On my bike touring adventures, I’ve met many friendly people along the way who shared both food and stories. Yesterday I had an opportunity to return the favor. While taking a short ride down the Cape Cod Rail Trail, I noticed two riders sitting on a bench with fully-loaded Bike Friday New World Tourists, very similar to my own bike. I stopped to chat and soon discovered some common interests with Nathalie (left) and Sylvie (right), who have been riding for about two weeks from Quebec City. They are highly experienced bike tourists who have explored Iceland, New Zealand, and the Western United States, and many more places. We traded stories on the side of the trail, and I shared some cheese that I had just purchased, fondly remembering the many times that people shared what they had with me when I was bike touring. As I prepared to leave, they kindly welcomed me to visit them if my future travels happen to bring me to Quebec City. So I invited them to come visit my family at nearby house we are renting on Cape Cod this week, and was delighted that they accepted the offer, and enjoyed another hour of good food and conversation with Beth and my daughters. Thank you, Nathalie and Sylvie, for making my day and encouraging all of us to meet new people and explore the world on two wheels.
On Saturday I rode south from Hartford to check out a newly-built segment of the East Coast Greenway in Cheshire, CT, and continued on to learn about bicycle history at the Arts and Ideas Festival in New Haven, CT.
The East Coast Greenway is a bike/walk route that stretches from Maine to Florida, and supporters are filling the gaps to convert more to off-road trail. The new segment will add 4 miles of trail through a beautiful wooded portion of Cheshire, CT, and connect to existing trail in the north (Southington) and south (Hamden and New Haven). While not yet finished nor officially open, the new trail is mostly paved and rideable, if you don’t mind a bit of gravel on the bridge aprons, and going around some fences (as hundreds of other riders have already done, judging from the tracks left behind).
I arrived in New Haven in time for a public demonstration by The Wheelmen, a group of antique bicycle collectors who gather to share their knowledge and show how people rode these two-wheeled inventions. (And yes, the group also included some Wheelwomen.) New Haven’s Arts and Ideas Festival coincided with the International Cycling History Conference and a celebration of the 150th anniversary of Pierre Lallement’s invention of the velocipede and his ride on the New Haven Green. While I had read some of this history, and seen a few old bikes on display in museums, this was a treat because never before had I seen so many people in one place, actually riding these bikes. They paraded their cycles in chronological order, and featured several items that were created in the Frog Hollow neighborhood of Hartford, the late 19th-century epicenter of bicycle manufacturing in the United States.
To celebrate National Trails Day, I rode the East Coast Greenway from Hartford to Willimantic, to see the newly-opened connector. In Bolton, I jumped on the Hop River Trail and pedaled southeast along this old railway bed, covered by wonderful shade trees. When this trail ended, I pedaled about a mile on the road west of town, then switched onto the brand-new trail that runs along the Willimantic river. While this new trail is relatively short, it now gives Hop River riders a way to avoid highway traffic into downtown Willimantic, or to cross a bridge to connect to the Air Line south trail to East Hampton. I took both options, first by zipping into town for a late breakfast at the Willimantic Food Co-op, then back across the bridge for a ride on the Air Line south trail, where I encountered dozens of cyclists and hikers enjoying the day as much as I did.
Check out the map above with trails (in green) and street routes (in blue). Click on any route to view its name and mileage. Download any of these files in GPX format: ECG Hop River, Willimantic west, Willimantic trail, Willimantic downtown, Air Line north, and Air Line south.
Update: This post features the easy routes that I would recommend to most riders with suitable tires for crushed stone trails, such as hybrid, touring, or mountain bikes. If you ride a skinny-tire road bike, these trails may not work for you. Also, these routes are ideal for dry weather, as heavy rains can turn sections into mud.
Also, I biked a longer route than shown above. I began in West Hartford and rode the East Coast Greenway through Hartford, East Hartford, and Manchester, and continued on the ECG/Hop River trail as described above. (See East Coast Greenway maps page for details.) When I finished the Air Line south trail in East Hampton, I biked through Glastonbury, crossed on the ferry at Cromwell, then back home through Rocky Hill and Newington. My total was 83 miles.
