Biking from Long Branch to Spring Lake
This is the most interesting portion of the Jersey Coast for biking. The seaside route passes through 8 small towns, each with its own individual microcosm of culture and architecture -- from the manicured mansions of Deal to the remodeling of Asbury Park. Almost all the beaches are public, and during the summer there is much colorful action. All along the way there are boardwalks which can be ridden most of the year.
This route is 11 miles one way.
Surface and safety:
About 70% of this route can be ridden on boardwalks except for summer weekends. The roads are amply wide for biking on the shoulder (though the shoulder is unmarked). The only danger, and it is worth noting, is that when biking north on the streets there are many diagonal parking spaces for cars. Parking spaces are fought over during the peak season, and cars pull into and out of these diagonal spaces without seeing bikers.
Points of interest:
This route is full of colorful and picturesque sights. On the way south Deal has lovely mansions lining the road. Suddenly there is Asbury Park, which in recent years has looked like bomb damage assessment photos from Iraq, but now is undergoing a renaissance. Then comes the religious community of Ocean Grove with its tabernacle and victorian architecture. After a series of beach towns, each with its own culture, the route ends in the lovely town of Spring Lake with its shaded homes and beautiful park.
What's not to like:
If you are biking for exercise and just want to put on the speed, this isn't the place. In the summer it's crowded and there's lots of traffic. Otherwise this is as good as the shore gets. It's particularly nice in the late spring and early fall when you can ride on the boardwalks.
During the summer beachfront parking is scarce, but if you are carrying a bike in your car, there is plenty of parking a few blocks west anywhere along this route. In past years, parking in Asbury Park has been easy, but now it is very crowded in the summer season and every parking space near the shore has been given a number for metered parking. I'm told that this isn't enforced out of season, but you would be taking your chances.
Photos and comments:
Manicured mansions line the road through Deal
Another beautiful home in Deal
Heading south from Long Branch you have to leave the boardwalks and take the main road. Here the road is wide and you are rewarded with views of a succession of mansions like the two shown above. The homes in Deal deserve a few detours down sideroads. Every home is well manicured. To me, the flavor of the community is different from the that of the homes in Rumson. The lots here are generally smaller, and the homes bring more to mind the word "mansion" than "estate".
The road through Deal now has a marked bike path
The only people you see in this stretch are gardeners and nannies pushing baby carriages -- never a real mother. Quite often you will see black-clad orthodox children walking the sidewalks. My thought is that Rumson (see "Paths to the Sea") is Wall Street money, while Deal is wealthy merchants. Of course, I base this opinion on no facts whatsoever, although I have lived in the area for 40 years.
When you reach Asbury Park the real boardwalks begin, and except for minor road detours, you can ride on boardwalks all the way to the end of Spring Lake -- a distance of about seven miles. During the summer, however, most of the communities along this route forbid bicycles on the boardwalk except during the morning hours, when it can be delightful to ride next to the sea. Until 2009 Asbury Park seemed to allow bikes on the boardwalk at any time, but now you are immediately greeted with the following sign:
I have observed that during the weekdays enforcement of this ban on bikes seems lacking. About half the cyclists walk their bikes on the boardwalk, while the other half rides, in spite of police looking on. This uncertainty makes me uncomfortable. I feel that everyone should be allowed to ride or everyone should be stopped from riding. Whatever -- take your chances.
Greetings from Asbury Park
One remant of the devastation of past years remains. The construction you see in the picture above is not construction at all. It was the decaying skeleton of a half finished building from about 15 years ago. There were several of these monstrosities in the town. They were the legacy of a bankrupt developer and a corrupt local government. Incredibly, the building you see actually lay across the main road. For years this giant junk pile stood as the very symbol of Asbury decay. However, with months of effort in the winter and spring of 2004, that remnant was increasingly dismantled. Nothing much happened in 2005, but in April 2006 the skeletal building was finally demolished with a giant explosion.
The Steel Skeleton is finally demolished in April 2006
So in 2008 construction began on a new concrete and steel structure on this location. But in 2009, would you believe it, that contractor also went bankrupt, and once again a half-finished skeleton lies on this lot.
In 2009 yet another contractor has gone bankrupt and left a skeleton
The north end of the Asbury Park boardwalk
Convention Hall lies across the boardwalk in Asbury Park
This is kind of an unusual biking treat. If no one is there to object, you can ride your bike through here. It is an eerie feeling, as your tires glide silently across the tiles with the smallest of noises reverberating like you're in an echo chamber. Beginning In 2009 a bakery and several eateries put tables in this hallway. Posted signs now say that you may not bike through the convention hall, and during the summer it is now too crowded to do so in any event.
I've been riding this route for decades and have seen the gradual and inevitable decay of Asbury Park. However, I am glad to say that in recent years I've been seeing burgeoning signs of rejuvenation here. There is a wide new boardwalk, and now a number of restaurants and refreshment stands. Murals have been painted on a number of ocean-side structures and the Empress Motel -- a site of intense decay -- has been reconstructed. The town itself seems to be a giant construction site with lots of condos and high-rise apartment complexes taking shape. As of the summer of 2013, Asbury Park is vibrant and busy, completely recovered from Hurricane Sandy. The boardwalk is filled with people and there are several fine restaurants back in business there.
Restaurants are now on the Asbury Park boardwalk
A couple of years ago I was riding the boardwalk all by myself when I saw a couple walking towards me. They flagged me down. "Where are the stores?" they asked. I could only tell them that there weren't any. The couple had driven from Philadelphia to see Asbury Park, no doubt stimulated by the Bruce Springsteen album. But that time is gone, I'm glad to say!
Speaking of rock, the famous "Stone Pony" still exists and has a full schedule of visiting bands.
At the south end of the Asbury Park boardwalk you can now bike through the old casino directly to the town of Ocean Grove.
The old casino at the south end of Asbury Park
For a while in 2008, as you biked inside you were treated to a display of pictures of Asbury Park through the years -- through its glory days to the present.
The casino was lined with pictures such as this -- the glory days of Asbury Park
The boardwalk at Ocean Grove, looking north towards Asbury Park before Hurricane Sandy in 2012
The Ocean Grove boardwalk was restored in 2014
Ocean Grove Regulations
Once again there is an abrupt transition. Now you can't ride on the boardwalk during the season unless it's early in the morning. Ocean Grove is pretty strict about this. But instead you should take a detour on some of the town streets here. It is possibly the most victorian town in America. There is a U-shaped crescent of victorian homes with a large tabernacle at the end facing the ocean.
The Victorian Crescent at Ocean Grove
The tabernacle in Ocean Grove
There is a row of tents on the right hand side of this tabernacle. During the summer these tents are inhabited by "tent people". I don't know what else to call them. Presumably, they are religious people being warmed by the nearness of the tabernacle. It's an interesting phenomenon.
Ocean Grove is a dry town. Not that many years ago it was blocked off from cars on Sundays.
Beautiful victorian homes in Ocean Grove
Quaint main street in Ocean Grove
It's worth a short deviation to go down the main street, which is perpendicular to the boardwalk. There are a number of sidewalk restaurants and interesting stores. It's quite picturesque.
South end of the Ocean Grove boardwalk cuts through to Bradley Beach
Whether or not you've been riding on the boardwalk in Ocean Grove, you should join it at the south end in order to cut through to Bradley Beach. Here again, if you're a car, you can't do this, and you have a long detour out to the main highway to get back to the shore.
The pictures and comments about this route are now continued on Page 2.
Go to page 2 of this route
Back to Guide to Biking the Jersey Shore