Cycling the Véloroute des Bleuets in Québec – Part Three: Riding Around Lac Saint-Jean

If you have been following along with the first and second article in this four-part series, you already know that a great bicycle adventure awaits on the Véloroute des Bleuets…but getting there can be complicated. But at this point in our story I am already in Montreal, ready to take an 8 hour train ride to Chambord, which is known as the “gateway to Lac Saint-Jean”. When I arrived there, the plan was to spend 3 days riding around Lac Saint-Jean, and then 3 more days riding the Véloroute du Fjord du Saguenay to get to another train which would take me to Quebec City. 

(If you want to follow along on a map, click here to download official guidebook and follow along on the map on page 2)

Despite being  long, the train ride is pretty straightforward. The ticket was also inexpensive, costing me only about $60 Canadian to transport both myself and my bicycle, thanks to generous government subsidies to get more tourists to the Lac Saint-Jean and Saguenay region. 

A number of cyclists took this train to Chambord, a great launching point for the Véloroute des Bleuets

While the train was scheduled to leave Montreal at 8:15, the VIA Rail Canada agents I spoke with on the phone prior to the trip told me to get there at least an hour early because my bike would need to be loaded into the baggage car, and could potentially need to be put in a box if the train was carrying a lot of freight.  Not wanting to mess around, I got up early and rode my bike to Montreal’s central train station to check in. There were about 7 other cyclists who showed up the same time as me, which was encouraging. All of us were told to remove the paniers and other bags from our bikes, which we had to carry onto the train to our seat.  Then we handed the bikes to the agent at the baggage desk and – fingers crossed – our bikes would be on the train. 

This whole process took about 20 minutes, so I still had 40 minutes left to get breakfast. You will want to do this before you get on the train.  You will also want to go to a store (perhaps the day before) and buy yourself lunch. The food on the train looked pretty awful. Plus, when the train pulled into Chambord that afternoon at 4:30, I wanted to be ready to ride. I didn’t want to have to stop first and eat. 

When the train departs, you realize that this will be an unhurried affair.  First, they made us line up the train gate when the departure announcement was made.  Then we all stood there for at least 20 minutes, holding our bags for apparently no reason. Finally, they sent us down to the train, which was actually two trains linked together.  Each train had an engine, a luggage car and a passenger coach. I found out that about halfway through the ride, they would separate the train, sending the other half to the remote town of Senneterre, while my half would go to Jonquière.

The train takes you through some very remote areas, where you make some unusual stops. A canoeing group got on at a whistle stop next to a raging river.

The train conductor and staff were super friendly, which was good, since you would see these people all day. The conductor made his way up and down the car chatting with everyone, getting to know us as we settled in for the long trip. The train ride was fantastic, but long. After passing through suburban Montreal and surrounding farmland, we were soon in the wilderness, making stops at teeny-tiny stations. Some places were logging towns. Others were remote wilderness resorts with few roads, where the train was the primary access. To my surprise, people were constantly getting on and off of the train at these little whistle stops, with all kinds of baggage, including canoes and cases of beer, all of which were loaded into the baggage car with the bikes. 

Finally, the train made it to the other side of the wilderness and Chambord was the first stop, right near the lake.  Most of the other cyclists got off here, and we all reassembled our bikes right at the station. Right in the parking lot was a directional sign for the Véloroute des Bleuets. So I just followed the signs, and I was on my way.

A couple of blocks away from the train station is the bike path. You have arrived!

When I got on the bike, I had no idea what to expect or what I would see.  So I was amazed at how clearly the Véloroute was marked. Rolling through Chambord, there were signs and lane markings everywhere. And as I left town, I soon found myself on a beautiful bike path in between the road and Lac Saint-Jean. I had no idea it was going to be this nice!

With only a few hours of daylight, after consulting the comprehensive guide of the route,  I decided I would ride to Val-Jalbert, which was described as a “ghost town” historic site that also has camping and a restaurant. The detailed maps in the printed route guide made it very easy to plan my afternoon (and the subsequent days).  The route around the lake has mileposts noting kilometers running clockwise (Chambord is at KM 102). The route is also color coded, with green meaning bike paths and yellow meaning on-road riding. Val-Jalbert was only 9 KM away, so I could do a small warm-up ride, lay out my tent, have a nice dinner and check out some local history. 

However, once I arrived at Val-Jalbert,I realized there were a couple of key details the guide left out. While the campground was beautiful with a pool and great facilities, Val-Jalbert turned out to be more of a super-commerciallized, touristy outdoor museum than a ghost town. Their restaurant turned out to be this involved affair that required reservations, often paired with a room booking. Anything related to the historic site was locked behind gates (which closed at 6), requiring you to pay a $30 admission.  This was clearly something that you would go to and spend an entire day (and night) at and it’s completely useless for people just passing through at the end of the day. It would have been nice to know this beforehand, since I could have potentially planned more time to visit it. And of course, now I had no place to eat dinner. Thankfully I overindulged on paté on the train and I wasn’t super hungry.  So I bought 2 pre-packaged egg salad sandwiches out of the campground store, went to the pool, saw a rainbow, and called it a night. Still not so bad, I guess.

The only part of the Val-Jalbert “ghost town” you can see for free. But it’s a lovely hike from the campground.

The next morning, I availed myself of the campground’s hiking trail and I hiked up the Ouiatchouan River, on the opposite bank from the historic park.  A massive waterfall awaited me at the end. At least I got to see something! After eating an energy bar (for lack of other options) I rode 7 KM on a glorious bike path to Roberval, the next big town along the lake. This town had a wide range of services, so getting a late breakfast was easy. At that point, given the nice weather, I decided to try to make it to Albanel, 67 KM away. Albanel had a municipal campground and a restaurant. It was also at the junction of a secondary bike route, called Au Fil des Rivières, which was a loop promising waterfalls and blueberry fields. If I stayed in Albanel, depending on how I was feeling, I could ride this loop in the evening, or early the next day. 

Fuel for the road!

Once I started riding, I took my time, taking in sweeping views of both farms and lake. As the guidebook promised, I passed by a farm that was in the middle of harvesting raspberries. I got a huge basket for only $6. They must have been picked that day, they were so fresh! Further on down the road, the guidebook alerted me to an organic, artisanal fromagerie, Bouchard Artisian Bio  – a farm owned by the same family for five generations. After tasting all of the amazing cheddar, I bought a brick of it along with a bag curds. All I needed was some bread from a store and this would be lunch and snacks all day.

One of many fromageries you will pass.

By late afternoon, I had reached Albanel. Since it was my first full day (and the campground had a pool!) I decided to save the Au Fil des Rivières side loop for the next day and instead enjoy the sunset with a beer after unwinding in the pool. In Albanel, very few people spoke English, so I had to rely on my high-school French from decades ago. So after arranging for my campsite in my horrible French, I headed over to the local blueberry museum, which is a must-see if you are ever in Albanel. They sell slushies made with local blueberries, which are unbelievably refreshing after a day of riding. 

One of several blueberry exhibits you will pass.

Albanel only had one restaurant, a casse-croûte (a type of restaurant featuring poutines, hamburgers, etc.) that also had pizza. So the dining choices were limited. Fortunately, the town also had a supermarket, so I was able to buy food for the next day as well.  At this point, I was finding it advantageous to keep stocking my panniers with fresh, yet durable, foods that I could snack on all day, and that could also serve as a meal if I needed it to. So this meant buying a lot of breads, local cheeses, cheese curds and fruit. And speaking of fruit…sometimes I could just pick it myself. 

I got an early start and resolved to do the the 44 km Au Fil des Rivières side loop before pressing on along the rest of the Véloroute des Bleuets.  Being a loop, I left my camping gear and a pannier at my campsite while I did the ride to make my bike lighter. I cruised down a road that was long and straight, yet it rolled up and down with a topography that changed. I reached the super small town of Girardville where there was a general store that sold pastries baked on the premises. I could see the huge baking room behind the register. I bought a huge raspberry pastry packed in a styrofoam tray wrapped in shrink wrap. I bought coffee out of a machine and I had a great mid-ride breakfast. I stashed the remaining 80% of the pastry in a pannier and took off for the ride back to Albanel, on an off-road path that went through endless blueberry fields and along a series of waterfalls. It was here that I stopped several times for snacks of blueberries that I simply picked myself.

You can see (and taste) endless blueberry fields along the Au Fil des Rivières bike path.

Back in Albanel it was time to get serious about the day’s ride. Because I had reserved a waterfront campsite at Pointe-Taillon National Park  I needed to ride 55 km to Péribonka to catch a ferry to the park. The last ferry was at 6 p.m. and, if I missed it, it would add 30 more km of riding for the day.  Since I had already ridden 44 km, I was motivated!

Having studied the maps in the guide, and checking what was ahead in each town by using Google Maps, I was able to determine that I could get everything I needed in Péribonka for dinner and a camping breakfast. So I got on my way, riding through more beautiful landscapes, on a combination of clearly signed, bike paths and on-street bike routes.  However, I began to notice that in some of the larger towns, the wayfinding breaks down due to missing (or confusing) signs or pavement markings that have eroded away. As a result, I occasionally found myself riding on high-traffic roads that were stressful to ride since I had strayed from the route. It was frustrating since on my 6-day trip, this kind of situation happened about once per day.

