Cycling and the Beach

If you live in a beach town, it is easy to hop on a cruiser and pedal to the shore, have a swim, more or less dry off, and pedal home. But what about incorporating the beach into long, strenuous and hilly touring style-rides? This has been our dilemma when taking trips to Maine this summer. In the absence of folding bikes (and frankly, I don't think folding bikes would be appropriate for the terrain here), we strap our roadbikes to the car, and get around entirely by bike once we arrive to our "base" location. In rural Maine, everything is far away from everything else - at least by Boston standards - and it is normal for us to cycle 5-10 hilly miles from one destination to another, multiple times in a day. We often pass our favourite beach in the area, but swimming can seem like such a project when your bicycle bags are already stuffed with photo equipment and other things, and the beach has no changing rooms. 

Plus, when a 10 mile ride with plenty of uphill lies between the beach and the nearest town where you could freshen up, believe me that you don't want any sand to be stuck in your body's crevices, and neither do you want to pedal in a bathing suit. The Co-Habitant has tried wearing his swim trunks on the bike, and regretted it. 

So here is my solution: I bring a bathing suit and a thin Pashmina or wrap instead of a towel. These take up almost no extra space in my saddle bag. Once at the beach, I remove my shoes and socks, wrap myself in the pashmina, and change into my bathing suit underneath it. If you don't have a pashmina or wrap, a long oversized t-shirt can work as a "changing tent" as well. After swimming, I "air dry" while either walking around or sitting on rocks (rather than sitting on sand); then I reverse the "changing tent" process. After this, the bathing suit can be wrung out, placed on a rock to dry off a bit, then placed in a plastic bag and packed away into the saddle bag together with the pashmina. After de-sanding my feet and putting my socks and shoes back on, I am ready to keep cycling. All this is a surprisingly low-hassle process. 

Of course, one thing to make sure of before you stop at a beach like this, is that your water bottles are full. Also, never try to prop up your bike on the sand using a kickstand; carefully lay it down instead (drivetrain side up). Even if it seems as if the bike is stable on the kickstand, the sand's consistency changes with the wind and the tide, and the bike can easily fall. Oh, and if you go swimming, leave your bike as far from the water as possible - the tide can come in faster than you think!

Swimming in the ocean and cycling are two of my favourite activities, and it feels wonderful to combine them. Interestingly, the ocean water seems to be a great complement to high-intensity cycling - relaxing the muscles and giving me extra energy to go on. Anybody else have this experience?  


  1. I also find that cycling and swimming are a great combination. When I lived in Fiji
    I had a similar routine to yours.
    The main variation being that instead of
    drying off in the sun, I would dry off with
    a small sports towel. They are easy to carry
    and they get the salt off my skin,
    which makes it far more comfortable
    once dressed and back on the bike.

    John I

  2. must be all the good minerals in the Maine water!!! I have spent so much time swimming in the ocean in Maine....thanks for the tips on integrating biking!

    I have decided, upon reading lots of stuff here on your blog and on others', to just save money and buy a new-to-me bike rather than making the old one better. Ultimately, it doesn't fit correctly and is not the style of bike that I want to have as I enter my 31st year on Planet Earth.

    Enjoy the last cycling weeks of summer!!! And say hi to Maine for me! :)

  3. I'm nowhere near the ocean anymore, but I live 4 miles from a wonderful lake and like to cycle there to swim for a bit. You're right about it relaxing the muscles for the ride back. I just find water in general invigorating (which is why I love riding in the rain). Thanks for posting your "changing tent" idea! I've just been dealing with the wet swimsuit until I got back home. I may give this a try.

  4. Patience - I miss living in Maine so, so much and hope to move back there soon. And it is amazing how different the water is even in Southern Maine from the water in MA or even the NH Seacoast. There is just something special about it that I have not found anywhere else.

    Amy - I can deal with a wet swim suit on some bikes, but not on a roadbike and not for over 10 miles!

    johni - No idea why, but I have noticed that men's swimming trunks dry faster than women's bathing suits. Conspiracy?

  5. Sounds amazing. Nicely orchestrated routine you figured out, there :) I miss the ocean of my home state. I don't feel that Chicago's Lake MIchigan shores are clean enough to use for swimming (a feeling that is backed up by frequent closings due to e.coli). I will live vicariously through your beach experiences.

