Maine’s fall cycling season begins before the official equinox of Sept. 23, and in Belgrade Lakes, Sept. 5 offered a perfect example of autumn pedaling weather – 71 degrees in late morning, little wind, no humidity and electric-blue sky. It offered a definite promise of what’s to come.

Much of September passes like a coolish summer day, and often temperatures strike me as ideal for biking, biting bugs prove minimal, and proper dress thwarts cold spells and chilled dawns and evening. When needed, my solution for nippy air includes a wind-proof jacket, long-sleeve jersey, tights, thermal skull cap, helmet and full-fingered gloves.

In Belgrade Lakes, highways with breakdown lanes attract plenty of bicyclists, and for safety, many cover their torsos with bright clothing such as yellow, chartreuse, blaze orange, etc. As they sail along paved shoulders out of way of direct traffic, folks in motor vehicles cannot miss noticing all the gaudy pedalers – the numbers a testimonial to the sport’s popularity.

Yes, bicyclists dot highways this month, and I say the more the merrier. However, numbers dwindle as weeks slide toward December cold when sand covers pavement after storms, a risk for bikers with 23mm tires or even 35mm widths. Encountering fewer pedalers in late season bothers me a little, because they’re the friendliest folks imaginable.

When traveling in opposite directions, passing bicyclists often wave from a road width away. When heading in the same direction and a biker zips ahead or falls behind, he or she may say from a few feet away, “Hi, friend,” or a similar heart-warming greeting – even to strangers.

Fall bicycling gets better for me each year: Days with little wind seem more common than in spring, and in quiet air, the susurrous spinning of rubber on pavement and hushed, soothing whir of lubricated gears sound louder, a symphony to me. As winter nears, some of us think about bicycling sounds, sights and other pleasures before cold weather and sand interfere with daily bicycling routines – sometimes days or even weeks at a time.

Talking about simple pleasures, a writer in Bicycling magazine praised days when he gets his “tire pressure just right,” a comment that started me pondering – yet again. Twenty-five years ago, I’d pump an even-numbered quantity of air into my bicycle tires – say 120 pounds into road-bike tires or 80 pounds into the much wider trail-bike tires – just because the product-direction booklet suggested it. I followed the recommendations without thinking – monkey see; monkey do.

These days, I’m persnickety about air pressure and may choose an odd figure such as 116 pounds for my road bike, because experience has taught me that pressure gives me a better ride in a current weather pattern. But I stay between the lowest and highest recommended pressures on sidewalls, and I use less air on wet roads and more on dry pavement.

Two pastimes intrigue me big time during fall rides with less traffic:

Sharp-eyed pedalers find roadside treasures that drivers have placed on vehicles and have forgotten to remove, and later, the items fall along the highway. With less traffic to watch, I can safely scrutinize the road edge. Just in recent years have found two jackknives, a changeable-bit screwdriver, a carpenter’s tape measure, a tire-pressure gauge, a bicycling wax-lubricant bottle, an ultra-expensive hammer and lesser prized goodies.

 Less traffic allows me to watch songbirds, hawks, etc. or see where deer, hare, squirrels and grouse leave tracks in their preferred gathering spots along road shoulders. Occasionally, I may see the track makers.

Few warblers visit my home feeders, so I enjoy pedaling highways that slice through warbler habitat such as Plains Road in Readfield and Weeks Mills Road between New Sharon and Farmington – superb spots to watch the species. Most days on Bartlett Road in Belgrade, painted turtles sun on a barkless tree lying in a wide section of Hoyt Brook right on the road edge.

Most bicycling days in rural areas offer nature lovers so many sights that trips seldom bore me. Also, pedalers cover so much ground per hour that we can evaluate wild-crop abundance in a region each year. I might notice acorns littering pavement everywhere, roadside raspberry or wild-blueberry bushes laden with berries or apple trees producing fruit beside highways.

I may consistently spot deer tracks in gravel in one place, turtles traversing roads at traditional “turtle crossings,” or 10- to 12-inch recently born garter snakes, warming on pavement or roadside gravel. This year, I’ve noticed few turtles plodding across a highway for me to pick up and help along, or a new age class of garters, so in my usual bicycling haunts, turtles and juvenile garters appear exiguous this year. Deer tracks are plentiful, though. Best yet, my “research” tool – a bicycle – offers me great fun each year, while just turning over the pedals and keeping a close eye on nature.

Ken Allen, of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at

[email protected]

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