When the Véloroute shares a roadway, this is what it typically looks like.

I trucked on to Péribonka fearful that if I was on the last ferry of the day, it could be full, since the guidebook stated it only had room for 12 bikes.  I had seen a lot of cyclists riding that day, so who knows how many more people are taking this ferry? Péribonka had a nice restaurant facing the lake. When I arrived there, I checked with the ferry operator to see what my options were. The 5 p.m. ferry was waiting….with nobody on it.  The 6 p.m. was likely to be just as empty. So I had an hour to eat dinner and shop for supplies at the only store in town, a convenience store near the ferry dock. 

At 6, I was the lone passenger on the ferry. So I chatted with the captain as he brought me across. I was now in Pointe-Taillon National Park, which is not really a national park. (Quebec calls its provincial parks “national parks”). But it didn’t matter – the place was amazing! I continued along a bike path that went through forests, wetlands and dunes. I scanned the horizon for wildlife until the path went next to the lake with a series of beautiful sand beaches along it.  I found one overlooked by a bench, with a safe accessway down to the water. So I stopped, changed into a suit and went for a swim as the sun began to sink in the sky. It was so refreshing after more than 100 km of riding!

Back on the bike, I rode the final few km to my campsite. The site was wooded, but with a view of the lake and easy lake access.  After setting up my tent, I went for another swim as the sun set. I watched a huge orange moon rise over the lake, and then I went to bed.

This quiet beach at Pointe-Taillon National Park offered the opportunity for a refreshing swim near the end of the day’s ride.

The next morning, I took down my tent, left my bags at the site and rode around the park’s bike paths to see more of the natural areas. I was not disappointed by a wildlife sighting of two large birds running across the path. It was worth the extra riding to see. I also checked out some of the other campsites in the park. Some of them were right on the sand by the water. Others were larger, for bigger groups. But all were the same in the sense that you could only bike or hike to all of these sites.  No cars allowed!

On my final day around Lac Saint-Jean, I would need to ride at least 86 km to Métabetchouan-Lac-à-la-Croix. That was a sizable town that had restaurants and motels. If I wanted to go further, I could press on 18 km more to Hébertville where I could camp. I would decide when I got there. 

The ride that day was busy, since I passed through the City of Alma, the largest municipality along the lake, positioned on an island between the Grande-Décharge River and the Petite-Décharge River.  It was here that I began to see (and ride across) a number of hydroelectric dams that were associated with the rivers, both of which confluenced into the Saguenay River, the main river of the region which flowed between Lac Saint-Jean and the Saint Lawrence River.

Riding around Lac Saint-Jean you cross many streams and rivers, often with waterfalls and rapids. Some falls have the remnants of mills that once harnessed the water power.

I was able to skip the main part of the City (and shave off a few miles) by taking another delightful bike ferry across the river. Once again I was the only passenger.  After Alma, it was back riding along the picturesque lake all the way to Métabetchouan-Lac-à-la-Croix where I needed to decide my final plans for the day. But good fortune allowed me to consider this decision on a sandy beach with changing rooms, a restaurant and live music. I changed, took a relaxing swim, and listened to the music while I contemplated that I had enough daylight to push on to Hébertville.  I would leave the shores of Lac Saint-Jean at this point and head west along the Horst de Kénogami bike route. This would be a 72 km long, mostly on-road bike route that would no longer be flat. Instead I would go over some more serious hills on my way to the regional capital of Saguenay where I would experience the Fjord du Saguenay.  I’ll tell you all about this in the fourth and final installment of this series. 

At the end of the day, I rode my last 18 km on the Horst de Kénogami bike route to Hébertville. I camped right along the lake in the distance.

Biking to Montreal from Burlington, Vermont – A Great 2-Day Ride!

(Part two of our series on the Véloroute des Bleuets in Quebec)

If you read our last blog article about cycling the Véloroute des Bleuets you will have gotten a sense of just how complicated it is to get to this beautiful cycling route from New York City. If you are relying on a flight to get you (and your bike) to Montreal, everything falls apart if that flight is cancelled or substantially delayed. So why even bother with the flight, when you can just drive to Burlington, Vermont and do a relaxing 2-day ride to get to Montreal, with about 50 miles of riding each day?  It’s the perfect “warm-up” ride for doing the Véloroute des Bleuets because it’s relatively flat. Plus, the time it takes you to drive to Burlington from NYC pretty much cancels out the time it takes you to pack up your bike in a box, get to the airport, wait for your flight, etc. Why put yourself through this stress when (if you have the time) you can just do a great 2-day bike ride?

Burlington is the perfect place to begin a ride like this. As Vermont’s largest city, there are many services, restaurants and places to stay before you start your ride. I was able to rent a pick-up truck at a bargain price from a local Enterprise Rent-a-Car near me and I paid $50 extra to drop it off at their location in South Burlington. When I arrived, it took me 10 minutes to return the truck, set up my bike, use the bathroom….and then I was off!  Burlington’s waterfront bike path was only a half-mile away!

The Island Line trail runs between the lake and the train, and is clearly signed.

If you enjoy urban waterfront bike paths, Burlington’s 14-mile long Island Line Trail is one of the best. Well maintained with clear signage, it takes you right along the shore of Lake Champlain, in between the water and the tracks for the Vermont Railway. Restaurants, stores and bike shops line the bike path on the city-side as you approach downtown. Then, after passing through beautiful parkland (with a swimming beach right on the trail) the trail crosses the Winooski River and reaches a long, spectacular causeway that goes out into the center of Lake Champlain, taking  you to South Hero Island. But before you get to the island, you have to cross a 200-foot gap in the causeway. Fortunately a local non-profit called Local Motion operates a bike ferry to close this gap. It’s smooth sailing to South Hero Island. 

Once you are off the causeway, it’s back to road riding. But riding across South Hero Island and North Hero Island is fantastic, with scenic low-traffic back roads that you can enjoy. At some points you will need to ride on US Route 2, but that road isn’t super busy or scary. The main concern at this point will be making sure you know where you are staying the night and know where you can get lunch and/or dinner. It’s at least 32 miles to get from the end of the causeway to the Canadian border. Since stores, restaurants and accommodations are rather spread out, you will want to plan out where you will stay (and where you will eat beforehand).  One place that you will need to pass by (since the island is narrow in this location and you can only ride on Route 2) is Hero’s Welcome general store. They make great sandwiches. Stop here if it’s lunchtime!

The border town of Alburg, Vermont is about halfway between Burlington and Montreal.  So if you are doing this ride over 2 days, you will need to decide if you want to spend the night in Canada or the USA. If you are looking for a B&B or an Inn, you can find a few of these on the Vermont side if you want to ride a little less than half the distance on the first day.  For a motel, your best bet is to cross over into New York (via ferry or bridge) where a motel is available in the border town of Rouses Point. There is also a hotel in the Quebec town of Blackpool, but it’s next to a big highway.

Alburg, VT has a smaller border crossing that’s easy for bikes.

If you are looking to camp, a great option is Sleepy Hollow Campground in Noyan, Quebec. Staying here allows you to go through a very quiet border crossing between Alburg and Noyan.  The roads on the Quebec side are absolutely delightful, with wide farm vistas leading down to the Richelieu River. It’s about 5 miles from the border crossing to the campground. All of it on beautiful riding on roads with hardly any cars. 

The roads between the border and the campground look like this.

The campground is a real gem – with its own beach right on the river and boats you can rent to go out on the water.  They have a restaurant that’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, so you do not need to worry about where you will eat. However, the campground is cash only and you’ll need to ride 2.5 miles (each way) to get to an ATM (and the nearest store if you need to buy anything).  But the ride into town is flat, easy, and goes over a beautiful bridge. 

Sunset at Sleepy Hollow Campground

No matter where you spend the night, the second day of riding is almost as nice as the first. From the campground in Noyan, it’s about 50 miles to downtown Montreal. (It’s a little less from the hotels along the highway, a little more if you stayed the night in Vermont).  The terrain is mostly flat as you head through the farms and suburban areas of southern Quebec. And there are plenty of great bike paths you can take so that you don’t have to ride with cars.  

The first bike path you ride in Quebec is super quiet

The first bike path is a 16-mile long rail trail that is flat and straight between Lacolle and Sainte-Clothilde-de-Chateauguay. If you ride in the summer, the quiet nature of this trail allows it to be filled with grasshoppers (who jump out of your way as you ride through) and butterflies (who flutter past).  After the path it’s a couple of miles on quiet farm roads, and then its back on another 6.5-mile bike path that runs alongside one of the major arterials into Montreal. The trail also runs alongside a huge wind-farm.

