With its closely clustered beaches and hamlets - and just the gentlest of hills - the Hamptons are ideal for exploring by bicycle. Pedal-powered sightseeing also has the advantage of bypassing the traffic that clogs the East End every summer. No more worries about gridlock, or time wasted looking for a parking space. A summer day is easier to enjoy when you're not slowed down by several tons of steel.
There's no need for the latest titanium model or a spandex racing outfit. Hamptons beach towns are ideal for lazy summer rides, where it's not about the miles you cover but rather about the breaks you take - to cool off your feet in the Atlantic or savor an ice-cream cone.
And if you really want to go green, complete the simple application for a lifetime LIRR bike pass. For $5 you can take your bike aboard most off-peak trains (mta.info/lirr/about).
Here's a sample South Fork itinerary to get you started, plus a North Shore alternative for those who don't want to venture out East. For other ideas, pick up a copy of "Short Bike Rides: Long Island" (Globe Pequot Press, $12.95), a useful resource (though it could use an updated edition) with 27 day trips and guides to 14 state parks.
BRIDGEHAMPTON TO AMAGANSETT
ROUTE: Via Highway 27 Montauk Highway) and parallel roads
DISTANCE: 12 miles
There's a reason the Hamptons are so popular: Their picturesque main streets are both quaint (shingled houses, 19th century churches) and contemporary (shops peddling focaccia, espressos). The towns lose some of their charm, however, if you experience them sandwiched between a Bentley and a Hummer, moving at a snail's pace. On your bike, you'll whiz right past moguls who look on enviously, wishing they could trade their stock options for a Cannondale. This Bridgehampton-Amagansett itinerary can easily be completed in less than an hour at a steady, fast pace. That's not the point: Take your time to stop and smell the sea breezes.
START HERE: Drive or take the LIRR to Bridgehampton. From the station, head south on Butter Lane to Bridgehampton's main street, Route 27 Montauk Highway). Smaller than East Hampton and Southampton, the town nevertheless has its share of boutiques and a stately Presbyterian Church.
EAT HERE: Fuel up for the ride ahead at the Candy Kitchen Montauk Highway and School Street, 631-537-9885) an old-school diner serving homemade ice cream. Don't worry, you'll soon burn off those calories. If you're in the mood for pizza, World Pie (2402 Montauk Hwy., 631-537-7999) has a shady outdoor dining area.
The longest leg of your day lies ahead, the five miles from Bridgehampton to East Hampton on Montauk Highway. Though it is a highway, you won't be balanced on the edge of a four-lane expressway with cars whizzing by. There's a designated bike route with wide shoulders, and you'll pedal past some of the Hamptons' remaining potato fields as well as more recent rows of grape vines.
PIT STOP: Despite all the hype, East Hampton still looks like a Norman Rockwell "Truman Show" vision of America, with white picket fences and gingerbread houses with wide porches. Even the swans that paddle lazily across the town pond seem to have been coached to accent the picturesque scene.
The cultural mecca of the Hamptons is Guild Hall (158 Main St., 631-324-0806, guildhall.org), which has a packed calendar of theatrical performances, literary readings and film screenings, as well as a museum with works by contemporary and historic artists who have made the Hamptons their home. “Winslow Homer: The Pleasures of Summer" is on display through July 25.
Having seen Homer's paintings of 19th century families in the surf, go see their 21st century counterparts at Main Beach (easthamptonvillage.org/beaches.htm). With its dunes sloping down to a wide expanse of sand and the Atlantic beyond, Main Beach regularly tops lists of the country's best beaches. There's a snack bar, and, best of all, you won't have to pay the $20 daily parking fee; the bike racks are all free.
HOME STRETCH: Instead of heading back to Route 27, loop around Hook Pond and head east on Further Lane to Amagansett, pedaling by quaint saltboxes and newfangled McMansions. Though Alec Baldwin and Paul McCartney have summered here, downtown Amagansett is refreshingly low key with few of the luxury chain stores typical of East Hampton. Even the appealing Farmers Market - worth a detour for local produce to take home now that you are done cycling - is discreet about the fact that it is now managed by gourmet retailer Eli Zabar.
Worked up an appetite? Head just east of the heart of Amagansett on 27 to the Lobster Roll Restaurant (1980 Montauk Hwy., 631-267-3740, lobsterroll.com). Locals refer to it as the "Lunch" place, thanks to the prominent sign, and this clam shack has been selling fresh seafood in a casual setting (sweaty bikers welcome) for almost 50 years.
To get back to Bridgehampton or beyond, head to the Amagansett LIRR station (Main Street and Abrams Landing Road). Two westbound trains allow bikes on weekend afternoons, at 3:54 and 6:56 p.m.