I live in what are called the Bristol Mountains in the heart of the Fingerlakes Region of New York state, beginning some 30 miles southeast of Rochester. These very old mountains, part of the Appalachian chain, offer scenic views and interesting destinations such as wineries, restaurants and B&Bs, so you can enjoy the art of a two-wheeled journey as well as a libation at the end of the day.
My favorite ride always begins in the small town of Bristol Center, situated between East Bloomfield and Bristol Mountain Ski Center on Route 64. The starting place is Clement’s Country Store, where a good cup of coffee bids you adieu before you head out the door and saddle your steed, in my case either a 2001 Ducati ST4 or 2000 Suzuki 1400 Intruder. As you leave Clement’s heading south on Route 64 you pass Parson’s Organs, a local family owned pipe organ manufacturer that ships throughout the world. Still heading south you ride by Bristol Mountain Ski Center, which boasts the highest vertical in the Fingerlakes region along with a full mile of horizontal run.
Eventually you’ll come to the village of South Bristol and the Gannett Hill Road to Ontario County Park. Gannett Hill takes you to the highest point in Ontario County at 2,256 feet. Here the 1,000-foot overlook facing west offers a superb sunset if you’re there in the evening. Or if taking scenic pictures is your thing, a morning view puts the sun directly over your shoulder for a stunning photo op!
After engine-braking down the 1.5-mile-long Gannett Hill Road and joining Route 64 south again, the turnoff on the right onto County Road 12, locally called the High Road, offers incredible panoramas of Canandaigua Lake. There is a pullout two miles down the road from South Bristol with a view to the northeast of this 16-milelong lake. Canandaigua offers the most expensive lake property in the country, followed closely by Lake Tahoe and Lake George. Canandaigua means “the chosen spot” and indeed from this vantage point, it sure seems so.
Farther down the High Road runs into Naples, the heart of New York state wine country. Here you can savor Widmer wines at the winery overlooking the source of Canandaigua Lake, Naples Creek. Be sure to try some grape pies at the Fall Festival the second-to-last weekend of September, too. There are many little shops and antique stores, and Naples Hotel, which offers good dining and a very fine cigar bar.
Heading south on Route 21 to the edge of town, you join Route 53 and begin climbing up the winding highway toward Italy Valley Road. Turning left unto Italy Valley brings you to the sportbike capital of the Fingerlakes, as Italy Valley Road winds its way through 20-plus curves in a six-mile section of road. For the cruisers among us, the road is equally as alluring and can offer a sleepy, rolling lull as you pass farmhouses, fields and grapevines. It’s at this point that I open the ST4 up a little as the tach moves above the 5,000-rpm point, or I sit back deep in the saddle of the Intruder and let the wild scenery inspire me.
Italy Valley eventually comes to a fork in the road, and I recommend climbing out of the Valley by taking the right one. The road rises another 1,000 feet in a traverse closed in by tall trees and forest as you pass the 6,100 acres of High Tor, a wildlife management unit of New York state.
This thoroughfare aims the rider toward Keuka Lake. On the way there, you’ll pass Armstrong road at Derby’s Corner. Make a right here. This road is another “High Road,” as it parallels Keuka Lake. You might pass an Amish horse and buggy along the way, as the Mennonite community is strongly attached to the land in this area. Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Winery, Heron Hill and Bully Hill are all along the way.
Continuing down this road, you’ll arrive in Hammondsport. Besides many shops and eateries, be sure to see the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum while you’re there. Glenn Curtiss was a bicyclist, motorcyclist, aviator and engineer. He was noted as the “Fastest Man in the World” in 1907 for exceeding 100 mph on an 8-cylinder “motor-bicycle,” which you can see at the museum.
Leaving Hammondsport, follow 54A south until you come to Route 54 north. Follow it until arriving at the north end of the lake in Penn Yan. Cross onto Route 14A north, and ride to Route 364 west. This road is a graceful gem, loaded with broad sweepers, and views of gentle slopes giving way to forest and farm. Eventually the road changes direction and travels more northward, where it runs into the little village of Potter. A great ice-cream stand here called Kings Hitchin’ Rail is a featured stop for one of the finest poker runs in the area. A bonus: It benefits the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Rochester Chapter.
After leaving the Kings Hitchin’ Rail, the smooth wide highway which is Route 364 turns into Route 247. Route 364 turns left before a steep grade to the right onto a comfortable but narrower two-lane, maintaining the same route designation but with a less lofty road surface. The next three miles here define the finest roadway within 100 miles. Not in terms of surface character, but in the surrounding forest and fauna. The tiny stretch of road is a step back into New York’s history, where an old forest can still be seen. After a few miles you join the newer forest and farmland once again which is upstate New York.
Once you cover this wonderful stretch of road, you come to a steep grade with a red octagonal sign at the end, so make sure your bike’s brakes work. Use them, too, because the intersecting road comes in at 150 degrees from the right and is covered by foliage, inhibiting the view of oncoming traffic. After stopping here proceed through the town of Middlesex. The airport here has a fine place for breakfast if you’re coming in early.
On the way out, you’ll turn sharp right at the only blinking light in town, continuing along Route 364 north on the western edge of Canandaigua Lake and into its village at the northern edge. Route 364 becomes East Lake Road closer to town. You’ll pass a great dining place called Thendara with lake views and nice sunsets. Order their specialty with any of the Fingerlake’s wine—you’ll be glad you did.
Continue along the West Lake Road into town and turn left at the next light onto Lake Shore Road. Now you’ll ride along the northern edge of the lake, passing Kershaw Park. Stop here after your 100-mile ride and enjoy a quiet stroll in the park along the lakefront, or sit at any of the restaurants across the street for an inexpensive dinner. Just past the lake on the right is McGregors, my favorite bar and grill with more than 50 different beers of the world on tap. Have the Cajun burger with steak fries for a wonderful finale to a great tour on the Fingerlake’s High Roads.
(This Favorite Ride was published in the June 2003 issue of Rider.)
(This Favorite Ride was published in the June 2003 issue of Rider.)