Quiet roads next to fields of wheat connect the bike paths

After this bike path, you only have to ride about 4 miles on another quiet road, once again next to farms, until you get to the suburban municipality of Saint-Constant and the bike paths start up again.  It is here that you’ll get a real appreciation for just how much focus has been put on bicycle paths in the Montreal metro area, particularly with new residential developments. It’s 11 miles to Montreal…and it’s bike paths the whole way.  The last few miles are the most spectacular as you ride along the Saint Lawrence River…and cross it on a bikes-only bridge that goes directly to Nun’s Island, one of the smaller islands next to the larger Ile de Montreal. It’s here that the City of Montreal’s excellent bike route network begins, which can take you anywhere you want to go in the city. 

The suburban bike network in Saint-Constant is unlike anything you would see in most American suburbs

Montreal is a great destination for cyclists looking to ride around a city for a couple of days. In my case, it would just be a stop-over before catching a train the next morning to Chambord to access the Véloroute des Bleuets. So I stayed at the very bike-friendly Hostelling International Montreal which has a bike storage area and is only a few blocks away from Montreal’s central train station. 

A bridge for bikes only takes you into Montreal

 Check out the first blog article in this series to learn more about getting to and riding the the Véloroute des Bleuets.

Check out the third article in this series to find out what happens next. 

Cycling the Véloroute des Bleuets in Québec – Part One: A beautiful cycling route that is challenging to get to!

 

A typical view on the Veloroute des Bleuets

A typical view on the Véloroute des Bleuets.

The Véloroute des Bleuets- or the blueberry route – conjures up an enticing image for most touring cyclists. A circular route that goes around a beautiful lake in the northern wilds of Quebec with endless fields of blueberries. Quebec has long been known as one of the premier cycling destinations in North America, thanks to its comprehensive bicycle route system known as the Route Verte. But this spectacular route has remained relatively unknown to most American cyclists until recently when the Quebec tourism agency stepped up its efforts to promote it in cycling magazines and at travel shows here in America.

While the main Véloroute des Bleuets circles Lac Saint-Jean, the lake also feeds the Saguenay River, which becomes a beautiful fjord as it flows towards the Saint Lawrence River. And of course another cycling route –  the Véloroute du Fjord du Saguenay – goes along both sides of the fjord and connects to the Véloroute des Bleuets. When you combine both systems, you get an expansive network of more than 700 km of cycling routes ranging from off-road pathways to on-street bike routes. 

The Véloroute des Bleuets and the Véloroute du Fjord du Saguenay encircle Lac Saint-Jean and the Saguenay fjord in northern Quebec. This remote, yet populated, region is well north of Quebec City, at a latitude just north of the northern end of Maine. It is a substantial distance from New York City.

In addition to being a spectacular bike ride, you’d be hard-pressed to find another region in North America that is more set up for bicycle tourism than the Lac Saint-Jean/Saguenay region of Quebec. Every two years they produce a comprehensive guide in both English and French that details every aspect of both routes including the locations of all accommodations, services, transportation and points of interest. With this guide, you can plan out every aspect of your trip. 

But the guide also allows you to leave some aspects of your tour unplanned, since the plethora of information contained in it lets you know your options with each town you ride through. 

The map and guidebook for the Véloroute des Bleuets and the Véloroute du Fjord du Saguenay shows every town you will pass through and the type of bicycle facility you will ride. Green means paved, flat bike paths. Yellow means dirt bike paths or riding on a road. Red means riding on a road with hills. The guide gives so much information, it is almost overwhelming.

When I did this tour, I felt I only needed to book one accommodation in advance – a lakefront campsite at Pointe Taillon National Park – since those appeared to be in high demand. For all other accommodations, I had confidence that armed with this guide, I would find a place each night to rest my head. My plan was to camp each night if the weather was good. If not, I’d get a room at a hotel or motel.  There were so many options in the guide, I figured it would not be an issue. So many accommodations were listed as “Bienvenue Cyclistes!” accommodations, meaning they were certified as bike friendly. I would figure it out as I went along. There are also trip planning services that will book your accommodations for you and carry your gear. But you will have to start and end your ride in the City of Alma and you will have to follow a particular itinerary and stay in certain places.

While this all seems easy and straightforward at first, you must first tackle the challenge of figuring out how you will get to such a remote region, especially if you intend to ride your own bicycle. When I met the friendly Quebec tourism folks at the 2019 Bike Expo New York, I asked them about it.  How do I get there? They didn’t really have a good answer other than to drive the approximately 650 miles between New York City and Lac Saint-Jean and park in one of the designated parking areas for the route (of which there are several). But doing this has a number of disadvantages. First, it would lock me in to starting and ending the ride at the same spot, which wasn’t going to work for me since I wanted to do both the Véloroute des Bleuets and the Véloroute du Fjord. It was too complicated to do both without backtracking a substantial distance to get back to the car, which would also add days to the trip which I did not have (I only had a week).  While Equinox Adventures offered a 6-day tour out of Alma that did both the lake and the fjord where I could also get bag carrying services, this was only available for private groups of 4 or more, and I didn’t have 3 other friends to bring with me. Plus, since I am a New Yorker who doesn’t own a car, what am I supposed to do, rent a car to just have it sit in a parking lot for a week?

Fortunately, there was another way, but it involved stitching together a number of bike-friendly train and ferry services. I liked the route offered by Equinox Adventures – a six day itinerary where 3 days are spent going around Lac Saint-Jean, one day is spent riding between the lake and the fjord, one day is spent on the fjord, and the last day to get back to Alma by shuttle. But in my case, instead of getting back to a car parked in Alma, I would go to Quebec City instead by train. There I would meet my wife and son and they would drive me home.  But even if they could not do this, there are ways to get home from Quebec City with a bike using Via Rail to Montreal and then taking it from there (and that’s a story for another day). 

So to set this up, even though this route is highly amenitized once I get up there, it would take an enormous amount  of planning. How do I get up there? How do I make sure I can get back? What if something goes wrong and I miss a connection?  This was the first part of the adventure.

The train from Montreal to Chambord is actually two trains stuck together. They separate halfway and go to different towns. Each half of the train is an engine, a passenger car and a baggage car. So you really get to know the other passengers and crew during your 8 hour journey!

The plan I hatched was to fly from LaGuardia to Montreal on American Airlines.  American now allows bikes that are packed into boxes as checked baggage with just the standard baggage fees (or no fee if you have an American Airlines credit card). So this would be great.  I would fly to Montreal with my bike in a box and unpack and assemble my bike at the Montreal airport using one of their handy bike stations. Then I would ride my bike to downtown (on a great bike path!) and stay overnight at the bike-friendly Hosteling International hostel near Montreal’s central train station. The next morning I would just ride a few blocks to the station and get on an 8-hour train ride to Chambord,

There is a vast wilderness between Montreal and Lac Saint-Jean, and the train goes right through it. It takes 8 hours, and you stop at many train stations like these – mere huts in the middle of the woods. It’s a unique experience you’ll find only in Quebec!

which is right on Lac Saint-Jean. This train ride is long, but the ticket is very cheap ($60 CAD) and the bike rides for free with no box in the baggage car. I’d get in at 4:30 p.m. and then I could either stay the night in Chambord, or if I felt up for it, ride a little on the Véloroute and stay in the next town. 

Towards the end of my ride, my plan was to utilize a ferry service to cut some of the riding distance along the Véloroute du Fjord du Saguenay. Since the route doesn’t really go along the water (and is very hilly), I figured it would be worth it to see more of the fjord from the boat and spare myself the hills. I would end my ride on this route in Saint-Simeon and then ride to La Malbaie on the final day. In La Malbaie I could board a scenic railroad –  the Train de Charlevoix – which would take me to Quebec City with my bike. 

The ferry, which runs the length of the Saguenay Fjord.

The Train de Charlevoix, a scenic railroad that goes between La Malbaie and Quebec City.

 

So after spending many, many hours planning this out and making the various reservations for the plane, two trains and a ferry, I was ready to roll. But it turned out that the day of my departure was LaGuardia’s second busiest passenger day of its history (thanks to flight-cancelling thunderstorms the day before). When I finally got on my (massively delayed) flight, more thunderstorms rolled in and the flight was cancelled. This is when the dominoes started to fall. That train between Montreal and Chambord?  Well it only runs Monday-Wednesday-Friday. So now I had to figure out another way to get to Montreal and arrive on either a Sunday, Tuesday or Thursday to get the train. I would also need to re-book the ferry ride, my lakefront camping reservation and the ride back on the scenic railroad. Wow. 

The solution I concocted was unorthodox, but it worked!  In fact, it worked better than my initial plan. I would now rent a pick-up truck and throw my bike in the back. I’d drive to Burlington, Vermont on Friday and then I’d spend Saturday and Sunday riding between Burlington and Montreal. This ride would be fantastic – worth the aggravation.  And I will give you all the details in the next blog article!

Advice for tuning up your bike

Now that the spring weather is finally here, if you are getting on your bike for the first few times, you may be noticing that your bike isn’t working completely as it should. Yes, it is still getting you someplace, but maybe the way the gears switch isn’t right. Or you have to really squeeze the brakes hard to get your bike to stop. Maybe your bike makes irritating noises while you ride it?  In all of these situations, you’ll find that a good bike tune up will really go far in making your bike riding more enjoyable. So how to go about it?

Find a good bike shop.

