Pastel Colors and Narrow Roads

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Bermuda. The gem of the Atlantic

Counting this most recent trip, I have been to Bermuda six times. So it’s fair to say that I like it there. The interesting thing about it is that it hasn’t changed much since the first time I went there some 25 years ago. It’s still the quaint, yet bustling little patch of pretty 665 miles east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. In case you didn’t know, that’s all ocean in that direction.

At just 22 miles long and having an area of 20.5 square miles, Bermuda has only 278 miles of roads. On those 278 miles, approximately 71,000 people make their way around to and from the capital city of Hamilton, the Royal Navy Dockyard, St. George’s and all the beaches and resorts on it’s southern coast. And like any other place in the world, Bermuda has a two rush hours at 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.. It is at these times you will see the hoards of scooters, micro vans, small cars and pink and blue buses moving about the island on the narrowest roads I have ever seen.

Outside of the usual daily traffic and activity, you will also experience the presence of a mass amount of tourists, those that fly in and those that come in by cruise ship. Within that small population of people, a percentage of them will rent scooters, bicycles and the few electric cars available on the island. Then there are the rare idiots, like myself, who bring their own bicycle with them to the island.

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A sample of one of the many micro-vans you’ll see on the island

One two previous trips, I brought my own bicycle and on another I rented a bicycle. It was the rented bicycle trip that made me decide to bring my own. Imagine the looks when I wheeled a bicycle up the boarding ramp and navigated it around the narrow passageways and stairways on the ship. Though I should note here that this trip I was required to pack the bike in a travel bag and check it as luggage. To say I was nervous about this was an understatement. However, my bike bag arrived at our cabin and all was good. Sigh of relief breathed, I took the bike out and set it up for the ride.

Packing the bike was something I had never done before. Aside from taking off the wheels, removing the skewers, detach rear derailleur from the frame, lowering the seat, rotating the bars down and zip-tying the chain and rear derailleur to the chain stay, I didn’t have have to go nuts removing a lot of parts, especially the pedals.  I wrapped the rear derailleur and cranks in work towels, zip-tied all loose items and wheels to the frame. My helmet and cycling shoes were in a cloth bag inside the travel bag and didn’t move around, so all was good. I instructed the baggage handlers to please not stack anything on top of the bike bag as it was very fragile. They understood completely and complied. Nice tips for those guys.

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Off the ship and ready to ride.

Wheeling the bike from the cabin, down the stairs from deck 12 to deck 4 was a treat. I couldn’t take the elevator because the bike was actually too long to just roll it in and the elevators were terribly slow. Not slow in their up and down movement, the waiting for an elevator. So it was faster to just walk it down the stairs. The walk up later would be another story. Regardless, I got plenty of strange looks and comments going out and coming in.

Once outside of the ship, I took a moment to snap a picture of the bike next to the ship to prove that I arrived with it just in case the customs guys and gals gave me a hard time when I went to get back on. They didn’t and they assured me it’s quite normal.

Having ridden here before, I knew what to expect and I knew how to ride. Here, you drive/ride on the left, so get familiar with that really quick. With a top speed limit of roughly 35 MPH, you’re not getting anywhere in a hurry, but occasionally, someone will find their way beyond that 35 mph, but it’s not often. The roads in Bermuda are very narrow. Where a driving lane in the states is generally 9′ to 12′ wide, here in Bermuda the driving lanes MIGHT be 7 to 8 feet. A full size American SUV is 6′ wide and your average sedan is nearly 6′ wide. The Bermuda buses are at least the same width as the drive lane in Bermuda. Occasionally, an American sized tractor trailer truck will rear its ugly head and try and navigate the tiny roads from the seaport in Hamilton to the Dockyard. That is a treat to witness and I have often asked “What is that doing here?” only to receive a shrug from locals for an answer. So you can see, things are a little snug on the roadways on this little island. That being said, as a cyclist, it is prudent to ride with a mirror on your helmet or bars and reference it frequently. To that I add, if you’re from the states, you’ll have to switch it to the right side or it may not be as effective.

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See what’s coming…. from behind you

Though very polite people, roadways can get backed up quickly for slower moving traffic, including bicycles. If they can overtake you, they will, but generally, they wait it out. But if the opportunity presents itself, and it will, when a driveway or side street comes into view, duck into it and let the traffic by. Being polite back to those who are tolerating your hobby is appreciated.