Download any of the photos below from my Flickr album.
If you’re looking for friendly, non-racing bike rides with friendly folks this summer, check out two Hartford-area options.
Join the Hartford “Slow Rolls” for informal rides to explore the city and meet people on selected Sunday afternoons. The pace is usually around 10-12 miles per hour, for about an hour of actual riding, and the direction depends on whatever the group decides (which sometimes changes mid-route). This is not a highly-structured route with cue sheets, but rather a friendly ride with people who enjoy exploring. Although I’ve been riding around the city for fifteen years, I always learn something new, and enjoy meeting folks who come out with us. The organizers usually announce about two rides per month as Facebook events, which are usually shared on the FB sites of BiCiCoHartford or Transport Hartford or Breakfast Lunch & Dinner. Or see this event announcement for the next ride on Sunday June 12th at 3pm, starting at the parking lot on 1429 Park Street in Hartford.
Also, the Bike West Hartford group has announced a series of “Wheels on Wednesdays” rides, beginning on June 8th at 6:30pm in the parking lot behind West Hartford Town Hall, 50 South Main Street. These also are non-competitive friendly rides of about 10 miles or more, with groups for varying paces. The first ride will feature the West Hartford Reservoir. The organizers require you to wear a helmet and sign a liability form. This summer these rides are scheduled for alternate Wednesday evenings: June 8, June 22, July 6, July 20, Aug 3, Aug 17th. Learn more at the link above.
My new friend Jeff Allred at Hunter College learned of our shared interest in cycling, and recommended that I read John Stilgoe’s Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places. His book reveals what “the explorer,” traveling by foot or bicycle, can discover by looking more closely at ordinary objects that most of us pass by, especially when trapped inside the metal box of a motor car. This wide-ranging set of essays rambles across multiple topics, and many of these resonated with my own memories of what I’ve seen while riding a bike, though Stilgoe has taught me to take a second look. My favorite passage is his observation about fences:
Depending on the spacing of the pickets that seem at first glance to make a solid wall, the bicyclist-explorer can pedal with some magic speed that makes the fence transparent. Usually about 11 miles an hour does the trick. At that speed the explorer can see through the fence almost as though the fence had disappeared. At a speed that runners and pedestrians rarely reach for long and so slow that a few motorists ever attempt it, the explorer rides effortlessly, and secretly, screened from observation by the fences intended to block views, spying on what the fences surround.
Stilgoe also taught me how to look more closely at telephone poles, railroad ties, and rural delivery mailboxes. He also reminds us how bicyclists of the 1900s agitated government to improve roads in ways that benefitted cars, and how the Cold War led to the construction of interstate highways in the 1950s and 60s, which continue to ban walkers and bikers today. The book encourages us to explore the limited access frontage roads and the back parking lots that link together commercial strip malls. He shows us how to look at the fraternal-order signs that welcome visitors into small towns, and the historical relationship between main street businesses, trees, insurance companies, and firehouses.
Overall, it’s a book that I recommend, as have others, such as the Neglected Books site, which notes that this title is no longer in print, though used copies and digital editions are still available for sale. Or check it out from your library, as I did. In any case, it’s the right book to read outside.
Today marked the first Hartford “Slow Roll” Sunday bike ride of 2016. These are informal meetups of friendly cyclists who love to explore while riding around the city. Today did a leisurely 6-mile ride and landed at the southern branch of the Park River, where the waterway tunnels under downtown Hartford. I’ve lived here for over fifteen years and it was my first time seeing this. Come and join us on a future ride and go places that you can’t reach by car. Find out about the next Slow Roll by following the Facebook page for BiCiCo, Hartford’s new community-oriented bike shop.
Satellite view of the Park River southern branch tunnel from Google Maps
Tony Cherolis launches the Slow Roll with a portable sound system.
Alex Perez, a Hartford bike advocate and Trinity College student, interviewed me for his blog, Two-Wheeled Hartford, and my responses are re-posted below, with additional photos.
Why do you choose to commute to Trinity by bike?