The number of independently owned bicycle shops in NYC has, unfortunately, shrunk over the past 5 years. But these small shops can sometimes offer the best customer service, particularly when the person working on your bike is also the owner. So it’s often worthwhile to go a little out of your way if you are looking for a real thorough tune-up or overhaul.  In my case, I had a bike that had gone 2 years without a major overhaul with many miles ridden. So I made the trip from the Bronx down to Greenpoint, Brooklyn to Kween Kargo, a shop that specializes in cargo bikes and wheelbuilding. I was lured by their Instagram posts that focused on the quality of their repair work, so I decided to give them a try. The level of service I received from Camille and Chris, the owners of the shop, was unparalleled, and the bike worked flawlessly when I picked it up. Chris also told me that he test-rode the bike to make sure it was perfect. And he said that I had 10 days to bring the bike back for further adjustments. So if it’s service like this that you are after, please support local bike shops!

Do it yourself!  (or at least understand more about your bike before you bring it in).

If you have the time available – and the inclination – working on your bike yourself is very rewarding. Even if it’s just the periodic changing of your chain, or occasionally making your own adjustments to  your brakes or gearing, any work you do yourself will help you learn more about your bicycle. There are many great books you can buy that provide a good reference for your own repairs. And, of course there are also YouTube videos.

If you are thinking about doing your own tune-up, or if you just want to understand how your bike works a little better, check out Nick Legan’s piece from this month’s Adventure Cycling Magazine  “The Unbearable Lightness of Cleaning”. It’s a thoughtful article that will help you identify which parts of your bike may need the most work.

Spring 2019 Bike Path Update

Now that it’s April, many cyclists are dusting off their bikes and heading out for their first ride of the season. And off-road bicycle paths are often the first places cyclists look to for those early season warm-up rides. The good news is that there are a lot of exciting bike path improvement projects heading to our region for 2019. Check out our updates below. And if you know of any other bike path improvement projects in the pipeline for this year, email us and we’ll update this posting again with the new information.

Don’t forget that there are great websites out there that catalog all the bike paths and bike routes in our region. These websites are great resources if you are looking to ride someplace new. Here are a few to check out:

http://bikehudsonvalley.com/

http://bikelongisland.com/

https://www.facebook.com/njbikemap/

 

OK, on to the updates:

North County Trailway – Westchester County

The North County Trailway is one of three trailway segments that was constructed on the abandoned Putnam Division of the New York Central Railroad. Because the North County Trailway was also one of the first segments to be constructed on this rail line, some portions of the trail are now more than 20 years old and are in disrepair. However, the entire length of this trailway segment, between the Putnam County line and Old Saw Mill River Road in Tarrytown, will be resurfaced and repaired during 2019.  If you ride the trail this year, be prepared for trail closures to occur anywhere along the trail. It may be worth checking the Westchester County Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation Facebook page to see if they have information about trail closures before you head out for your ride. This trail is the prominent feature of our Hudson Valley Craft Brewery Bike Tour. If you do our tour, we can give you advance information of trail closures and we can shuttle you around them if they are impassible.

Harlem Valley Rail Trail – Dutchess and Columbia Counties

If you’ve ever taken the Metro-North Harlem Line train all the way to the end, you’ll notice that the Harlem Valley Rail Trail begins where the train tracks end. That’s because this rail trail was constructed atop the railroad abandonment, which constitutes all of the rail right-of-way north of the Wassaic station. This is one of the region’s most beautiful rail trails and it is a highlight of both our Hudson Valley Bike Tour and the Harlem Valley Rail Ride and Festival.

Over the years, it has been a challenge to construct a rail trail on top of the entire former rail line. An 8-mile segment has always been missing in between the Village of Millerton and Under Mountain Road in the Town of Ancram, which has necessitated that riders go on hilly (but beautiful) back roads to ride the whole trail.

However, construction has begun on this missing piece of trail and it is expected to be complete by October 2020. This will be a major undertaking requiring 4,100 feet of elevated boardwalks and the rehabilitation of six bridges. But when it is completed, it will surely be an amazing bike path. Read the whole story here.

Ocean Parkway Shared Use Path Extension – Long Island

If you are familiar with Jones Beach State Park, you might know about the Ocean Parkway Coastal Greenway, which is a great bike path that follows Ocean Parkway. Later this year construction will begin to extend this bike path for an additional 10 miles between its current terminus at Tobay Beach and Captree State Park. This bike path will greatly increase the amount of shoreline that is accessible by bikes in both Nassau and Suffolk Counties. The bike path is expected to be completed by the summer of 2020.

Verrazzano Bridge Summer Streets – Brooklyn and Staten Island

Have you ever done Summer Streets in Manhattan?  It’s great. For three Saturdays every August, the City shuts down Park Avenue just for bikes.

It appears that support may be building to do the same thing on the Verrazanno Narrows Bridge. https://www.bikesbk.org/verrazzano-summer-streets/

The lack of a bike path or sidewalk on the Verrazanno Narrows Bridge has long been an issue for people looking to bike between the two heavily populated boroughs. The MTA has attempted to address this by providing bicycle racks on the S53 and S93 buses, but there is still a push to allow cyclists to simply ride across the bridge. This may be accomplished this summer if the Verrazzano Bridge Summer Streets intiative moves forward.

George Washington Bridge

A large number of cyclists (3700 per weekend day)  routinely cross the George Washington Bridge, which was built in 1931 with narrow 7-foot wide sidewalks. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is currently undertaking a construction project to “Restore the George” which is anticipated to be completed in 2025.  Because construction may impact the ability for cyclists to access the bridge sidewalks, the Port Authority recommends cyclists sign up for text or email alerts about sidewalk closures. Find out more at: https://www.panynj.gov/bridges-tunnels/gwb-pedestian-bicycle-info.html

However, it is important to note that the Port Authority’s “Restoring the George” project will not do much to improve bicycle mobility across this bridge, since the project is more or less only considering “replacement in-kind” of the existing sidewalks. To advocate for better improvements, all non-motorized users of the George Washington Bridge are strongly encouraged to go to https://completegeorge.org/ to learn more about how you can advocate for a better plan.

Mario Cuomo (Tappan Zee) Bridge

And finally, as this blog reported back in October of 2018, the long-awaited “shared use path” on the new Mario Cuomo Bridge is set to arrive later this year. This will be a major, major improvement for cyclists and pedestrians in the Hudson Valley.  Check it out!

Riding New Jersey from End-to-End: High Point to Cape May on a Bicycle

If you are looking for a great 3- to 5-day bike tour that is scenic and diverse…and will also give you bragging rights for biking across an entire state, look no further than New Jersey. New Jersey is often overlooked as a bicycle tourism destination since so much of New Jersey’s image is negatively stereotyped with a car-focused identity: “Jersey barriers”, the Turnpike, Paramus’s shopping malls, etc. But the fact is, the New Jersey you can see from a bike is far different than the New Jersey you usually see from a car. New Jersey has an extensive bike trail network built on old canals and abandoned train lines that can take you long distances without seeing any cars. From a bike, you get a totally different version of the Garden State: one that has rolling Appalachian foothills, quaint mill towns, quiet streams, the scenic Delaware River, expansive farms, bright red cranberry bogs, fragrant pine forests, wineries, historic sites, and of course, beautiful beaches.  New Jersey also has a robust bike-friendly transit system that can help get you to or from your ride, or give you plenty of options if you need to bail out part way. It’s a great bike tour that’s close by and only takes a few days to ride. You’ll also have a very favorable elevation change if you ride north to south, and the southern half of the ride is close to flat. Read on to find out more about what this ride is like and how to set it up.

I did this ride by myself over four days in early November of 2018. It was a late foliage season, so I was hoping to get a run of four good weather days to do this trip and see the colors. I took a chance when I saw a 4-day forecast with temperatures staying around 45-55 degrees. But there was also a threat of rain. The weather turned out fine, with a mix of different conditions, but nothing awful.

Saturday – High Point and the Valleys Below

If you have the time, you can take the Metro-North Port Jervis line to the north end of this ride. I did not, so I did a one-way car rental and drove my bike to Port Jervis, NY. I drove out as early as I could on Saturday morning and I returned the car at an Avis location that was mainly a car repair garage (you better hope it’s open…). It was raining, but the forecast said the rain would end in 2 hours.  Off in the distance, I could see the hills and High Point, with its obelisk jutting into the sky. The plan was to ride up there first and “tag the summit” before heading down the other side to the valleys below. While not a punishing grind, it was a steady ascent, and the beginning of a long day. But once I reached the windy top of High Point, the view was amazing. And it’s all downhill from here, right?

After descending High Point, I rode through beautiful farm valleys splashed with fall colors. The quaint downtown of Branchville was the starting point for the Sussex Branch Trail: a dirt-paved rail trail that goes through remote state preservation lands that are in the between old railroad towns.  It is here where the ride is the quietest, with no traffic noise as you follow along streams and pass by lakes. But that rain that happened earlier? Well that left many, many puddles that I had to ride through. This trail is beautiful, so the difficult conditions did not deter me. However, if it had been a sunny dry day, it would have been far better.

