What's unique about biking on Martha's Vineyard is that you'll find not only the smooth, well-maintained paths indigenous to the Cape, but also long stretches of road with virtually no traffic that, while rough in spots, traverse breathtaking country landscapes with sweeping ocean views. Serious cyclists will want to do a 1-day circle-the-island tour through the up-island towns and out to Aquinnah, stopping in Menemsha before heading back down-island. You'll pass through all six Vineyard towns and encounter some unique off-the-beaten-track businesses.
For much of the trek, you'll travel country roads, so beware of sandy shoulders and blind curves. Avoid tour buses by taking routes outlined below, such as the Moshup Trail to Aquinnah, or the triangle of paved bike paths between the down-island towns. These bike paths, roughly 8 miles to a side, link the down-island towns of Oak Bluffs, Edgartown, and Vineyard Haven (the sound portion along Beach Rd., flanked by water on both sides, is especially scenic). From Edgartown you can also follow the bike path to South Beach (also known as Katama Beach). The bike paths are accessible off Edgartown-West Tisbury Road, in Oak Bluffs, West Tisbury, and Edgartown.
The up-island roads leading to West Tisbury, Chilmark, Menemsha, and Aquinnah are a cyclist's paradise, with sprawling, unspoiled pastureland, old farmhouses, and brilliant sea views reminiscent of Ireland's countryside. But the terrain is often hilly, and the roads are narrow and a little rough around the edges. Try South Road from the town of West Tisbury to Chilmark Center (about 5 miles). En route you'll pass stone walls rolling over moors, clumps of pine and wildflowers, verdant marshes and tide pools, and, every once in a while, an old Vineyard farmhouse. About halfway you'll notice the road becoming hillier as you approach a summit, Abel's Hill, home to the Chilmark Cemetery, where comedian John Belushi is buried. A mile farther, don't miss the view of Allen Farm, an operating sheep farm amid picturesque pastureland. Middle Road is another lovely ride with a country feel and will also get you from West Tisbury to Chilmark. (It's usually less trafficked, too.)
My favorite up-island route is the 6-mile stretch from Chilmark Center out to Aquinnah via State Road and Moshup Trail. The ocean views along this route are spectacular. Don't miss the Quitsa Pond Lookout, about 2 miles down State Road, which provides a panoramic vista of Nashaquitsa and Menemsha ponds, beyond which you can see Menemsha, the Vineyard Sound, and the Elizabeth Islands -- it's an amazing place to watch the sunset on a clear evening. A bit farther, just over the Aquinnah town line, is the Aquinnah spring, a roadside iron pipe where you can refill your water bottle with the freshest and coldest water on the island. At the fork after the spring, turn left on Moshup Trail -- in fact, a regular road -- and follow the coast, which offers gorgeous views of the water and the sweeping sand dunes. You'll soon wind up in Aquinnah, where you can explore the red-clay cliffs and pristine beaches. On the return trip, you can take the handy bike ferry ($7 round-trip) from Aquinnah to Menemsha. It runs daily in summer and weekends in May.
A word about Aquinnah: Almost every visitor to the Vineyard finds his or her way to the cliffs, and with all the tour buses lined up in the huge parking lot and the rows of tacky concession stands and gift shops, this can seem like a rather outrageous tourist trap. You're right; it's not the Grand Canyon. But the observation deck, with its view of the colorful cliffs, the adorable brick lighthouse, and the Elizabeth Islands beyond, will make you glad you bothered. Instead of rushing away, stop for a cool drink and a clam roll at the snack bar, with the deck overlooking the ocean.
The adventurous mountain biker will want to head to the 8 miles of trails in the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest (tel. 508/693-2540; www.mass.gov/dcr/parks/southeast/corr.htm), a vast spread of scrub oak and pine smack-dab in the middle of the island that also boasts paved paths and hiking and horseback-riding trails. For those seeking an escape from the multitudes, the trails are so extensive that even during peak summer season, it is possible to not see another soul for hours. On most of the conservation land on the Vineyard, however, mountain biking is prohibited, for environmental reasons.
Bike rental operations are ubiquitous near the ferry landings in Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs, and there are also a few outfits in Edgartown.
The chamber of commerce has a great bike map available at its office on Beach Road, in Vineyard Haven.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.