One other thing to note is that Bermuda is not a flat slab of sand. It is a very hilly, coral island. Not smooth gentle rolling hills like any American country road might be. These are steep and abrupt climbs that will suck the life out of your legs very quickly if you aren’t prepared for it. If there is one thing you can be sure of is you’re not picking a gear and sticking with it for hours on end. Oh, no, no, no. Your legs, lungs and drive train are going to get a workout here. Sure, there are 1 and 2% climbs here and there. There are also 10-20% climbs here and there as well.

The Ride

All the times I have ridden in Bermuda were met with minimal interactions with traffic away from Hamilton. That is not to say you won’t run into traffic situations or have a line of cars, micro-vans and buses behind you, you may, but not that often. To say I was super excited to be back in Bermuda AND riding my bike here would be an understatement. As a result, I left the dock with great exuberance.

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The Dockyard. The Pier in the foreground is what I had to ride when leaving the ship and coming back. In the center you can see the clock towers where the shopping mall is. The single road leaving the dockyard is to the right of that water tower.

Once off the pier I had to follow the road, sort of, to get on the correct road out of the dockyard. This is your first taste of interaction with tourist scooters, buses and other traffic depending on the time of day you go. I recommend early morning around 9 a.m. after rush hour.

Within minutes you’re climbing, again, not killer climbs, but enough to interrupt that rhythm you’re trying to find. Once you’ve left the dockyard you cross over 4 small islands on the single road to the dockyard and then you enter Somerset Village, one of the larger islands that makes up Bermuda. Here, you have the new option to meander some of the side roads to stay off of the main Somerset Road and avoid the traffic. The problem here is knowing what road is a dead end or being able to ride at a good speed. The side roads I might add, are not in the best condition. I elected to stay on Somerset Road for the challenge and to keep up a good pace. I was kidding myself of course.


Brief History Lesson: The Railway Trail

In the early 1920’s, the Brits though it would be a great idea to have a railroad on the island. One that would go from one end to the other since there weren’t that many roads. In fact, between 1908 and 1946, the Bermuda government banned automobiles. So in 1931, after a decade of planning and setbacks, the railway was finally ready and on October 31, 1931 “Old Rattle and Shake” ran from St. George’s Station to Somerset Station. Although extremely popular during the 17 years it ran, it was known as the most expensive railroad in the world to run and maintain. Even though in 1945 the train carried 1.5 million passengers, it still lost money. As a result, it was shut down in the spring of 1948.  The rails were eventually removed, bridges dismantled and the land/route was designated as a National Park in 1986. 18 of the original 22 miles are accessible to the public divided into nine section ranging between 1 mile and 3.75 miles long.

Note: Although I have ridden in Bermuda 3 times, I have yet to ride the full length, all sections, of the Railway Trail. It would take an entire day to do this.

For me the main disappointment about the Railway Trail is that seems un-maintained. I would think that in all the years since 1986, the full length of the trail would be nicely paved, supported with information stations, perhaps beverage stops and maps. I would think that the trail would be a bigger draw to tourists if it were well maintained and had amenities to attract would be users.


The Ride (cont)

Not long after crossing the bridge onto Somerset Village you have the option to turn onto Beacon Hill Road and the access the western end of the Railway Trail. Having done this before, I decided why not do it again. The Railway Trail is relatively flat and sadly, the surface, is not in the best of condition. The broken asphalt and patched areas make it difficult to find a comfortable pace at times, but it is still a pleasant ride. You will have to navigate around joggers, runners, walkers, slower riders from time to time but the upside is the scenery and the shade.

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This section was lined with flowers and the smell was heavenly
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Sections like this were lined with tall coral walls and cool air. Sadly, not all of the trail is paved this well, but the section that are offer wonderful riding.

This part of the railway trail is one of the longer sections and had some wonderful views and it also saved my legs from the many climbs that dot this little island. But eventually, the trail meets up with Middle Road and as you can expect, it falls in the middle of the island. Oddly enough, it is between North Road and South Road. No need to stretch one’s imagination here. At that intersection of the Trail and Middle Road I made a left and crossed over Somerset Bridge. Site of the worlds smallest Drawbridge. Once over the bridge…. up a steep climb. Now if you are riding a road bicycle like was, you have little option and must take the road for a short time. If you are on a mountain bike or one with bigger tires and maybe some suspension, you can take the Railway Trail. This portion of it is not paved for about 1/2 mile and then it resumes as a paved surface. If you do take the road, make first left onto Patnters Lane and that will take you to the Railway Trail again.

I stayed on the road and it was nice. Smooth and I was able to keep up a good pace despite some of the short climbs. Eventually though, the traffic got the best of me and I veered off on a side road to the Railway Trail again. There are parts of the trail that do pose a bit of an interruption, an inconvenience if you will. I understand why though. Those on scooters have, will and do take advantage of the trail to make time despite the signs clearly saying not to. But there are barriers to prevent this in spots.

