by Kip Roberts
It’s no secret that Vermont has some of the best fall foliage tours in New England. On the seat of a bicycle, with the wind in your hair, is a great way to experience the landscape. But while gravel bicycling is seeing huge participation gains across the country, Vermont’s most scenic back-road foliage rides require quite a lot of climbing. Enter electric-assist bicycles, or “e-bikes.” No longer are some of the best loops from town only accessible by car. E-bikes successfully expand ranges, open possibilities, and make gravel road cycling more accessible to more people. Stop into Onion River Outdoors this fall to rent or purchase e-bikes for these five local fall foliage loops.
Muddy Onion Hibernator Loop
Unveiled this past April as the “short option” for gravel riders awakening from a long winter, or those without enough riding under their belt to tackle the full 37-mile Muddy Onion, this loop climbs past ancient rock walls, sneaks around the back of Sodom Pond on an especially quiet stretch of gravel, and yields sweeping views of mountains to the south and west via North Street. Be sure to swing by the quaint and lively Adamant Co-op for a mid-ride snack, but leave room for a creemee at Morse Farm on your cruise back to town. Cap the adventure with a well-earned bite and drink at Three Penny Taproom.
Red Hen Rise
There are only a few options out of Montpelier that don’t require a solid climbing effort, and this is one of them. Meander along the Winooski River via the gravel River Road on your way to Middlesex for a quick scone and dark cup of artisan coffee. Linger in the café for a bit or saddle right back up, ‘cause the Great Brook climb awaits. With a steady pitch up to Center Road, you’ll be fully warmed up for the Molly Supple climb. Be sure to enjoy the coast’s view along Culver Road when looking over your shoulder to see Mount Hunger peeking out the clouds. Tip: The 14-mile round-trip to Red Hen Bakery and back is a solid morning “coffee run.” If you’re not feeling up to tackling the Middlesex climbs, spinning back around on River Road is completely acceptable. Brook Road and Molly Supple will still be there for next time.
Chasing Berlin Pond
Possibly better done as two separate loops, this ride gets a bit adventurous after leaving River Road. The maximum grade of 16.6 percent on the switchbacks of Chase Road will make even the hardiest rider question the route choice, or at least require those on e-bikes to click their motor into its highest mode to crest this hill. As you swiftly descend into Riverton, be sure to look left at the canyon carved by eons of spring melt. Berlin Pond awaits your climb up Crosstown Road (best done during low traffic times) and offers glimpses of fall colors perfectly mirrored in its cool waters. Rolling climbs take you down to Onion River Road and back to the more adventurous stretch of the pond. Caution is advised and care should be taken on the stream crossing and rocky sections. Upon successful navigation, the honks of the departing geese will cheer you home along Hill Street and its gravel road overpass—a Vermont oddity. Take ‘er slow down the big hill to town!
Horn of the Bear Swamp
Terrace Street to East Hill offers five miles of nearly undisturbed climbing on this favorite loop from Montpelier. Bring your climbing legs and/or your specialized e-bike for this route that takes you close to Mount Hunger via a small section of the Class 4 (unmaintained) road. The massive (and paved) descent of Shady Rill and views via the dam at the south end of Wrightsville Reservoir will get you set to tackle Horn of The Moon. Get ready for more spectacular views on North Street before a hasty retreat to town.
Maple Corner Loop de Loop
This wandering loop has multiple options for shorter loops, route adjustment, or additional exploring. If you make it all the way out to Maple Corner, reward yourself with a swim and a bite to eat at the general store. History abounds in Kents Corners. Don’t pass up the small detour up Robinson Cemetery Road to check out the “thunder mill.” Zip by the Old West Church on your way to skirting Bliss Pond and taking a little long cut up Wheeler Road for a bit more exploration of this Class 4road. Adamant and its serene pond offer a quick break before you rollercoaster past farms and sugaring operations on Center Road. Get blissed out on Bliss Road before shooting down Main Street into town.
Kip Roberts was a 15-year employee at Onion River Sports and now owns Onion River Outdoors with his wife Jennifer. No stranger to gravel, mountain, cyclocross, and road riding, Kip personally recommends these loops from experience.