The 2022 Cycling Adventure on the Erie Canal is complete. Zubby, JB, and I had a great trip along the canal route. Even with some equipment issues (darned broken spokes!) and a little downtime helping Zubby de-bonk, it was fun. This was the worst weather I’ve done a bike tour in: 5 of 7 days in some amount of rain. Again, none of those issues detracted too much from a great week of unplugging on two wheels.
Touring with other people is good because you can watch over each other. It also brings along some tradeoffs. You have to compromise and decide when to do side trips, where to eat, and so on. I think this tour worked out very well and we did a good job of helping each other along. I enjoyed JB’s wanderlust that took us into the little towns along the way and the excursion through Syracuse to see the university and some of the local sights. Zubby is an eternal optimist who found a way to enjoy the trip even in the rain. My only regret is that we couldn’t somehow change our itinerary to accommodate Billy’s family covid situation. We’ll just have to get another option planned for 2023!
As I collect my wrap-up thoughts, first I’ll give my impression of touring the Erie Canal. It is one of the better developed touring routes in the United States. At about 400 miles from Buffalo to Albany, it provides a long ride with reasonably spaced towns for accommodations. Most of the route is on dedicated path, with some through-city parts on bike lanes or dedicated paths. There are a few stretches of on-road riding. The road sections were usually on either very quiet roads or on roads with generous shoulders. As an experienced road-rider, I didn’t feel too stressed by the road sections. If I were riding with young kids though, I would try to time the road sections for non busy times.
The surface for the path is a combination of paved and crushed limestone “stone dust” on top of packed dirt. I definitely prefer the paved parts, but the stone dust surface rides well when dry and drained well when it was raining. I recommend having tires with a little bit of width and tread in case it rains. The mud is slippery when wet.
The route of the Erie Canal Trail is good. Starting in Buffalo, then Lockport and all of the port towns west of Fairport provide some good variety of things to see. Some of the towns are too small to support restaurants, but others are great places to get food and water. Once you get east of Fairport, the towns are more sparse, with the exceptions of the bigger cities like Syracuse, Rome, Utica, Amsterdam, Schenectady, and Albany.
If I had to rank the Erie Canal Trail among other routes I’ve done, I’d put it in the middle. Definitely worth doing, but I prefer the scenery of the Great Allegheny Passage and the nearly all-paved Ohio To Erie trail is hard to beat. The Parks and Trails NY team does good job of marking the trail. There were only a couple of places where it wasn’t exactly clear where to turn. I had put together .GPX files for my Garmin to help and only used them in a couple of places. I have mixed feelings about the guidebook from the PTNY. It is useful but I think there should be a bit more detail with road names, especially in the Syracuse area. I do recommend buying it to carry with you, but don’t expect it to answer all of your routing questions.
We chose to do 7 days to minimize work vacation days. This pushed us to 65+ days 4 of the 7 days. I typically plan for ~60 miles when touring on my own and find that comfortable. I think this trip would have been better with shorter days. 50-60 mile days would have allowed for more sight seeing and accommodating mechanical and health issues.
If you’re new to bike touring, the Erie Canal Trail, or even just part of it, would be a good option to get started. It is gentle enough for medium-skilled riders and has enough scenery to keep it interesting.
Here’s a little bit about my equipment. Over time my cycling rig has evolved a bit. Here’s what I use today:
- Bicycle: 2018 Specialized Sequoia Expert. I bought this bike at the end of 2018 and have been using it for touring since then. It is a good combination of robust build, comfort, and gearing. If I were to go cross country with lots of mountains, I might look for something with a wider gearing. I like that the frame has many braze-on lugs to easily accommodate a rack, fenders, and still have room for three water bottles. I don’t use the front lugs but could mount front racks if I wanted to carry more gear. I’m also a huge fan of disc brakes. This model has hydraulic brakes that are strong and sure no matter how wet they get.
- Bike Add-Ons: I insist on fenders for touring. The rain and mud create quite a mess. I did two tours without fenders in 2010 and 2012 and will never do that again. I use a Blackburn rack, but I don’t know what model it is. I recommend one where the sides are long/wide to provide more support to your panniers and keep them out of your wheel area.
- Tires: This is an area of passionate debate for cycle touring. I am a fan of Schwalbe touring tires, like the marathon plus. However this bike came with Specialized Adventure Gear Sawthooth 700x42mm tires. I’m still running the original Specialized tires and I’ve been very happy with them. They are a great tradeoff of tread for mud vs. rolling on smooth roads. I’ve got several thousand miles on them and only one flat. The tread is still in great shape, too. I will probably try to get similar tires again when it is time to replace these.