Fortunately, a warm bed in an outstanding B&B was waiting for me in beautiful Long Valley. Located next to a horse farm, but close enough to bike into town for dinner, The Neighbor House B&B was an ideal setting.

 

Sunday – Columbia Trail and the D&R Canal Trail

Sunday I woke to cold but sunny conditions. Rafi, the owner of the Neighbor House, got me going with a generous breakfast and lots of encouragement. Next it was off onto the Columbia Trail, another rail trail travelling between Morris and Hunterdon Counties. This trail went through steep wooded valleys bursting with fall color and gently roaring with the sounds of streams swelled by yesterday’s rain. Paved with stone dust and cinder, the Columbia Trail is relatively smooth and a far easier ride than the Sussex Branch Trail yesterday. The trail ends in High Bridge, and from there I must ride on back roads to get to Frenchtown. The roads snake along brooks and streams which ultimately flow into the Delaware River. In Frenchtown, slow moving traffic ensured that I could take an entire lane width for myself as I made my way down to the waterfront, where lunch awaited at the Bridge Café . After that, it was 30 miles down the D&R Canal Trail, paralleling the Delaware River. It was a non-stop tunnel of color, with the river sparkling in between the trees as the sun positioned itself in the west. I would need to ride this section without stopping to ensure I made to my hotel before darkness fell.

The quiet serenity of D&R Canal Trail continued, even as I passed through the only large city of my bike tour: Trenton. The path goes to the edge of downtown, where I jump off the trail and ride down State Street. It’s 5 p.m. on a Sunday and I have the entire street to myself. I ride past the capitol and beyond to the next trail segment: a park  above a waterfront highway. This park, which celebrates the history of Trenton, leads to a ramp that brings you down to a bike path which runs next to the highway. But soon the path veers away and becomes another dirt path in a quiet forest area. The forest feels remote until you notice that you can still see the highway, and occasionally a light rail train flashes past. The path delivered me straight to the center of Bordentown, with its downtown clustered around a light rail station. It would be my jumping off point for the next day.

Monday – Farm roads and the quiet Pine Barrens

On Monday I headed east into the farm areas of Burlington County. The traffic was heavier because it was a Monday morning, but I managed to get an early start so I could get some miles in before rain overtook the area from the west.  About an hour in, the rain started falling, but was already wearing my rain gear, so I was ready. An hour more in the rain meant I was ready to stop for breakfast at a diner. New Jersey has the best diners, so they make great breakfast stops if you want to get a little riding in first. I glanced at the menu and asked myself if it was worth trying pork roll again. Pork roll is a product of Trenton, so it’s mainly found in New Jersey and the immediate areas surrounding it. I skip it – it’s raining out, do I really want heartburn too?

Back on the bike it rains as I ride through Fort Dix and into the Pine Barrens. The roads get very quiet and all the roads have bike lanes. Sometimes there are other paved roads that I can take through state forests. These roads have absolutely no cars.

The rain falls more gently now as I pass the vibrantly red cranberry bogs that are being harvested for Thanksgiving. Red cranberries litter the road as I ride to Egg Harbor City where I check in at the Tuscan House of the Renault Winery. This winery is famous since it is the second oldest winery in the United States. To do this, it had to survive Prohibition. And for that, just look a few miles to the east to Atlantic City. Once ruled by mobsters during the Prohibition Era, the winery was part of their racket. Fans of Boardwalk Empire would find this winery interesting!

Getting my bike into my huge room was easy. The staff were helpful and the onsite restaurant was a great place to relax before going to bed.

Tuesday – Finishing at Cape May

The winery did not have any on-site breakfast available the day I was there, so I ate an energy bar and I took off as the sun was rising.  This would be my last day of riding, and the plan was to pick up a rental car in Cape May and drive it home. But it’s a long drive and the car rental shop does not have late hours, so an early start was key. Thankfully, there was no rain as I ride south along Route 50, which has a generous shoulder, but also a good deal of traffic. Mays Landing, the County seat of Atlantic County, was a great place to stop for breakfast.  It was also Election Day, so the historic buildings were decked out in red-white-and-blue bunting. This time, I’m confident in my ability to finish my final day, so I order the pork roll.  But I eat only half of it. Too much sodium and fat!

Back in the saddle, it’s grey and foggy. Once I cross the bridge into Cape May County I am able to take advantage of a number of lower-traffic county roads as well as paved bike paths which traverse down the Cape May Peninsula. And even though I got a flat tire after breakfast, I am still on schedule, which allows me time to check out the Hawk Haven winery. The tasting is wonderful. It’s a Tuesday and I have the place to myself and I am able to ask all about their wine. I decide to buy a case to bring home to share with my wife, so they hold the wine for me behind the counter. I’ll come back for it later after I get my car.

A few miles later and I am arriving at Cape May point. It’s about 2 p.m. on a Tuesday, and I have the place all to myself. I do the obligatory picture of the lighthouse and then I walk to the beach and enjoy the sight and sound of the ocean as I breathe in the fresh salt air. I need to ride 6 miles back to pick up my rental car, so I decide to take a different route back along the shorefront. I then pick up my rental car, go pick up my wine and head back to NYC. And I even made it in time to vote!

Trip Costs

I did this trip myself, with no support. I arranged all of the accommodations myself, I spent about 20 hours planning the route and I drove myself to and from the ride using one-way rental cars. I spent about $730 for the entire four days and it was a lot of work to figure this out.

Gotham Bicycle Tours can arrange a tour for a small group that is cost-competitive with doing the ride on your own. For about $3300 (plus hotel expenses) we could provide a group of 4 people with a complete tour, with all lodging pre-arranged, a route specifically chosen to fit your group’s interests and GPS navigation. You would also have full van support for the entire ride with rest stops arranged for you. You would always have access to a well-stocked cooler in the van. We can also help get you and your bikes to the start and end points of the ride, saving you lots of time. (This is key since we can drive you to the TOP of High Point to being your ride!) And you wouldn’t need to spend an enormous amount of time planning out your route!

Contact me at Lukas@gothambiketours.com or call  917-748-1119 for ideas about planning your end-to-end tour of New Jersey.

A new bike path on the Tappan Zee Bridge

The Tappan Zee Bridge never made a lot of sense. Why does it cross the Hudson River at its widest point? And why was a bridge like this ever built without a sidewalk or bike path? For over 50 years this bridge has existed to only serve motor vehicles. But the new bridge that has just replaced it will fix that. Yes, the new Tappan Zee Bridge (now called the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge) will finally have a lane just for bicycles and pedestrians!

Finally, communities in both Westchester and Rockland Counties will have a way to bike from one side of the river to the other.  This is hugely important for increasing non-motorized mobility. What’s more, it also increases the potential for bicycle tourism. And Gotham Bicycle Tours will be offering a new tour in 2019 that goes over the new bridge. As always, it will be transit accessible from NYC…and a beautiful ride.

In the meantime check out the new animation which was recently released by state government that shows what the new bike path will look like.  There will even be scenic overlooks built into the pathway, with catchy names like “Fish and Ships”.

Westchester OKs $8.7M to update North County Trailway

By Mark Lungariello, Rockland/Westchester Journal News 

Original site of article:  https://www.lohud.com/story/news/local/westchester/2018/10/09/westchester-oks-8-7-m-update-north-county-trailway/1564040002/

Published 6:00 a.m. ETOct. 9, 2018 | Updated 7:41 a.m. ET Oct. 9, 2018

Westchester County lawmakers will spend $8.7 million to improve the North County Trailway, a 20-mile trail from Putnam County down to Eastview.

It’ll be the first major construction project on the popular trail since it was built in sections in the 1980s.

The county Board of Legislators voted on Oct. 1 to unanimously approve borrowing for the project, which is estimated to last 14 months once it begins.

Safety enhancements will include work to a 500-foot bridge over the Croton Reservoir in Yorktown, which lawmakers said has been used occasionally by thrill seekers to jump into the reservoir. Work will include curved fencing and spikes to discourage people from climbing around the fence.

New York State owns the trailway and Westchester has leased it since 1994, but the county legislature has asked the administration of County Executive George Latimer to try to strike up a deal to take ownership of the property. But lawmakers approved another 25-year extension lease at a $1 cost to Westchester while negotiations are sparked.

Although the state owns the property, the county is responsible for any injury, property damage or death claims. The county approved a $3.2 million settlement with the family of a bicyclist who died after crashing on a stretch of the trailway in Yorktown.

The property runs through the towns of Mount Pleasant, New Castle, Yorktown and Somers. It connects to the South County Trailway, which runs to Westchester’s border with the Bronx. Lawmakers OKed this month another $300,000 for a study and design preparation to an area of the South County Trailway, particularly a stretch near Yonkers’ border with Hastings-on-Hudson.

Staying Visible While Cycling

By Rachel Gaffney,

 Cycling is one of the healthiest ways to get from A to B, but unfortunately it’s sometimes impossible to avoid motorists during your daily commute. One of the best ways to avoid any incidents with motorists is to stay visible at all hours of day. Here are some top ways you can increase your visibility and ensure everyone on the road sees you.