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If you can bunny hop, you’ll do fine.

Just prior to coming to one of these barriers, a guy on a scooter went by me going the other way. When I got to this barrier, I pondered how he got through. Eventually, the Railway Trail turned back to dirt and seeing this, I exited to the main road and stayed on this for a short time until another paved short section of the Railway Trail came into view. This section was only about a mile long and put me back on Middle Road just before my planned turn onto South Road.

Having ridden both bicycle and scooter in Bermuda before, I was familiar with the challenges of being on the left side of the road. Still, the need to make a right turn plays with the senses a little bit as you try and discern if you are doing it correctly. Having not heard any screeching wheels or horns, I did well at the intersection of the two roads and headed UP South Road, which, crosses this narrow section of the island and winds it’s way along its southern coast.

My plan was to ride along the south coast for a bit and then head back north and climb up to Gibbs Hill Lighthouse. Having been there before, I knew the climb and what to expect. But, before that, South Road was glorious and the views were amazing.

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The Storck was enjoying these roads and I, the views.

Not long after the spot in the photo above, the road bends right and then left. I had planned on turning left onto Church Road and then a right onto St. Anne’s Road. But, I was having such a great time spinning along on South Road that I blew right by it. “I’ll make the next left” I said to myself. So I did. That road dipped down and then up, up in the vicinity of 10% up into a sharp left turn that turned to a dead end. Ugh. Although I had Strava running, at the time I lacked a phone mount for my bars, my phone was in my jersey pocket. So I stopped to check where I was. Ah… make a left at the second street on to Tribe Road No. 3. So, down the hill, up the hill to South Road. I made the left and once again enjoyed that nice section and then made the left where needed.

Here is where I questioned my decision not to turn around when I missed my original planned left turn. I don’t mind climbs. I just suck at them, but I don’t mind. I like the challenge and the ability to say “I did that”, if, to no one else but myself and those who may have done a particular climb. Up to this point, the steepest climb I’ve ever done was 23% and it was barely two tenths of a mile long. Tribe Road No 3 is 17% for nearly a half mile. Tip from Ted boys and girls, make sure you are in the correct chain ring at the onset of a climb. Do not assume you are in the little ring. Needless to say I neglected to take note of this little fact and found out nearly 3/4’s of the way up this climb, when I ran out of gears in the back, that I was still in the big ring. Try all you want, you are not going to turn over your cranks at 52/23 on a 17% climb. Not gonna happen. I had to stop and get off the bike, shift down to the little ring and then position myself parallel on the road so I could restart my ascent. This is when I realized I should be in the middle of the cogset and not in the 23. Regardless, I got moving and finished the climb up to St. Anne’s Road.

I left it in the little ring as I continued my less strenuous ascent to the lighthouse access road. At that point the road tilted up even steeper the short distance to the parking lot. It was hard work, but enjoyable and I enjoyed the view.

From my vantage point next to a pair of mounted binoculars, I could see much of the island and used this time to breathe and cool off in the shade. At this location there is also a little tea room that serves the best scones you’ll ever have. Plus there is a little gift shop for those looking to get something for the folks back home. I didn’t have any cash on me so I skipped the idea of using my debit card for one of those scones and a cup of strong tea.

Leaving the lighthouse you have the option to go left or right at the “T” at the aptly named Lighthouse Road. Right brings you back to South Road and left brings you back to Middle Road. Knowing I was on a schedule, I made a left and zoomed down a twisty decent that will allow you to top out over 30 mph, but be on your guard, there are a few very sharp turns. Once at the bottom, you can either connect with the Railway Trail again or continue on Middle Road. I elected to double back to the Railway Trail in hopes it had improved a bit. I was mistaken. There is one section of the Railway Trail that, although it is accessible, doesn’t make for a good bike ride. This section doubles as Shawn Acres Lane and suddenly ends with a concrete staircase, then crosses an access road to the Fairmont Southampton Princess Hotel. It continues across this road and the you are greeted with another staircase of wood and dirt that goes up.

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After all these years I though they would have changed this to something more ride-able.

I opted, as you should, to avoid this section altogether and head to the left to Middle Road. This is where the ride starts to get really interesting. I consulted Google Maps and found the road I have wanted to ride for years. I was only on Middle Road for a short distance, maybe a 1 mile when I would make a left onto Burnt House Hill. This road would turn into Harbour Road and would hug the Great Sound and Hamilton Harbor.

