The White Mountains Bicycle Tour (experience, proper bike optional)
We each carried a change of clothes, minimal food (a few bars, nuts, sausage), and water (2L each). Since this tour involves a reasonable amount of elevation gain, every pound counts.
Neither Henry nor I are very experienced cyclists. I have some experience bike touring, but Henry had never ridden further than about 20 miles and was on a glorified mountain bike, proving any fit person can do this tour. A less fit person with a better bike and/or gear shuttling should also find it challenging yet achievable.
I recorded our ride on Strava, you can see our ride by following the links in each day’s title.
Click these to skip to their respective subsections:
We started at the Notch, opting to carry our own gear rather than pay for the shuttle service. After passing through the shops and restaurants of downtown North Woodstock (breakfast recommendations here!), the route enters the woods at the Franconia bike path.
A lot of the elevation gain for the day is done here, but the shade makes it a lot more comfortable. A bridge towards the end of the bike path provides a sweeping view of the landscape:
Eventually, the path ends, the road begins, and the speed picks up.
We opted to take a gravel path as a shortcut to getting on to Rt 2, but at this point we were quite tired and a bit conflicted on whether this was worth it [Notch note: based on Nick’s feedback, we do not recommend this shortcut].
When we arrived in Gorham we got a pizza and fries at Mountain Fire Pizza, which ran us about $20 each but was very filling.
This is the easiest day of the tour by a decent margin. If I were worried about it being too easy, I’d recommend combining this day either with Bear Notch (go here, scroll to Day 2, MAKE IT LONGER), or with a hike at Pinkham Notch. The crux of this ride is climbing 1.8k’ to Pinkham Notch.
We ate our lunch here, and continued on. Going downhill was awesome, I went about 40mp/h on the descent and could have easily gone faster had I trusted my bike more.
After the descent the road flattens out and it’s a mostly flat ride to Conway. I’d recommend stopping in North Conway to buy groceries if necessary. The grocery store closer to the hostel is suboptimal. There’s a Mexican restaurant and a nice looking cafe in town, but we decided to be frugal.
At White Mountains there’s a cool record collection, a TV with Netflix/Amazon, a guitar, and board games to pass the time. Additionally the kitchen can accommodate multiple groups cooking simultaneously.
It’s possible to start immediately on to Kancamagus highway, however we opted to take Passaconnaway Road, which was well worth it. It’s off the main road, paved, and includes a covered bridge.
The beginning of this route is less steep than it seems on Google Maps. We didn’t really think we were gaining elevation, until somewhere after this sign:
This is the hardest (and most rewarding) day, despite having less mileage and elevation gain than Day One. The elevation profile illustrates the difficulty:
Luckily there are a number of turnoffs and overlooks to take breaks on during this climb. We were quite proud of having only stopped twice.
This road, in addition to being the most difficult, is also the most dangerous of the tour. There’s a number of right turns with minimal (~1-2′) shoulder and a guard rail. Despite this, the road is quite popular among cyclists, which should mean that cars are generally aware of the possibility of cyclists just-around-the-bend.
Afterwards, cruise down the hill, and don’t miss the bike path next to the Loon Mountain Resort.
Coming back into town there are a number of places to eat. Black Mountain Burger is quite good, for example.
Compared to other bike tours I’ve done this offers better views , easier navigation and higher road quality and makes for a more athletically interesting route as a result of the climbs. There’s a definite satisfaction to reaching the top of the hills at Pinkham Notch and Kancamagus Pass.
Opting to go without gear shuttling was great, especially since we could easily bring snacks with us and save money on eating out/shuttling/etc. While some official bike tours are pricey or have rigid schedules, we appreciated that this tour could easily be done on a budget and we could adjust the route and schedule to our fit our goals for the trip.
Hanging out at the hostels and talking to some of the thru hikers definitely made me more interested in the AT. We enjoyed a sort of mutual admiration of the difficulties of thru hiking vs. bike touring whilst hanging out at the fire, in addition to a really bizarre set of topics ranging from inane to philosophical.