Southern Comfort | 3 Ways to Cycle Through the Season at Vermont’s Lower Latitudes

Let Europe have the Tour de France. Vermont has the Tour de Heifer, an event that debuted this summer as a six- to 60-mile fundraising ride through fields, woods, postcard-perfect villages, all following a parade of 100 cows through the streets of Brattleboro. Who needs yellow jerseys and the Champs Élysées when you have maple smoothies and farm after farm?

Tour de Heifer. Courtesy photo.

The 60-mile Tour de Heifer Challenge is just one of the world-class rides available to just about anyone on two wheels in southern Vermont, whose terrain is markedly different from northern neighbors. “We have really steep hills and valleys—walls, really —they’re short, but steep,” says Diny Sweitzer, co-owner of the West Hill Shop in Putney. “And the dirt road riding is fantastic. There’s little to no traffic, it’s shaded, and you get to see the rural beauty of southern Vermont.”

In business since 1971, and biking even before then, West Hill Shop staffers know their way around two wheels. Here, they point us to three diverse rides in the area.

For Families
The Hickory Ridge/Black Locust/Brook Road Loop
At less than 12 miles, this is a doable ride even for little legs, and it is made even more kid-friendly by the fact that the terrain is fairly flat—and you’ll find not only a swimming hole but also a natural spring to fill up water bottles. Plus, if anyone’s pooped, you can opt for an even shorter loop of eight miles. Starting from the West Hill Shop, you’ll climb gradually to a swimming hole and then swoop down Black Locust until you reach the high point of the ride at mile 7.5. It’s all downhill from there back to the shop, where you’ll find an outdoor shower, a delight even if you did take a dip in the swimming hole.

For Single-track Seekers
Mount Snow
While some ski resorts basically shut down for the summer, Mount Snow keeps going up and up with lift-served mountain biking. There’s some construction going on this year, but most trails are open on weekends, weather permitting. The best stuff here is the steepest—the area hosts not one, but three downhill races, and is one of only three resorts in the country to have Jamis DakarBam bikes for rent—but even beginners can have a good time on the 2.5-mile base loop. (In fact, 15 percent of the 35 miles of trails is rookie-friendly, 50 percent is intermediate, and 35 percent is advanced.) Experienced riders can either hop on the Canyon Express, which is for mountain biking only through the fall, or earn their turns on Palisades and Main Frame. The double-black, aptly named Pucker Alley, is a 1.2-mile freefall, perfect for earning a pint at the Labor Day Brewers Festival.

For Endurance Addicts
The Tour de Heifer Challenge (June 3, 2012)
Though the inaugural Tour de Heifer included six-mile and 16-mile options, too, this 60-mile granddaddy is well worth the burn. Starting from Lilac Ridge Farm in West Brattleboro, the ride follows dirt roads and old highways as it heads through the towns of Guilford, Halifax, West Halifax, Jacksonville, and Marlboro. Highlights include the Green River Covered Bridge, Mount Olga, a brief border crossing into Massachusetts, and a very sweet downhill back into Brattleboro. Though this route connects several farms, there are virtually no provisions along the way, so pack a lunch and plenty of water. You might also want to take note from the southern Vermont cyclists who have traded in their slick road bikes for a rugged touring, 29er mountain bike, or cross bike; as Sweitzer attests, the dirt road riding is that much fun.

Sarah Tuff

Sarah Tuff writes about outdoor sports, health and fitness from her home in Shelburne; her work has appeared in The New York Times, Runner's World and Skiing, among other publications. She is also the co-author of 101 Best Outdoor Towns (Countryman Press).