 1. Dress Accordingly

 You don’t have to string a bunch of Christmas tree lights to your bicycle, but it’s also not a great idea to dress all in black either. You can adjust your attire depending on what time of day you’re going for a ride. In the daylight, florescent colors are most important. Think bright green, yellow, and orange here. At night it doesn’t really matter what you wear because nobody can see you anyway. What’s more important is wearing something reflective so you’ll stand out against a car’s headlights.

 2. Don’t Pass on the Right!

 While it’s very tempting to creep alongside a bunch of idling cars and get to the head of the line, it’s usually safest to just wait directly between cars at an intersection. When you pass on the right you set yourself for the right hook, one of the most dangerous crash scenarios for cyclists. If you really want to get to the head of the pack, consider passing a car or two on the left. You’ll run the risk of getting stuck between two lines of traffic of course, so pay attention to the lights and be prepared to immediately merge into your lane!

 3. Ride Loud in Proud in the Center

 You’ll usually want to stay to the right-hand side of the road if there’s a wide shoulder or bike lane, but what if the bike lane is obstructed or there’s parked cars next to the shoulder (setting you up for getting doored)? You’re never obligated to ride in a bicycle lane if it’s not safe to do so, and if you’re as fast as other cars it’s much safer to ride smack in the middle of the lane.

This makes it easier for oncoming and approaching traffic to see you, but it also prevents motorists from unsafely attempting to pass you in a single lane. As far as preventing any door crashes, a good rule of thumb to follow is if you can reach out and touch a car’s side mirror, you’re too close.  

4. Buy a Better Bell

 This isn’t necessarily about staying visible, but if you cycle in an area with a lot of pedestrians you’ll likely run into situations where they tend to cross in front of you. Pedestrians often look for just cars, and if they don’t see any they could step directly in your path. A loud bell does wonders for alerting pedestrians to your approach. BikePacking wrote a great article on the pros and cons of some of the most popular bells available today.

 While some of these tips are inconvenient, they’ll go a long way in helping you stay safe on the road!

 

This article was created by www.personalinjury-law.com, an organization dedicated to providing the public with information about personal injury and safety information. Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice, and it is intended for informational use only. Be sure to review your local cycling ordinances to ensure you ride safe and legally.

 

The Harlem Valley Rail Ride Weekend is in the News!

The following is a re-posting of an article from the Millerton News, a local newspaper in the Village of Millerton. The article was published on July 25, 2018 and was written by Kaitlin Lyle.

Cyclists take to the Rail Trail

Wed, 07/25/2018 – 10:41am

All the way from New York City, Abe Hendin and his son, Lior, prepared their bikes for the Harlem Valley Rail Ride’s 23-mile route. Photo by Kaitlin Lyle

MILLERTON— Once again, the Harlem Valley Rail Ride has brought together cyclists from across the state to experience the region’s beauty on Sunday, July 22.

Organized at Eddie Collins Field, cyclists could pitch a tent on Friday, July 20 until Monday, July 23.

There was a free bonus warm-up ride with a choice of a 12-mile route up the Harlem Valley Rail Trail or a 25- to 35-mile route.

Whether emerging from their tents or riding their bikes, cyclists from all walks of life and levels attended the ride. Cyclists could enjoy a 100-mile route, a 72- to 80-mile route, a 45- to 57-mile route or a 23- to 33-mile route.

On top of their preparations for their ride around the Harlem Valley, cyclists enjoyed breakfast underneath the park pavilion. Despite the gray clouds overhead and hint of rain on the way, they were determined to put the pedal to the metal as they had chosen.

Whether they were riding solo, with their loved ones or making friends on the ride, there was a discernible camaraderie at summer’s most beautiful ride.

On top of enticing cyclists from all around the state, the event motivated a couple organizations from the surrounding area to lend a hand.

Underneath the pavilion, members of the American Legion Post 178 in Millerton cooked up a storm, serving breakfast and lunch. The Dover High School basketball team volunteered by parking cars and doing other similar tasks; a donation was made to the team. Gotham Bike Tours helped set up the tents for campers overnight in addition to picking visiting cyclists up and bringing them back to the train station. All the way from the Westchester Beemers Motorcycle Club, volunteer “motos” offered free motor service to cyclists in need.

With the storm slowly rolling in, volunteers checked on cyclists who were still on the road. While the weather had its sunshine and dark clouds, cyclists made their way back to Eddie Collins Field.

“I think this event is really good for Millerton,” said Lukas Herbert from Gotham Bicycle Tours. “It really puts Millerton on the map and brings people out, especially city people who have never heard of it.”

The Farmington Canal Heritage Trail – A Car-Free Ride Across Connecticut (and part of Massachusetts)

Most people have no idea, but Connecticut is one of the few states that you can cross end-to-end on a car-free bike path.

But it gets even better: you can also go an extensive distance in Massachusetts as well, on the same bike path for an even bigger ride.

It still gets better:  the bike path connects to well-marked on-road bike route networks in Massachusetts once the trail ends.

It STILL gets better….you can leverage a new commuter rail system to do your epic ride one way.

So what’s the deal?  Why don’t you know about this trail yet?  Well, I am going to tell you. This trail is awesome! It is so well put together, you’ll think you are in Germany, riding down a scenic radweg, designed by engineers and landscape architects who really care about bikes. Except the Dunkin’ Donuts you just passed will remind you that those dedicated professionals who put this trail together are from Connecticut…and wow – what a great trail.

The main issue with the elusiveness of this trail probably has something to do with the fact that it changes names as it goes through different areas.  And, of course, you have to go to different websites to get the maps for the differently named trail sections. So that makes it trickier to put your ride together. But make no mistake: you can ride from Amherst, MA to New Haven, CT with only a small amount of on-road riding. And those on-road sections are shrinking as gaps in the trail continue to get bridged with new trail segments. And where the gaps exist, there’s good signage to keep you moving. And sometimes there’s trail alongside the road where you can ride without dealing with cars. Amazing!

          Massachusetts Section

            Connecticut Section

Although this trail is called a “canal heritage trail” since it follows the route of a canal that once went from New Haven to Northampton, the canal was mostly obliterated by the railroads that came in later. So the trail is basically a rail-trail, laid down where the tracks used to go. It is all paved, and you go through town after town after town….so plenty of services, places to eat, places to stay, etc. And don’t forget that the trail closely parallels the new CT Rail commuter rail service in between New Haven and Springfield, which accommodates bikes.  You can also bring your bike aboard the Amtrak Vermonter if you want to travel further north on the train to Northampton or beyond.

      New CT Rail trains parallel this bike trail, offering good bike-friendly transit access

Here’s a breakdown of the trail from North to South:

Norwottuck Rail Trailhttps://www.mass.gov/locations/norwottuck-rail-trail   While not directly a part of the Farmington Canal system, this rail trail hooks directly into the trail Northampton. It provides a great extension of the trail between Amherst and downtown Northampton where it hooks directly into….

Manhan Rail Trailhttps://manhanrailtrail.org/  This is the name of the trail once you leave Northampton and get into East Hampton. (Within Northhampton it’s just called part of the city’s bike path system).

On road riding – When you get to the town of Southampton, the Manhan Rail Trail ends and you will have to take local streets.  Unfortunately, the signage is not good in this one area, so you will have to plot out a route that generally follows Route 10.  It’s about 10 miles to the City of Westfield, where the trail picks up again.  But after that, it’s all smooth sailing on bike paths for almost the rest of the time.

Columbia Greenway Rail Trailhttps://www.columbiagreenway.org/  And just like magic, tucked behind a Stop & Shop is the Columbia Greenway Rail Trail which takes you from Westfield through beautiful agricultural areas, including tobacco fields! (Who knew they grew tobacco in Massachusetts?)  This trail takes you all the way to Southwick where it becomes….

Southwick Rail Trailhttp://southwickrailtrail.org/  Another name for the same great trail. This time in Southwick, Massachusetts. Southwick is the last town in Massachusetts. After this you enter Connecticut and start riding on….

The Farmington Canal Heritage Trailhttp://fchtrail.org/ Thankfully, the rest of the trail is under the same name with the same maps and website. This is where the trail really begins to shine as you pass through many towns where the trail right-of-way had been interrupted by development, only to be put back together by trail designers who routed the trail through office parks and along trails adjacent to streets.  You’ll pass through town after town on this well-maintained trail, with plenty of businesses to stop at.  The trail runs generally uninterrupted until you reach Plainville, but at that point the trail is also marked as….

The East Coast Greenwayhttps://www.greenway.org/ Just north of Plainville, the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail is co-branded as the East Coast Greenway, which is a larger trail system spanning between Florida and Maine.  So when the trail gets interrupted in Plainville, you just follow the East Coast Greeenway markers to keep going on your route.

Eventually, you’ll reach the next segment of the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail and you’ll keep riding.  As you ride south, you’ll notice that the trail gets very wide, which is great since there are a lot of people on it. The trail continues on, with only one small interruption until you get to New Haven where the trail ends at the Yale Campus.  Take your time to enjoy the New Haven Green, or just pedal the short distance to the train station and be on your way. You can get trains to almost anywhere from New Haven’s beautiful Union Station.

Union Station serves Metro-North, Shoreline East, CT Rail and Amtrak trains. Go anywhere!