- GPS: I have been using a dedicated bike GPS for many years. I currently use a Garmin Edge 820. I have a love/hate relationship with this device. For general ride tracking it does a sufficient job. For route guidance, I’d give it a “C” grade: I’ve needed to plot unknown courses like getting to the Rome bike shop and it does an OK job. However it is very slow when loading a premade .GPX files and the battery life is not great. I had to carry a spare battery pack with me and used it every day to charge up along the route. Garmin wants a ton of $ to replace the battery. Not gonna happen. I think when it is time to replace, I will look at a competitor’s unit such as Wahoo.
- Bike Radar: Ok, this has become an essential piece of gear for me. I use a Garmin Varia RTL515 radar. This little device mounts on the back of the bike and has two purposes: 1) it is a brightly flashing tail light to get motorists’ attention, and 2) it tracks cars coming from behind and tells me where they are, how many are approaching, and how fast. This is displayed on my bike GPS screen. I really like knowing when a car is approaching. So I have both a rear mirror on my handlebar and this radar. I won’t ride without them at this point.
- Panniers: Panniers are the bags that hook into the racks of the bike, kind of like bike luggage. I use Ortlieb “Bike Packer Plus” panniers. They are waterproof and have served me very well. They’re not cheap, but if you do a bunch of bike travel, you will find that you never have to worry about the contents getting wet with Ortlieb panniers. They also have a good rack-mounting system that locks the bags securely to the rack. There are many good and cheaper options out there, so if you’re just getting started, I suggest starting with a cheaper option and just pack your clothes in dry bags inside the panniers.
- Camera: I purchased a GoPro Hero 7 on sale a couple of years ago so that I can take pictures while riding and not have to stop. I also have a love/hate relationship with this device. Somehow it manages to take pictures sometimes and videos others. I need to sit with some YouTube instructions to see the best way to operate it so that I can get pictures with my GoPro consistently. In the past, I have struggled to find a great way to mount the GoPro to my bike and think I cracked the code this time. I bought a well-reviewed off-brand Garmin style GPS mount, took the quarter turn off of it, flipped it upside down and used a genuine GoPro foam-tape mount to mount on the backside. It worked like a champ and allows me to remove the GoPro when I go into a restaurant. I’m really surprised nobody sells something like this pre-made. See my picture below for the mount. For my off-the-bike pictures, I use my iPhone. It takes great pictures.
- Headlight: I have a rule to always carry a headlight. They tend to be heavy, but if you get stuck after sundown, it is really necessary. You can’t plan emergencies, but you can be prepared for them. I got stuck after sundown on the KATY trail a few years ago and will always keep a light with me now. I carry a Blackburn Central 300. It is bright enough to navigate with, but I’d recommend going even higher than 300 lumens if you can afford it.
- Blogging Setup: I use a small Microsoft bluetooth keyboard that folds up. It works with my iPhone and allows me to touch-type at full speed. It doesn’t weigh much and takes nearly no space in my bag. I use the WordPress dedicated iOS app on the phone. You probably found some typos in the blog. I’m not trying to write a novel, so I am not quite as careful when blogging.
Thanks for following along. I always enjoy hearing from people who read the blog or ask questions that I can help with.
Here’s a link to each of the day’s blog:
- Day 1: https://deaconmatt.org/2022/09/04/2022-erie-canal-tour-day-1/
- Day 2: https://deaconmatt.org/2022/09/05/2022-erie-canal-tour-day-2-drizzle/
- Day 3: https://deaconmatt.org/2022/09/06/2022-erie-canal-tour-day-3-spokes-nah-who-needs-em/
- Day 4: https://deaconmatt.org/2022/09/07/2022-erie-canal-tour-day-3-savannah-to-syracuse-with-spokes/
- Day 5: https://deaconmatt.org/2022/09/08/2022-erie-canal-tour-day-5-syracuse-to-utica-with-a-lot-of-romeing/
- Day 6 & 7: https://deaconmatt.org/2022/09/10/2022-erie-canal-tour-days-67-utica-to-amsterdam-amsterdam-to-albany-done/
This is my last big 2022 bike adventure. I’m already looking forward to 2023 and another grand time on two wheels. Not sure where I’ll ride next, but I’m already daydreaming of options.
Until then, Peace.
— Dcn. Matt