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Up on Burnt House Hill…… For my Motorcycle Friends

It was a bit hilly at first but when you reach waters edge, it is breathtaking. But don’t get too caught up in the views, the road is narrower and faster as there will be many cars on this road making their way to and from Hamilton. But since the road is relatively flat, maintaining 20-25 mph is not a problem. And even if you can’t, the cars will bide their time behind you, but find a place to duck in when you can to let them by.

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Pull into one of the side parking areas should traffic build up behind you.

The part of the ride had me moving continuously right up to Front Street approaching Hamilton. With no time or place to stop, there were no pictures. I really wanted to get a picture of the one “round-a-bout” I had to navigate on this leg of the ride. It was easy but  once again, it will have your thought process swimming for explanation going through it.

Remember this tid-bit. All roundabouts are always a clockwise rotation in Bermuda.

No one likes a schedule when you’re out for a ride. But I had one. I had to catch the ferry back to the dockyard, get back to the ship, shower and change, catch the ferry back to Hamilton and meet my wife and grand-daughter in Hamilton and then catch a bus to the Crystal Caves before they closed at 4 p.m. Sadly, it would appear that I spent too much time enjoying the view at the lighthouse. In my minds eye, I was on the ferry and relaxing right in the middle of my perfectly laid out plan. I had to catch the 1:00 p.m. ferry. I was zooming down Front Street at 12:55 p.m. in a mad dash to the ferry landing. I rode right on to the boarding dock……. just as they closed the gate. Although I pleaded with the deck hand (the ferry was still tied up to the dock) “I’m here, why can’t I get on?”, all he did was say “Sorry, we’re on a schedule”, ropes flew and the boat pulled away. Rather quickly I might add.

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What you see when you miss the Ferry.
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What you do when you miss the Ferry.

I texted my wife and told her to just get on a bus in about an hour and go to the caves and I’ll catch the next ferry, come back and get the bus and meet them. It was a new plan.


A note about cellular communication

It’s not the best.

Check with your carrier before you head to the island to be sure that you will have coverage and/or what the charges will be. I have Sprint and although I was able to make calls while there, it would be at a cost of 25 cents per minute. Texting was free. Needless to say, we texted a lot.

Another thing you should know is that there is a “National WiFi” on the island. That is convenient to say the least but a word to the wise, it is tremendously slow. At least that is what I experienced and most times, I didn’t bother trying to use my iPhone to do anything internet related while in Bermuda. I don’t have that much time and I’m on vacation. Though I did use Strava and it worked fine, Google Maps was slow to respond. 


Having missed the ferry and still had an hour before the next one, I had two choices: Ride more around the area or ride directly back to the ship. After a little math and some help from Google Maps, I determined that if it would take nearly the same amount of time to ride back as it would to take the ferry back to the ship. In hindsight, I should have just ridden back, but I wanted to experience more of riding in Bermuda and not just the same roads I was on.

I left the Ferry terminal and headed west on Front Street along the harbor and eventually followed Pitts Bay Road to Serpentine Road. Now I know I only had an hour, so referral to the maps helped me determine that I couldn’t go too far in order to make it back in time for the next ferry. I meandered up and down roads around the city of Hamilton, even did some urban riding through the city streets and eventually found myself back on South Road after a few brutal but short climbs. I also determined that I was further from the terminal than I wanted to be and had to pick up the pace.

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Have at least one of these with you on your ride at all times. Keeps the smartphone and Strava running.

Fortunately, I found myself on a portion of South Road that was relatively flat and at one point even descended slightly, enabling me to pace over 20 mph for a mile and a half up to the Trimingham/South Road Roundabout. I entered, what we call a “Circle” here in the states, at 23 mph and zipped along Trimingham Road to the Crow Lane/Trimingham Road Roundabout and once again I came into that circle at nearly 24 mph. Proper braking is important here as these roundabouts are tight.

The last mile was along Front Street in Hamilton back to the Ferry Terminal. This stretch from the roundabout has a slight uptick in the road but then quickly levels out. As you near the city’s edge, the road dips down enough to allow you to power well into the 20’s, but watch for the traffic and crosswalks. In Bermuda, if someone just hovers a toe over the crosswalk, all traffic comes to a halt to allow the pedestrian to cross the road. So be mindful of the crosswalk signs and people who appear to intend to cross the road.

