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BIKING : Pedaling the world's byways offers the opportunity to stop and enjoy life's simple pleasures. Whether on country lanes from the California coast to the shores of New England or on scenic back roads of Britain, the Continent and the Orient, the rewards outweigh the effort.

May 31, 1987|JERRY HULSE | Times Travel Editor

For travelers who are still spinning their wheels over vacation ideas, how about biking through the Rockies this summer--or maybe the back roads of Vermont?

Scenes off an old-fashioned calendar await the pedaling pack on dozens of tours from California to the salty shores of Cape Cod.

For others with appetites for more exotic adventure, there are paths that lead through Britain, the Continent and the Orient in what promises to be the spinningest summer in bicycle history.

In New England, groups will ride by day and enjoy the warmth of hot tubs and cozy inns at sundown. They'll dip into peaceful swimming holes and check out country villages with their old-fashioned goodness that matches the mood.

Vermont, with its rural roads and inviting inns, is a biker's joy. Picnic lunches are spread along rivers and streams and village greens, and afterward riders pedal by split-rail fences and across covered bridges that bring to mind scenes from a nearly forgotten yesterday.

Vermont's bikers shop for fresh strawberries during summer and tart apples in autumn when springtime's earlier promise fades with the golden benediction signaled by the turning of leaves and the return of Jack Frost.

Vermont Country Cyclers specializes in five-day tours ($499) both for the novice and the experienced biker. Riders give high points to a trip that begins in Stowe, Vt., and follows back roads through rural regions where nary a car is seen during an entire day. With Vermont Cyclers one may travel with the pack or go it alone, joining the group again in the evening.

Inn-to-inn touring is also provided by Bike Vermont, whose riders travel individually rather than in a group. Twelve to 15 riders get together each evening after setting their own pace during the day.

"No awards are given for finishing first," says promoter Bob McElwain. "It's low-key, non-competitive and no one need be a 'super-jock.' "

Bike Vermont, which has hosted riders ages 7 to 76, does both five-day ($455/$495) and weekend ($170/$190) trips. On one tour, bikers spend the night at an inn on the shore of Lake St. Catherine where they go canoeing or sailing; picnic lunches are spread on the village green at Chester and there's a swimming hole alongside an old mill near Rockingham.

Others go antiquing or cool the sprocket at a sugar mill and dairy farms with red barns and Morgan horses that graze deep in clover beside lofty silos.

One tour takes off from Chester to follow a stagecoach road to the charming village of Grafton with its covered bridge, art galleries and antique shops. Bikers look in on Norman Rockwell's home at Arlington and Calvin Coolidge's birthplace at Plymouth, along with the craft shops of Manchester and other inviting post card-like villages.

At Proctorsville, there is a simple inn with the poetic name of Golden Stage where flowers fresh from the garden grace tables. Guests warm themselves by a fireplace and sneak naps in the parlor while the owner whips up marvelous desserts.

Blossoms lend their fragrance along Vermont's country lanes, and meadows are choked with wildflowers. Inns on the Proctorsville route are 20 to 25 miles apart, allowing for leisurely rides and visits to village shops selling homemade quilts, Christmas tree ornaments and rock candy stacked beside old-fashioned cracker barrels filled with fresh cheeses and berry preserves.

A different twist is offered by Vermont Bicycle Touring with its five-night sail-and-cycle tours ($695) and a seven-day cruise-and-cycle adventure ($1,395) with accommodations aboard a 19th-Century windjammer that sails along the coasts of Maine, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

VBT produces other tours using inns, including one that features picnics under a covered bridge, shopping in Woodstock, Vt., and an ex-farmhouse with wood-burning stoves, a piano for sing-alongs and ethnic meals ranging from Greek to Mexican to Oriental cuisine.

Trips Abroad

Ten Speed Tours of Van Nuys has scheduled trips this summer through France, Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Austria and Hungary. One tour begins in Paris and moves south to the chateaux country in the Loire Valley. Another gets under way in Munich and continues into Bavaria and on to Salzburg. Riders ages 13 to 67 average about 35 miles per day.

These are small groups, no more than 20 riders, and Ten Speed's Don Finch prefers groups of 15. Bikers spend two weeks ($1,595) exploring the back roads of rural Europe. Finch's Germany/Austria trips get high praise, what with Alpine scenery and charming mom 'n' pop inns that provide home-cooked meals. One biker told Finch that he simply didn't want to go home again.

For cyclists seeking deluxe accommodations, Progressive Travels of Colorado is scheduling a series of tours to France's Dordogne and Lot Valleys, spotlighting the renowned Chateau de Romegouse, Chateau de la Treyne, Hotel Fournier and the two-starred Michelin Centenaire in the Dordogne ($1,590).

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