Through the years, the League of American Bicyclists has ranked Maine highly as a bicycling-friendly state in comparison to the rest of the nation.

In the last evaluation, our status went up to second on the league’s list of the best bicycle destinations, filling me with pride. For a decade, this column has covered our state’s climb toward second, and each time I have mentioned it, my prose gushes about our high placement.

However, when I cover the topic, a nagging but quiet thought bothers me. While bicycling in several states and countries, I have noted that most destinations had much smoother highways in comparison to Maine.

Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida pop to mind as states with fun biking roads, and highways in the West always struck me as great, too. I have never biked the West, though, just fished and hunted there.

Last spring, a bicycle technician at L.L. Bean told me the West has excellent highways for the sport, and then he mentioned a salient point.

“Many U.S. bicycle-tire manufacturers designed road-bike tires with states such as California, Nevada and Utah in mind,” he said.

My conversation at the Bean store began while looking at tires on my somewhat new Felt road bike.

The rubber had multiple shallow cuts where the tires met the road, and the wheels were also out of true just three weeks after a bike shop had worked on them.

I was running Vittoria Zaffiro then, not the best choice for durability, but not the worst, either. Since then, I replaced them with Vittoria Rubino Pros with rubber that has held up much better. Staying true still plagues me.

Putting Maine in second place made me wonder about a salient point in the League of American Bicyclists’ 75-item survey. These folks must consider pavement condition far less important than a road bicyclist like me does.

In my humble opinion, highway covering is a huge concern for bicyclists with skinny tires. It means the difference between rocketing down a hill at 30 to 50 miles per hour instead of feathering the brakes part of the way to contend with multiple, sizeable cracks that cross the entire road.

It also means the difference between rolling across flats 25 miles per hour and faster instead of much slower to contend with broken pavement.

Motor operators complain about our roads, too, so it’s not a conspiracy against bicyclists — just a product of a bad economy.

Whatever the reason, crappy pavement turns off bicyclists riding narrow-tired bicycles.

The league’s grading considers other infrastructure factors besides pavement. The survey also includes legislation, education, evaluation, policies, programs and planning aimed at making each state a special place to pedal.

In the last survey, Maine received an A grade for legislation, education and encouragement, a B for infrastructure, evaluation and planning, a C for policies and programs, and an F for enforcement — a B average overall.

Part of the survey’s positive grade relies on the number of miles of off-road trails for bicyclists, including paved ones like the Kennebec River Rail Trail, part of the East Coast Greenway.

I routinely pedal on a paved path built for walking, running and bicycling and surprisingly, prefer traveling on public roads because vehicles traveling at high speeds air-wash lots of debris off pavement.

On the other hand, grit and rocks cover my favorite bituminous bicycle path, thanks to rain and use. Some rocks are large enough to dump an inattentive bicyclist.

Maine scenery makes the pounding on highways worthwhile — evidenced by a quick anecdote:

One recent Saturday, Katelyn, my youngest daughter, and I pedaled along the mile-long (and surprisingly smooth) road through Belgrade village north of Hammond Lumber, and the quintessential rural scenery wowed her.

Katelyn, a recent graduate of the University of Maine, Farmington, has driven past the junctions to Belgrade village a jillion times. That Saturday, bicycling took her onto this quaint stretch for the first time.

Just in my area alone, I bicycle through stunningly picturesque villages, such as Belgrade, Belgrade Lakes, Mount Vernon, Farmington Falls, Readfield and Wayne, or delightfully photogenic highways, such as the Weeks Mills Road from New Sharon to Farmington or the Plains Road from Mount Vernon to Route 17 near Readfield Depot, the latter two just perfect, reminding me of country roads in the Tour de France.

Please excuse the cliche, but while pedaling these places, I feel as if I have died and gone to heaven, even when daydreaming on ultra-rough pavement causes me to hit cracks so hard that the pain makes me holler, “Ouch!”

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes is a writer, editor and photographer. He may be reached at:

[email protected]