By David McKay Wilson
Biking in Bermuda is not for the faint-hearted. The roads are narrow, with hedge rows and rock walls at times flush with the pavement’s edge.
But on a three-day jaunt in late November to the 21-square-mile speck of British colonial land in the mid-Atlantic, we discovered the glories of Bermuda road-riding. We explored the historic sights of St. George, cruised roads so well maintained that we found nary a pothole over 75 miles of touring, and soaked in the splendor of the Bermuda landscape – from the jagged volcanic boulders along the South Shore to the sylvan quietude we found riding along Paynter’s Road through Tucker’s Point Golf Course.
The terrain is mellow, with a few rolling hills with enough pitch to get your heart pumping. Any stateside cyclist who rides the roads in the US will do well in Bermuda. Two days wasn’t long enough to explore as much as there was to see.
Traveling to Bermuda from New York is a breeze. We’d booked a $300 roundtrip with JetBlue; the 96-minute afternoon flight from JFK brought us to our destination, The Reefs, located in Southampton, just in time for afternoon tea, with a piping-hot cup of Earl Gray to wash down crust-less sandwiches filled with crabmeat, and dense chocolate cupcakes smothered in a rich frosting.
When I travel to ride, I always bring my pedals and bike shoes, and rent my wheels at the destination. The bikes for rent can vary widely in quality. In Bermuda, we rented from Bicycle Works, the Hamilton-based bike shop that caters to serious cyclists who like their vacation rides to be ridden on top-flight bikes.
Awaiting us at The Reefs were two spiffy, well-tuned bikes that rented for $70 a day. I landed a Felt F-95, a feathery light aluminum road bike with serious pop on the hills. My partner found herself riding a Felt ZM with Mavic Cosmic wheels that felt so good that she was prepared to purchase it after riding two days. She purred about what she called her “winged steed.”
Our friends at Bicycle Works had mapped out a 50-mile route that took us along South Road, through the leafy canopies provided by towering Poinciana trees, past well-appointed vacation compounds and bright pastel bungalows, and along Harrington Sound out to St. George, the historic town settled in the early 1600s when a ship destined for the Jamestown settlement ran aground on the shallow waters that surround the island. As a British territory, you ride on the left, which takes some active thinking when coming to a stop, or negotiating the roundabouts at crucial intersections.
In St. George, we stopped for a quick bite at a local lunch spot, Temptations, where Bob Marley’s plaintiff tune, “Redemption Song,” was playing, reminding us of Bermuda’s slave past. The warm, homemade bread pudding, dubbed “Sudden Death,” delivered the carbs we needed to continue our muscle-powered journey. Down on the wharf, we saw the replica of the ship that the castaways built to continue their journey to the New World. We ventured out to the island’s northeast tip to see the sturdy Fort St. Catherine, and ride in solitude along Barry Road on Gates Bay, as the aquamarine Atlantic surged against the rocky shore.
Traveling can be a way to reconnect with your forefathers. Bermuda did it twice for me. In St. George, we visited St. Peter’s Church, founded in 1612, which stands as the oldest continuously operating sanctuary in the Western Hemisphere. My great grandfather, an Episcopal priest, did some missionary work there in the 19th century, and was sure to have taken communion in the church, where generations of gentry and commoners, governors and slaves, privateers and statesmen have worshipped..
Along Water Street, I stopped at the English Sport Shop to rekindle memories of my late father, who, when dressing up for a summer party, favored Bermuda shorts and knee-high socks. I found a pair of black wool knee-high’s for $11.95, stuffed them in my jersey’s back pocket, and showed them off at dinner, with the red shorts I’d toted along. Our waiter declared I was now an honorary Bermudian.
Our ride back to the Reefs took us around St. David’s Island, past St. David’s Chapel of Ease, which I was in too much of a hurry to stop at, and along the North Shore Road, through the flashy Flatts Village, and back on the South Road, our eyes trained on the horizon to spot Gibbs’ Hill Lighthouse on the hill by our hotel.
We had a 4 p.m. appointment for a couples massage at The Reef’s La Serena Spa, for which we didn’t want to be late. On separate tables, with soothing music wafting through the dimly lit room, the masseuses sent us into deep relaxation that left our bicycle-weary legs refreshed, and ready for another day on the road.
We enjoyed our stay at The Reefs, which was ranked No. 1 on the list of Top Resorts in the Caribbean, Bermuda, and the Bahamas in the Travel + Leisure 2012 World’s Best Awards. The 64-unit hotel, perched on a cliff overlooking the ocean, is owned by the Dodwell family, which also owns Nisbet Plantation in Nevis where I’d had the pleasure of staying two years ago. The same dedication to customer service was apparent in the cheerful staff looking to please. High season in Bermuda goes from April through October, so we had the place to ourselves in late November. You can also rent two-bedroom condominiums at the adjacent Reefs Club, a fractional ownership property, which has a staircase gashed through a cliff to bring you down to the beach.
We stayed in one of The Reefs’ point suites, a room that opened on the jagged limestone rocks along the shoreline where you could see the crashing surf from our very own hot tub for two. The MAP meal plan was a treat. The plentiful Continental breakfast spread fueled us for our daily rides. My favorite dinner entrée was grilled shrimp kebabs, with roasted garlic, and a peppy avocado papaya salsa.
Coming home was a breeze too. The US Customs Service has a beachhead in the Bermuda International Airport, so you clear customs on the island, avoid what can be interminable lines at JFK’s international terminal, and waltz through JFK to the luggage carousel as if you’re returning from a wild weekend in Cleveland.
David McKay Wilson has written on travel over the past 30 years as a freelance journalist, with his travel stories appearing in The Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, Hartford Courant, New Haven Advocate, and Gannett News Service. An avid cyclist and skier, Wilson enjoys vacationing in the mountains and by the sea. His articles on public affairs have appeared regularly in The New York Times. He’s currently the nation’s top freelance writer for university alumni magazines, with his work appearing in publications at 81 colleges and universities, including Harvard, Columbia, Dartmouth, Brown and the University of Chicago.