Cycling in Paradise: A-Z Guide
Whether you’re a weekend wheeler or experienced road warrior, the greater Naples area offers plenty of cycling paths and off-road trails for smooth riding from Estero to the Everglades. Here are our best pointers, from A to Z.
Apparel: All the cool cyclists are wearing flourescent colors these days—not only as a fashion statement, but also for safety, especially with winter’s shorter days and brisker traffic. Look for bright colors in jersey brands such as Specialized and socks like Swiftwick. Not necessarily fluorescent, but plenty eyecatching, Attaquer wear features some pretty wild prints made from high performance, sweat-wicking fabrics.
Bikes: For entry level riders, Peter Marsh, general manager and partner at Naples Cyclery recommends the Specialized Roll hybrid, while he guides competitive cyclists to the Specialized Venge Vias. “Specialized has their very own wind tunnel, which means they produce some of the fastest, most aerodynamic equipment on the market,” Marsh says. Specifically for the mature beginner, Greg Pelican, business development manager at Trek Bicycle Store of Naples suggests the Trek Verve 3, which is “comfortable and stable and has a stem that you can adjust the height and reach, important for riders of limited flexibility.”
Collier-Seminole State Park: The Historic Marco Road, which celebrated its centennial last year, was the original route between Miami and Marco Island. Today part of Collier-Seminole State Park, a 3.5-mile segment welcomes hikers and bikers to its marsh, hammock, and pine flatwood habitat. The off-road trail is grass and dirt, which can get muddy in rainy months, but most of the time it’s suitable for kids and adults. The park rents bikes for both.
Do good: Take your cycling to a philanthropic level at events such as the Pan-Florida Challenge for Hungry Kids. On March 11-12, the 180-mile ride from Naples to Fort Pierce pedals to end child hunger. In November (tentatively the 12th), the 60-mile Naples Cyclery Veteran’s Ride benefits Honor Flight of Collier County.
Events: Next up on the biking events calendar: Naples Bike Brunch & Family Festival on March 5. Another Naples cycling tradition, the annual Fit & Fuel Iron Joe Turkey Ride takes place the Sunday after Thanksgiving with rides for all levels, from 20 to 62 miles.
Footwear: Serious racers shop for footwear that’s light, close-fitting, and comfortable. Look for the highly rated P.R.O. Leader III (in snazzy red) at Naples on the Run. Pelican at Trek calls the Bontrager’s XXX Road Shoe an “awesome” choice that he wears. “Super light and stiff carbon fiber sole, comfortable supple upper, and the ventilation is outstanding, which is wicked important in our 100-plus degree days,” he says.
Gordon River Greenway: A collaboration of several different agencies and factions, and a work in progress, the greenway’s paved shared-use path and bridges find nature in the heart of Naples. Currently measuring under 2 miles in length, final phases in 2017 will lengthen it by about a mile and detour its city roadside segment into wooded vistas along the Gordon River.
Helmets: Law requires helmets only for youth ages 15 and younger, but common sense dictates head protection for all ages. Top recommendations include wind tunnel-tested styles by Specialized. The S-Works Prevail II and Evade feature extreme ventilation and lightness. Women’s models have a ponytail-ready design with a dial hair-fit system. The Evade Tri is designed especially for women’s triathlon competition. For kids, the Shuffle features cool designs and an easy-to-release magnetic buckle.
Indoor cycling: Fitness centers throughout the area offer regularly scheduled high-energy spin classes, and Cycle Guroo takes the sport to another level with the latest spinning equipment and performance readouts, sound system, lighting, and flat-screen TVs. Add spa-like facilities and enthusiastic, supportive instructors for next-level spin workouts.
Join a group: Group rides add a social, and often competitive, element to your biking routine. Naples Velo, the area’s oldest and largest bike club, organizes group rides most days of the week. But you don’t have to belong to a bike club to become a part of a group ride. Naples Cyclery organizes at least one group ride daily. On Marco Island, check Island Bike Shops’ website for upcoming rides. Trek stores in Naples and at Coconut Point in Estero host weekend rides. The Coconut Point store also has a Wednesday Morning Coffee Ride.
Kids: Despite the novelty of the new front-of-the-bike kids’ seats, Naples Cyclery says the traditional backseat style is most popular, and recommends the Topeak Baby Sitter with a wrap-around seat design and integrated roll bar. At the top of its list: the Burly D’lite, whose plush interior seats up to two children.
Lovers Key State Park: More than 5 miles of off-road trails lead you to some of the park’s best secrets, including a freshwater pond containing alligators. A park naturalist leads a free Black Island Bike Tour about once a month during season. During the 3-mile tour, you will learn about the park’s history and wildlife.
Maintenance: Regularly service your bike with frequent tune-ups and tire pressure checks, to prolong its life and protect your safety. On long bike rides, make sure to carry tire repair gear, including a patch kit, spare innertube, tire levers, a pump, and a multi-tool with a variety of Allen wrenches, an adjustable wrench, flathead and Philips screwdrivers, and a chain tool.
New tech: Gear heads looking for the latest gadgets have a wide array of electronics to choose from. The hottest thing to happen in cycling electronics in some time is the SRAM Red eTap gear shift, which introduces wireless technology into the drive train system. The latest tech devices mostly focus on GPS navigation, as well as measuring and recording workout data. For this, bike shop consultants recommend the Garmin Edge 1000 bike computer with a touch screen that is glove-responsive.
