Florida Keys Biking
December 18, 2011 10:25 AM   Subscribe

Advice on bike riding on Florida Keys


We are thinking of a trip to Florida Keys and would like to bike the route. Just starting and need advice on where to start, what routes are the best, what to take and also where to stay on the way at night. We are not heavy duty bikers, mostly recreational.

posted by pakora1 to Travel & Transportation around Florida (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Start at Islamorada and end at Key West? I lived in Key West for a couple of years - IMO it makes for a better destination point than launching pad, that way you can really celebrate the completion of your trip!

Whatever direction you go, there's really only one route: US1.

Here is a list of camping sites in the Keys (I'm a fan of Bahia Honda)

Since you're more recreational bikers, maybe shorten the trip and start at Marathon Key...
posted by matty at 10:47 AM on December 18, 2011

Super extra double yes for camping at Bahia Honda State Park.
You will most likely need reservations.
posted by Seamus at 11:22 AM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

See the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail. There's only one road through the keys, but there was also a railroad and parts of it have been converted to recreational use. If you are historically minded, bring along a copy of Last Train to Paradise and read it and try to imagine what it was like building a railroad through the keys.
posted by Nelson at 11:53 AM on December 18, 2011

Parts of the Overseas Heritage trail have been completed, other parts are still under construction. If you are not comfortable biking on a shoulder next to moving (55+) traffic, I would not undertake it. I have run the length of the trip from Key Largo to Key West (as a part of a relay) a couple of times, and it is quite beautiful.

However, I would see, every weekend, people in groups of two or three headed both up and down the Keys. With lights, reflectors, bright colors, overstuffed panniers, bike trailers, etc.

Starting in Key Largo is probably the most scenic. The major towns/islands are Key Largo, Islamorada/Tavernier, Marathon, Big Coppitt, and Key West. There are many little side streets that run perpendicular to US1 which would make for good and scenic biking, if you have time.

The route is mostly flat, with some large humps at the bridges. It is also incredibly beautiful. I'd personally do the trip in at least two segments, of about 50 miles each.

The SMART ride is a 165 mile trip/fundraiser from Miami to Key West, and has good route info.

Also I just stumbled on this website, which should be useful.

Key West is possibly one of the most bike-friendly towns in the United States. PM me if you want to know more.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:13 PM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, I'd suggest a copy of Joy Williams' "Florida Keys" guidebook, truly one of the best guidebooks ever written about anyplace.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 1:43 PM on December 18, 2011

When you are thinking of where to stay, let me tell you what I learned while camping one night on Long Key: They have mosquitoes that breed in moving salt water.
posted by Houstonian at 2:01 PM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Try to plan your trip during November, or wait until April/May. The winds during those periods are mostly Easterly, which helps on the way down. It's also not hot during those times.

Between December and March the wind is mostly out of the North, and surprisingly bitter when you're exposed to it, as you will be. Traffic is extremely congested, and consists mostly of visitors who are impatient and tend toward recklessness. Statistics bear this out.

Between June and October, the winds are out of the South, and you'll melt if you're not used to heat and humidity. I see visitors from north of Georgia come into the store in June when it's perfectly delightful and only 78 degrees and say they are going to die from walking two blocks. YMMV.

Houstonian is not kidding about the mosquitoes, either. I don't know about moving salt water, but they can breed in two tablespoons of standing water, and there's plenty of that in the summer.

The Seven Mile Bridge is best tackled first thing in the morning, as early as possible. There are wide shoulders, but no designated bike lane. Stay in Marathon overnight before your ride, then stop at Bahia Honda as soon as you've gone over the hump.

On the map, the highway looks like a thin ribbon of asphalt running from island to island, and it is. Don't expect wide open vistas on both sides, though: the mangroves run along the roadway and form dense, unbroken hedgerows to about twelve feet on both sides through most of the islands themselves. Your vistas come on the bridges, and we have 47 of those.

Most of the trail in the Lower Keys is now complete, but there are a couple of exceptions. Between Big Coppitt (MM10) and the triangle in Key West (MM4.5) there have been some fatal accidents involving cyclists. This is a heavily traveled section, even in the summer, so read up and prepare.

All of the suggestions from the man of twists and turns are excellent. I also suggest reviewing /reading the daily ruminations of Conchscooter on blogspot.com. He lives about twenty miles up, so he does lots of exploring (dog-walking and picture-taking) in the Lower Keys, and commutes by motorcycle daily to his job at the police department.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 4:23 PM on December 18, 2011

We did this ride (Key Largo to Key West) in October 2010 (me, wife and another couple). We started planning and conditioning in the spring of 2010 and at that point had never biked more than about 3-5 miles at a shot (recreational bikers). We did local rides on flat terrain throughout the spring and summer and worked up to being comfortable with riding 30-40 miles a day. We scavenged shipping boxes from local bike shops and practiced the disassembly for shipping (front wheel, seat, and pedals off/on). We also practiced riding with fully loaded panniers (they add about 20-30 pounds to your bike - pack light! Go to a hiking store and ask for breathable/fast dry hiking attire - don't wear any cotton - wash cotton clothing and it will be wet the rest of the week). We had decided no camping - so we had reservations at resorts in Key Largo, Marathon, Big Pine Key, and Key West so we had three days of riding 30-40 miles or so. The plan was fly to Miami, shuttle to Key Largo (bikes were shipped to a resort there), three days of riding, party for a few days in Key West and fly home from there (we had empty boxes shipped to the resort in Key West to use for shipping the bikes home).

The ride was septacular and I highly recommend it. A few tips -- plan the legnth of your daily ride to suit your comfort level but don't under estimate your ability -- be comfortable changing a flat roadside, we had 5 flats in 4 days, kevlar tires and heavy duty tubes are best -- zip tie all your bike parts together in the shipping box, one of our bike boxes broke in shipping and it arrived with no pedals and no seat, we had mapped the Florida Keys bike shops in advance so getting a seat and pedals was no problem - we planned the arrival on a Saturday so we were sure the bike shop would be open - I'm glad we did.

Generally - practice, plan, condition ----- have fun and good luck!
posted by Badger! at 4:26 PM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

We have friends who live on shark key. Make sure you pack a lot of water and sunscreen . There are not very many places to stop once you go along the bridges. we road an hour until we got to the coffee shop (i forgot which key its on but its closer to key west.) My wife got pretty sunburned so make sure everybody riding has a hat.

PS this was in december so later then that it will be even hotter.
posted by majortom1981 at 4:09 AM on December 19, 2011

I meant Big Pine, between Marathon and Key West. Big Coppitt is much smaller, between Big Pine and Key West.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:57 PM on December 20, 2011

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