Bike Hack: Crossing the Bronx-Whitestone and Verrazano-Narrows Bridges by Bike

Getting between the various NYC Boroughs can be enormously frustrating if you are traveling by bicycle, thanks to bridges that were only designed for cars.  While most of the bridges owned and maintained by NYC DOT have now been retrofitted with bike lanes or sidewalks, MTA-controlled bridges are another story.

Unfortunately for cyclists, MTA bridges are the only link for people traveling between Queens and the Bronx, or between Brooklyn and Staten Island.  Ever since the sidewalks were removed from the Bronx-Whitestone bridge in 1943, cyclists have been out of luck, forced to detour to the Triborough Bridge.  The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge never even had a sidewalk in the first place, meaning that you could never ride a bike between Brooklyn and Staten Island (except for the one day a year when they do the 5-boro bike tour). You’d have to ride into Manhattan first, then take the ferry with your bike.

Forcing cyclists to take such long detours is beyond ridiculous in today’s world, where cycling is more popular than ever. Thankfully, the MTA has finally understood this and has implemented a bike rack program for local buses that go across both the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge and Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, to help cyclists use bridges that should have been open to them in the first place.

Unlike virtually every other public bus system in America, New York City Transit has never had bicycle racks on any of their buses. This new policy changes this – finally! – at least for 4 bus routes, 3 of which cross bridges.  You can read all about the new bike rack service here: http://www.mta.info/press-release/nyc-transit/mta-running-bus-routes-new-bike-racks-summer

And if you are unsure of how to use a bus bike rack, there is a dull instructional video you can link to from the MTA’s press release.  Or, for a more entertaining tutorial, click here!

Riding the Harlem Valley Rail Trail

The Harlem Valley Rail Trail is one of the most beautiful rail trails in New York State. It’s also one of the easiest to get to since begins in a Metro-North train station parking lot. The Harlem Valley Rail Trail also has lots of amenities along it’s route including farmers markets, restaurants and swimming holes.  It’s the perfect getaway for a day ride. And it also makes for a great destination for two of the tours we offer at Gotham Bicycle Tours: our Hudson Valley Bike Tour and our Harlem Valley Rail Ride Weekend. We also run private tours on this trail, because it is so nice!

The Harlem Valley Rail Trail can trace its history back to 1852, when the New York and Harlem Railroad was constructed as far north as Chatham, New  York. The New York and Harlem was one of America’s oldest railroads, which was eventually absorbed into the New York Central, and ultimately into Metro-North Railroad as the Harlem Line. However, by the time Metro-North Railroad acquired the line, commuter rail service only went as far north as Dover Plains, with the rest of the line being abandoned.

Fortunately in the late 1990’s, Metro-North undertook an extension of the Harlem Line to Wassaic, NY.  As part of the extension, the Harlem Valley Rail Trail was built on top of the abandoned rail alignment north of Wassaic. With this project, the first “intermodal” train to bike hub was created in the New York Metro region.

The Harlem Valley Rail Trail is currently open as two segments: an 11 mile segment from the Wassaic Train Station to Millerton, and a 5 mile segment from just south of Copake north to beyond Copake Falls.  In between, you will need to ride about 8 miles on local roadways to connect between these two segments, but the ride is beautiful, without a lot of traffic.  Full information and maps can be found at the Harlem Valley Rail Trail Association’s website at: http://hvrt.org/

The amenities on this trail are some of the best around.  There are always plenty of places to eat in Millerton, 11 miles north of the trail start in Wassaic. On Saturdays you can even grab lunch at a great farmers market that has all kinds of wonderful food from all of the farms you just rode past on your bike.

As you push north, you’ll pass Taconic State Park in Copake Falls which has camping, a waterfall hike…and a great lifeguarded swimming hole in an old quarry that is super refreshing on a hot summer day.

Just north of the park is one of the most scenic segments of the trail, where you ride through a lush valley.  The first time we rode through this spot with our 6-year old son, he asked us “is this God’s world?” because it looked like the pictures he had seen of Heaven!

Bike Hack: The Little Green Signs

A “little green sign” for Route 23

Source: By Fwgoebel – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10054106

Have you ever been driving (or biking) along somewhere in New York State and wondered about the little green signs that you keep seeing over and over on the side of the road? These little signs are actually reference markers put up by the NYS Department of Transportation after the Highway Safety Act of 1966 required that “each state shall have a highway safety program….(that) shall include, but not be limited to, provisions for….surveillance of traffic for detection and correction of high or potentially high accident locations”.

In short, in a pre-computer and pre-GPS world, each state needed to figure out their own way to reference every segment of state-owned roadway for traffic, maintenance and crash reporting purposes.

And, of course, New York State being what it is, came up with an ingeniously confusing, complicated, yet workable solution, which culminated in these little green signs that show an almost nonsensical jumble of numbers and letters.

But these signs are a great resource if you are ever lost on your bike and you need to figure out what road you are on. The top row of these signs is (almost) always the route number for the state road on which you are traveling. So in the absence of other signage, these little green markers can at least help you figure out what road you are on. On most 2 lane roads, they are every 0.2 mile, so you don’t have to bike far to figure it out. If you are riding on a 4-lane road, you’ll see them every 0.1 mile.

If you are interested in the real nitty-gritty about how these little green signs work, check out the NYSDOT Reference Marker Manual. It’s fascinating. It will make you appreciate the lengths that people had to go to to code highway segments before computers and GPS could just assign everything a coordinate.

And keep in mind, you will only see these signs in New York State. Other states have their own signs, which may or may not make sense.

Riding the Catskill Scenic Trail

The Catskill Scenic Trial is one of the most beautiful rail-trail bike paths anywhere near the New York Metropolitan Area. Framed by both mountains and farms, this 26-mile, car-free ride is a perfect outing for a day or a weekend. But the beauty of this trail is partially thanks to it’s out-of-the-way location. Trail conditions are also somewhat rugged if you are used to riding on paved surfaces. But we believe this ride is so nice that it’s worth the effort. Keep reading to learn more. This is a ride you can do on your own. Or you can inquire about hiring Gotham Bicycle Tours to take care of the details for you. Check out our website for private tours at www.biketourconcierge.com

Getting to the trail The Catskill Scenic Trail is located in the northwestern portion of the Catskills, mostly in Delaware County, but also with a portion in Schoharie County. It’s about a 3 or 4 hour drive to get to the trail from New York City, depending on the route you take and the traffic.  The trail is not served by public transportation, so you must drive to the trail or find a ride.  But once you are there, you’ll quickly find out that it was worth the effort to get there.

A good place to start for planning your ride is to think about where you will park. The Catskill Scenic Trail website has a great map of the trail that shows the communities that the trail passes through, as well as where to park.  Most of the time, the parking is provided in dirt lots near where the trail crosses roads.  Sometimes these ares are more or less side-of-the-road pullover areas. Wherever you park, keep in mind that you will most likely need to ride out on the trail, and then turn around to come back, to get back to your car. The only way to just ride this tour one-way is to do a car shuttle with 2 cars, or to hire a bike tour company like Gotham Bicycle Tours to set the ride up for you.

Some of the communities you will pass have more services than others. In general, the communities with the most services are at the southeast end of the trail: Roxbury and Grand Gorge. These two communities have lodging options as well as a small number of restaurants owing to their proximity to Plattekill Mountain ski resort. As you move west, the communities get smaller. Stamford (the halfway point on the trail) has a few places to eat. Moving west, Hobart, South Kortright and Bloomville have fewer restaurants and services, although they still each have some.  Please note that because these communities are very small, some businesses may not be open every day.  So call ahead before you start riding.  You don’t want to arrive at a restaurant hungry, only to find that it is closed that day!

The riding experience. This trail used to be part of the Delaware and Ulster Railroad, which once chugged into the Catskill Mountains between Kingston and Oneonta. The last train ran in 1976. Since that time the 26 miles between Roxbury and Bloomville has been transformed into a bike path.  And the section between Roxbury and Arkville now operates as a scenic railroad. Most of the trail still has the old mile markers from the railroad’s days of operation, with distances shown to Kingston. The bike path generally runs between Mile-Marker 60 and Mile-Marker 86.

The experience this trail offers is rugged and remote. There are some sections where you are basically riding through tall grass, so you will want to bring bug spray to spray your legs to protect against ticks and mosquitoes. Fortunately, the more rugged sections of trail are the sections closest to the services in case anything goes awry or you want to take a break. The trail between Roxbury and Grand Gorge is tough: mostly riding through grass and dirt that gets very muddy after a rain.  Depending on the exact conditions, riding here can be difficult, depending on the type of bike you are using.  As you make your way west, the trail becomes less bumpy and transitions away from grass to stone-dust and gravel. You can expect more consistent trail surfaces west of Stamford, which is probably the easiest portion of the trail to ride.  But no matter which trail segment you pick to ride, you should definitely consider using either a hybrid or mountain bike for the trail conditions you are likely to encounter.

Just about all portions of this ride are equally scenic. You can take a look at a complete photo album at this link.  The pictures are taken from southeast to northwest: from Roxbury to Bloomville.