  6. My very first rides of more than an hour were taken along the northern Jersey shore, where my family moved at the beginning of my adolescence. More than three decades later, swimming, oceans (or other large bodies of water) and cycling are inextricably linked for me.

    I, too, have experienced the restorative powers of salt water. It really doesn't matter where the ocean is; salt water seems to have the same ability to heal wherever you find it.

    Thanks for your tips about clothing. Back in the day, I used to pedal in a pair of cutoffs and no top. Of course, I can't do that now!

    I once pedalled about 700 km. to take a swim in the ocean. On my fifth trip to France, I had no itinerary but to visit some friends in Paris and spend some time cycling. I decided, for no particular reason, to pedal to the ocean. Five days later, I ended up in Cap Ferrat, near Bordeaux. I also cycled to, and went swimming, in Lacanau. And, of course, I spent a couple of days in Bordeaux.

    I cannot imagine that trip without those swims in the ocean. One thing, though: I wasn't prepared for how much colder the water was there than in the NY-NJ area. Turns out, Bordeaux is just about as far north as Montreal!

  7. Velouria: I am willing to believe that the fact that men's bathing trunks dry faster than women's bathing suits is indeed part of the same conspiracy that makes women's clothing less durable and in need of more maintainence than men's. (Still, I wouldn't trade back!)

    However, I think that there are two rational explanations for the shorter drying times of men's bathing suits. One is simply that there is generally less to them than to women's bathing suits. But I also think that men tend to have more body heat, which would speed up the drying process.

  8. I only wish the ocean water I lived near was warm enough to swim in-- Here in the Pacific NW, I have to be happy with merely beach combing and tide pooling! I either have to be happy to swim in fresh water or to go to a heated saltwater pool with water piped in from the adjacent beach (which I have cycled to). My experience with men's and women's suit drying times is opposite from yours. at least in my case I find that my partner's suit drys slower than mine-- seems to be more material in his suit-- especially the surf shorts he favors.

  9. Justine - In France I have only been swimming in Biarritz, which is 200km or so South of Bordeaux. In Biarritz, the water was pretty much perfect for me; any warmer than that and the climate gets too hot for my liking. I am told there is a spectacular cycling route along the coast in that region and would love to do it some day.

  10. Amanda - I think many would argue that the water in Maine is not swimmable either! But over time some get used to it : )

  11. the water in Maine is is co-o-o-o-o-o-llllldddder

  12. I would so love to be close to an ocean. Alas, I have to be satisfied with paddling in a river with a sketchy reputation. I usually ride in a skirt with my bike shorts underneath, so when I'm changing into my 2 piece suit I can just do it under my skirt, and cover myself with a towel for changing the top. After swimming, I just put the skirt on and let my bottom completely air dry before putting my shorts back on.

  13. love me some ocean and bikes. Although as I rode my townie along wellfleet's roads I thought that perhaps someone needed to tell Wellfleet that it needed to be flatter to accomodate my cruiser!

  14. I will never again capsize "for fun" in Seal Harbor. I am a hot weather creature. That is all.

  15. Vee - I remember thinking that Wellfleet should be flatter too : ) Can't imagine cycling there on a cruiser!

    neighbourtease - I love Seal harbor, though I admit I've never capsized there.

  16. Any suggestions for getting the sand out of the chain afterwards?!

  17. I am sure good fenders help. And not laying the bike on the drive side. Sand gets stuck in pedals and such, but shakes off after you ride away and pick up some speed on the road.

    Sand and small particles of dust are everywhere though, both trails and roads, not just on the beach. Our internal hubs and derailer systems seem to be okay with it so long as we keep them oiled.

  18. I agree with MDI. We ride our bikes on the beach all the time, and I have never gotten sand in the chain. The main thing is to not get the bicycle wet, and to lay it down on the non-chaindrive side. As for bits of sand that accumulate elsewhere, the wind blows them right off once you start cycling.

  19. I do not know, I have always had problems with the bikes on the beach. Sand gets into the chain and you're not going anywhere until you clean it. Therefore, on the beach it is best to do what is necessary - to swim, scream, fun and lie on the sand or this sun lounger.


Post a Comment