle 600 feet. The final push includes grades as steep as 15 percent in the last two miles before a winding descent down into Fayston, past Mad River Glen and intersecting with Vermont Route 100 in Waitsfield.
Just when you’ve finished descending from App Gap, west to east, it’s time to head back via the Lincoln Gap, east to west. To do so, take German Flats Road past Sugarbush’s Mount Ellen area to the Sugarbush Access Road and turn left to descend to Route 100. Ride about five miles before climbing from the town of Warren. When attacked from the Warren side, the Lincoln Gap is one of the toughest climbs in the state, with multiple switchbacks and punishing grades as steep as 20 to 24 percent, including the steepest mile of pavement in the United States. In three leg-burning three miles, you gain 1,190 feet in elevation. Meanwhile, the road’s surface also goes from paved to gravel and then back to paved. After reaching the summit, the road includes a twisting descent into the town of Lincoln and the Champlain Valley. Another option: Start in the central valley towns of Hancock or Rochester and ride up Route 100 through Granville Gulch before joining the Lincoln Gap route. This beautiful, low-traffic section of Vermont Route 100 is flanked by steep hillsides. In the Gulch, on west side of the road, Moss Glenn Falls brings traffic to a crawl as it cascades down a 30-foot rock face.
Connecting the towns of Brandon and Rochester, Vermont Route 73 has one of the more gradual inclines on the LAMB series of gaps. From the hamlet of Forest Dale, the west-to-east ride begins a sustained climb, gaining roughly 1,200 feet over the next five miles to a final elevation of 2,173 feet. Nearing the top, riders can take in views of the Great Cliffs on Mount Horrid’s south-facing flank after passing the Long Trail Trailhead and beginning a descent to Rochester. Being straighter than other gap roads, Route 73 presents tempting opportunities to let the bike go on the downhills. Riders have clocked speeds nearing 50 miles-per-hour, but rough spots in pavement and a few sharp turns should not be taken lightly. After descending, a left-hand turn onto Route 100 North brings riders into Rochester’s village.
Riding west from the Hancock general store, Route 125 starts to rise as it follows the Hancock Branch upstream, climbing as it passes Texas Falls. The final push to the top begins at the six-mile mark and climbs to a final elevation of 2,142 feet. Vermont Route 125 then makes a breezy, six-mile descent, losing 846 feet in six miles. While the eastern side is riddled with cracks and potholes, the western side of the gap is better paved, so you can fly past the Middlebury College Snow Bowl, the Rikert Nordic Center and the Robert Frost Farm. For a break or a snack, stop at the classic old Ripton general store. Vermont Route 125 provides hugs the East Middelbury river, providing a scenic way down and ending in East Middlebury.