 

 

Trenton, New Jersey: The Mid-Atlantic’s Bicycle Touring Hub

Now that bike touring season beginning, it’s time to start thinking about where you will ride.  One idea to get your thinking going is to consider starting or ending your tour in Trenton, New Jersey. There are lots of options for day rides and overnight tours that start or end in Trenton. And Trenton far surpasses all of the other small Northeastern cities when it comes to bike-friendly transit access.

The post below is a “re-print” of a 2017 post by Lukas Herbert on the Adventure Cycling Association blog page.  You can find the original posting here.

March 9, 2017 – Lukas Herbert kindly submitted today’s guest blog.

Gotham Bicycle Tours celebrated Adventure Cycling’s 2016 Bike Travel Weekend in Trenton and looks forward to this year’s event on June 2–4, 2017.

Trenton, New Jersey is known for many things … good things and some, well …

But Trenton has something that no other Mid-Atlantic city has: an abundance of bike paths and excellent, bike-friendly train service from two major metropolitan areas, Philadelphia and New York City. This easily makes Trenton my top launch point for bike tours that can take you to great places in New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania, and potentially as far away as Delaware or New York State.

The first great thing about Trenton for bike touring is how easy it is to get there with your bike. Trenton is the only city in the Northeast where two major transit systems meet: the New Jersey Transit’s Northeast Corridor line and the Trenton Line Regional Rail. This means that no less than once every hour, a train arrives and departs Trenton for both New York City and Philadelphia, connecting Trenton to two vast systems of trains. Bikes are permitted on both systems. In addition, the River Line light rail also connects Trenton with towns in South Jersey along the Delaware River, expanding your choices even more. This means that you can easily do a day ride, overnight, or multi-day bike tour that starts or ends in Trenton and uses the train to get you home, or back to your start point.

The Trenton Transit Center is a hub for New Jersey Transit and SEPTA trains, both of which allow bikes on board for free. 

The transit connections alone are enough to make Trenton a sensible place to start a ride. But when you throw in the substantial number of bike paths that go through or near Trenton, you can really come up with a wide range of rides, suitable for all levels of riders. For example, the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park Trail centers on Trenton. You can ride the Main Canal for 34 miles northeast between Trenton and New Brunswick. Or you can ride 30 miles north along the Feeder Canal to Frenchtown. If you cross the Delaware River, the Delaware Canal Towpath goes along the Pennsylvania side of the river, part of the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, a trail that can take you as far as Wilkes-Barre, PA. And someday soon, the East Coast Greenway will slice right through Trenton on its way from Maine to Florida!

An off-road trail network goes right through Trenton.

If road riding is your thing, it’s not very difficult to get from Trenton to low-traffic roads that will have you riding towards the Pine Barrens where you can cruise along on relatively flat, scenic roads … most of which have bike lanes.

You can even ride to a growing number of wineries that are becoming a fixture of New Jersey’s landscape. (You didn’t know New Jersey was a wine growing state? You do now!) You can ride all the way out to the Jersey shore, and if you make it to Cape May, you can even take a ferry to Delaware for more great riding.

You’ll find many other options, like these examples, for loops and point-to-point routes …

  • Ride north along the Feeder Canal trail on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River, then cross over to the Pennsylvania side and ride back.
  • Camp or stay in a hotel halfway to make a weekend of it!
  • Or head south for a couple of days of riding and hook up with the NJ Transit Atlantic City Line or the River Line to get back.
  • All NJ Transit buses in South Jersey are also equipped with bike racks, so the ride combinations are almost limitless. Just use your imagination … then research your route.
Trenton is situated along the Delaware River which has bike paths on both sides.

But Trenton isn’t just a great gateway city for bike touring, it’s also a fun place to ride. If you like riding past historical sites on low-traffic roads, you can’t beat riding around Trenton on a Saturday or Sunday morning. The roads are completely quiet (thanks to State government being closed) and the City has done a great job of striping bike lanes in some parts of the city.

Trenton even has a great bike tour every year: the Tour de Trenton. We used this great tour as the starting point for our Bike Travel weekend ride in 2016. (Register your own Bike Travel Weekend ride for June 1—3, 2018.) After the Tour de Trenton, we rode to Cream Ridge Winery where we camped for the night as part of one of the tours we do with our bike touring company: Gotham Bicycle Tours.

So if you’re looking for great cycling destination in the Northeast, Trenton should be on your short list. It’s the center of bicycle touring for cyclists who are “in the know.” And now that you’ve read this to the end, consider yourself part of our elite group!

A great esplanade was built above a waterfront highway. Paving stones and archways present a timeline of the city’s history that you can read while you ride! 

Photos courtesy of Lukas Herbert

Get away to Randalls Island! An easy bike ride you can do in NYC.

If you are looking to get away from the hustle and crowds of NYC…but not leave the city, riding your bike to Randalls Island is a great way to spend an afternoon. It’s an easy, pleasant ride from Manhattan, Queens or the Bronx. And it’s also a good spot to take children to since there are plenty of car-free bike paths, and plenty of things to check out!

If you are coming from Manhattan, the best way to get there is to ride to East 102nd Street. Go down 102nd Street until it ends at the East River. Ride onto the sidewalk on the north side of the street, then make a left along the FDR drive an you will soon see a ramp going up to a pedestrian bridge. Take that to the island.

From Queens, you will need to ride to Hoyt Avenue North and 27th Street where the RFK Triborough Bridge sidewalk begins. Unfortunately, you’ll have to deal with a lot of stairs crossing over to Randalls Island, so be prepared!

But the nicest way – by far – to get to Randalls Island is from the Bronx, where the new Randalls Island Connector gets you to the island. Access the connector from 132nd Street between Walnut Avenue and Willow Avenue. That’s the way we did it. We made a great day ride using the Bronx River Greenway to go from the northern end of NYC to Randalls Island. The pictures below tell the story!

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We started the ride by going down the Bronx River Pathway with its beautiful autumn colors!

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There were plenty of playgrounds along the way for our son to stop and play.

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concrete plant park
A nice “bikes only” protected bike lane leads to Concrete Plant Park

Randalls Island Connector
Here’s the entrance to the Randalls Island Connector.

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The connector bike path goes below the Amtrak tracks…and then crosses the Oak Point Rail line.

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A nice view of the Hell Gate Bridge. Rail fans will love it!

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Bike paths within Randalls Island give an excellent view of the Manhattan skyline!

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A great spot for lunch!

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End the day with miniature golf!

Randalls Island has something for everyone! Check it out! Not only can you do miniature golf, but there are batting cages, nature walks…and concession stands where you can buy lunch. You can really make a nice day of it on Randalls Island.

National Bike Tour Weekend 2016!

travel weekendNational Bike Travel Weekend is June 3-5.  It’s a wonderful initiative being undertaken by our friends at the Adventure Cycling Association to get as many cyclists as possible out for a bike tour during the first weekend in June! And we want you to be a part of it!  That’s why we are proud to be offering our Beaches to Farms: A Winery Experience Bike Tour for National Bike Travel Weekend.  It’s a fabulous ride that’s not too far away….and you get a bottle of wine with your name on it at the end. This ride was actually featured on Adventure Cycling’s “Bike Overnights” website, which is a great resource to use for anyone looking for inspiration to plan their own overnight trip. Check out all the details about the tour here.

Frequently asked questions about this tour:

How long is this ride, and is it hilly?  This ride isn’t particularly hilly, since a lot of it is on rail-trails or canal paths. Each day you can choose the mileage you want to ride, ranging between 25 and 58 miles.

What happens if it 19074635318_ec73336f68_krains? We run the trip rain or shine. So we’ll be riding in the rain along side you!  But, you can always back out of the ride if the weather forecast looks bad. You only need to make a $100 non-refundable deposit to hold your spot, and then you can pay the balance as late as Wednesday, June 1. So if you don’t like the weather forecast, you can bail out and you don’t have to pay the balance.

Are there showers and flush toilets where we camp?  For this particular tour, we camp out in the vineyard behind the winery tasting room. So we have access to the tasting room bathrooms throughout our stay. For the shower, we rig up an outdoor shower using a forklift and a water tank where the water is heated.

I don’t want to camp. Are there other options?  Yes. We can shuttle you to a nearby hotel for the night if you do not want to camp. It’s only 10 minutes away in the support van. Then just start your ride from there the next morning.

Will I be able to charge my IPhone?  Yes, yes…you will totally be able to do this. You’ll need to keep your smartphone charged anyhow to take advantage of our GPS navigation for this ride!

Who comes on these rides?  All kinds of people take our rides. We generally get a wide variety of ages and abilities, and we make everyone feel comfortable. Most tours are limited to 9 riders for a small group feel.

AAA Bicycle Service!

Wow! We just found out that if you have a AAA Northeast membership, you are now entitled to up to 2 bicycle pick ups each year. This means that if you are out riding your bike and you have a breakdown, you can call them and they will drive you home or to a bike shop with your bike. As long as it’s less than 10 miles away, it’s free. Then it’s the standard towing mileage after that. What a wonderful resource! Check out the details at AAA.com/bicycle