Off-roading: It’s not mountain biking but the Naples area boasts a few trails off the paved road. In addition to aforementioned state park trails, you can go off road at the Estero Bay Preserve State Park in Estero and the Crew Bird Rookery Swamp Trail in East Naples. At the first, the Estero River Scrub Trails provide about 10 miles of sand, gravel, and dirt surfaced paths, including one that leads to the riverbank. The 12-mile grassy-sandy Crew trail can be challenging, but its boardwalk and likelihood of animal sightings add to the wow factor.
Protect your eyes: “The Oakley Radar Pace is our new favorite for a high-end technical glass,” says Marsh at Naples Cyclery. The glasses learn your movements and become something of an audio personal trainer via embedded Bluetooth headphones.
Quench: Everyone knows it’s important to stay hydrated when working out in Florida latitudes. For ultra-convenient hydrating as you go, Camelbak makes a hydration system vest to wear underneath your jersey, equipped with a water tank and sipping hose. Adding Nuun drink tablets to your water offers a power boost and electrolytes without the sugar. For high-performance cycling, Infinit Performance products come in preset formulas for endurance and acceleration. Or you can custom-design your own formula online. At Fit & Fuel Bicycle Café, energize your pre-workout with a protein smoothie.
Rentals: Many bike shops in the area rent tiptop equipment. Roadsters will find quality Bianchi Carbon Fork Road Bikes at Big Momma’s Bicycles in North Naples. Bonita Bike Rental is a mobile service that delivers.
Scenic Drive: The Janes Scenic Drive through Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park qualifies as off-roading even though it is accessible by car. The 12-mile (one-way) dirt road also provides access to true off-road trails—the historic elevated tram roads once used in logging operations. Wildlife sightings—ibis, gators, snakes, and wood storks—are common in the park, especially on the side trails, which can become muddy in summer.
Tours: Naples Bicycle Tours leads city tours of Naples and Marco Island for all levels, and a naturalist-guided Everglades tour. Big Momma’s Bicycles in North Naples also hosts city and Everglades tours. CREW hosts tours of its Bird Rookery Swamp Trail, guided by experienced trail bikers.
UV Protection: One of the most important components of your safety gear is top-quality sunscreen. Look for a product with 30 SPF or higher and that is relatively sweat-proof and organic or natural. Zinc oxide provides a protective boost, and Derma E’s Antioxidant Natural Sunscreen contains clear zinc oxide to avoid the white-nose lifeguard look.
Venture out: For rugged off-roading, travel to Caloosahatchee Regional Park in East Fort Myers and test drive its 10 miles of rutty mountain bike trail. Formed from mud dredged from the Caloosahatchee River, this is as mountainous as it gets in these parts, and the park hosts races and events throughout the year.
Wheels: Wheels come in every style imaginable, growing more high-tech and efficient by the day. Again, because of its wind tunnel testing, Specialized brand wheels get rave reviews. Serious competitors recommend the Roval CLX 64 wheel.
Xtreme: Why just bike when you can also hike and swim to make it a triathalon. Naples Area Triathletes is devoted to well-rounded athleticism. It cohosts a number of events, including a Junior Triathlon series. The national park system charts the Tamiami Trail Triathlon, a way to explore three different areas of the Everglades three different ways. Paddle the Gulf Coast region, hike Big Cypress, and bike Shark Valley to earn your triathlon decal.
Your backpack: Because it often adds to the heat factor of biking in Southwest Florida, a backpack requires careful consideration here. You want to look for a lightweight, well-balanced pack. The Camelbak brand of backpacks has a custom-designed line of ultra-light packs for bikers that provide utmost stability and reservoir hydration systems. From the Skeeter for young riders to the K.U.D.U. for rugged mountain-riding protection, they meet the needs of every level biker.
Zwift: Join this virtual cycling community and social media platform for an indoor, at-home way to ride, train, and meet other riders from more than 150 countries. Your bike, along with a trainer and a digital device, can immerse you in a workout on the virtual road.
The reasons to park the car and hop on a bike end not just with a commitment to recreation and fitness. Biking demonstrates your zeal to protect and preserve Mother Earth by diminishing fuel emissions and pollution. Before you get on a bike and head outdoors, here’s a refresher on the rules of the road.
- Follow the law. The Florida Statutes’ Bicycle Regulations section lists nearly 20 laws related to cycling, but the most asked-about rules focus on where you can ride. Road cyclists must ride single file with no more than two abreast, maintain traffic speed, and follow the same rules of the road as cars. If you are riding on a sidewalk or across a crosswalk, you must abide by pedestrian guidelines, but you also are obliged to yield the right ofway to pedestrians.
- Be safe. Be as visible and aware as possible. Use front and back lights at dusk and dawn. Do not wear headphones while biking, and always stop for stop signs and red lights. Never ride against traffic.
- Get involved. Practically anywhere in Naples where you see measures in place to insure the bikeability of the community, Naples Pathway Coalition is to thank. The advocacy group works with local government to raise awareness of bike safety, as well as plan for future pathways for cyclists around Naples. Volunteers are welcome.