 

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On the ferry and headed back to the boat

I made it to the ferry in time, got another coke and propped my carbon up against the aft rail of the ferry for the nice cruise back to the dock yard. Once we off loaded there, I had to make the mad dash back to the ship. It was during this mad dash that I got yelled at a few times by police and guides as I zipped along much faster than I should have through gates and down lanes intended for one way traffic. Sincere apologies, I was in a hurry.  Although back at the Dockyard, I still had to go through security and navigate 8 flights of stairs with the bike, take a shower, change and run back to the ferry for the return trip to Hamilton, where I would catch the bus to the caves and meet the wife and Grand-daughter. That was the plan anyway.

I met with a repeat performance at the ferry dock as they pulled the gangway and shoved off without me upon my arrival. Admitting defeat, I took one of the many Pink and Blue Bermuda buses back to Hamilton, switched buses there and, after a bus breakdown and another bus, arrived in time for my girls to exit from the cave tour.

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Tiny, but big on 2-wheels

In Conclusion:
I love Bermuda. I love how it feels, how it smells and how it behaves. The people are just  wonderful and I’ve found nothing that disagrees with me about the island, okay, maybe the slow WiFi, but that’s not why we go there. I know I will return there and once again bring my bike and on that future trip, I hope to cover more of the island and not have a time constraint.

I cannot say enough good things about the road riding in Bermuda, it is wonderful. But if you go there to ride, be aware and take heed. It is not for the timid. You will have to push yourself at times to the limit, you WILL likely go anaerobic and you may get freaked out by the narrow roads and occasional traffic interactions. As I said earlier, you may have traffic interactions at times, but not all the time. Most times you can avoid it by ducking into a side street or driveway to let it pass.

Bermuda is expensive compared to most vacation destinations in the states. This is why we cruise to the island. We have flown down and spent a week on there in a guest house and while absolutely wonderful, it is a budget breaker… or can be. That is not so say you won’t have as much fun, it just means you will spend more, especially on food and transportation. But the budget traveler can find ways to make a trip to Bermuda a memorable time.

For my motorcycle friends, the largest size you will find here is a 125cc and they are all Scooters. There are no Sport, Dual-Sport, Cruisers or big V-Twins here to rent. Although I did see one 125cc chopper, everything for rent is a Scooter. But I promise you, you will enjoy that.

And for the cyclist, well…… you need to go to Bermuda and ride.

Tips:

  • If you go there on a cruise ship, use a day or two in the fitness center on board to keep up your fitness.
  • While Bermuda has pretty temperate climate, April through October is ideal. Just be wary with March through May are considered their “rainy season”.
  • Always wear some sunblock, but keep it below your eyes.
  • Bring water, regardless of how far you plan to ride.
  • Always carry your ID and Passport on you. For this I used a fanny pack so there was no chance of loosing them out of my Jersey pockets.
  • Bring your own bike. While bike rentals are available, it is not likely you will get a machine that will give you the ride you want. I did this many years ago and was terribly disappointed. That is not to say one of the local shops won’t rent you a great bike, it’s always better on your own. Check with the cruise line you are going on and tell them you want to bring your own ride and see what their policies are. WE always cruise Norwegian. Will they allow you to wheel it on or do you have to check it in like luggage? Get a bike bag or case. (Note: I was able to store it under the bed in our cabin on the ship in the case)
  • Take a picture of your bike as you are getting off the ship as proof it is yours. Also check with the customs and security folks as you are leaving just to let them know you are there with your own bike and will be back later. I am told you don’t need to do this, but it doesn’t hurt to keep them in the loop.
  • Remember to keep left!!
  • Plan your route. Google Maps and street view are great resources to figure out where you want to go.
  • Bring cash. American or Bermudian money OR have your debit card with you.
  • Check with local bike shops on the island for their group rides. They have many!
  • Watch for those crosswalks!
  • If you plan to use the ferry or buses, buy a 2 or 3 day transportation pass. It’ll save you time and money. Bikes are not allowed on Buses, but they are on the ferries.
  • Roundabouts are clockwise!
  • Carry spare tubes and a pump. CO2 carts are allowed if you pack them in your bike bag/case. Pack your helmet and bike shoes in the bag/case as well if you can.
  • Carry a power pack as seen in the above photo.
  • Get a smartphone mount for your handlebars. (you’ll thank me later). I use the one in the link. Rock solid and I highly recommend it.
  • If you bring a road bike, stick to the roads. The Railway trail, while nice at times, doesn’t have a continuous smooth surface. There are many patches and broken pavement, barriers, joggers and walkers to deal with. Not to mention stairs and dirt.
  • If you bring a mountain bike or hybrid, stick to the railway trail. You can ride at a leisurely pace and not be concerned with lugging that heavy bike up the climbs or worry about the traffic building up behind you.
  • Take pictures!

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