“There are so many different reasons to bike to work. One is that I’m always trying to lose weight, since I spend so much time in front of a computer. My time is limited, so it makes more sense to exercise on my way to and from Trinity, rather than driving somewhere else to exercise. Another reason is that parking a car at Trinity can be a nightmare, but there’s always room to park my bike. Even on those days when someone else has taken “my” favorite bike parking spot, I’m smiling inside because it means travel by two wheels is becoming more popular. It’s always easier to make more room for parking bikes than cars on campus. Still, another reason to bike is that you see and hear so much more around you than from inside a car. Biking sets the right pace for me to notice what’s changing as I pedal through different neighborhoods, or to say hello to kids and crossing guards along my route. But the most important reason is that I’m having fun. For me, the best way to end a long day at Trinity is to hop on my bike, zip down the hill, and silently shout ‘WHEEEEE!’ to myself as I ride away from campus. Makes me feel like a kid again.”
2) How long have you been commuting to Trinity by bike?
“For me, biking to work has been a gradual process that changed with my family responsibilities. A decade ago, I rode only occasionally to work during the summer months. As my children grew old enough to ride on my bike’s child seat (or trailer bike, or the back half of our tandem), I began cycling more often when the weather was good, because I could drop them off or pick them up at child care and elementary school. Now that my youngest is a teenager, I ride to Trinity about 3-4 times per week during most of the year. But I don’t ride every day. When the forecast calls for heavy rain, or tall snowbanks block my visibility, I drive my 1998 Honda Odyssey minivan, which has over 190,000 miles on the odometer. Riding your bike to work also cuts down on car payments.”
3) What are your thoughts on getting around Hartford by cycling? Any major obstacles during your commutes?
“To comfortably ride your bike, you need to feel safe about traveling on two wheels. To some degree, safety comes from creating bike lanes and passing laws to protect riders, which we’re seeing more from local governments and bike advocacy groups. (For example, cyclists from West Hartford and other suburbs often are surprised by the growing number of bike lanes in the City of Hartford.) But your personal sense of safety also increases by trying new routes and expanding your comfort zone. I’ve learned so much about cycling around the Hartford region from official tours (such as the BikeWalkCT Discover Hartford and Discover CT series) and informal group rides (such as the wonderful HTFD Slow Roll events). Exploring new paths by bike, especially with more experienced friends, helps us to grow and learn what’s possible. And it’s a hell of a lot of fun.”
4) What suggestions do you have for making the campus and/or the city more bike friendly?
“I’m impressed by the energy of Hartford’s brand-new bike shop, BiCiCo, a Spanish abbreviation for Bicicleta Comunidad (or Bicycle Community). This non-profit organization recently opened its doors at 95-97 Park Street, and currently provides do-it-yourself workspace and build-a-bike training, with retail sales/repairs to come. Thanks to its parent organization, the Center for Latino Progress, and their youth program coordinator, Tony Cherolis, BiCiCo has raised thousands of dollars through grants and affordable memberships. Plus, it’s a happening place. Over the past week, my daughter Eva and I visited three times to build her next bike from used parts, and we met more than a dozen members (including Trinity Professor Dario Del Puppo, who taught us how to replace the fork of a bike). With the growing number of riders on campus, I wonder if the Trinity community would be interested in a one-hour basic bike repair workshop on campus, or student memberships at BiCiCo.”
“PS to Alex: A few years ago, there was a left-turn green arrow at the northbound stoplight on Zion Street at Hamilton Street, near the base of Summit Street. For some reason, someone turned off this arrow, which makes it much harder to turn left on a bike, when facing oncoming traffic, to head toward Pope Park. Do you know anyone at City Hall who can bring it back?”
Come join us in New Britain on Sunday, September 27th, 2015, for the second installment of the Discover Connecticut Bike Tour, co-sponsored by BikeWalkCT and the New Britain Museum of American Art. This is a family-friendly event, not a race, with options for 10, 25, and 50 miles rides. The registration fee also includes brunch at the museum! I’ll be riding as a marshal/mobile mechanic to help folks in case of flat tires. Learn more details and register for this event.
Check out the 10, 25, and 50 mile routes on this interactive map. See full-screen view. It’s also a mobile-friendly map that works on any smartphone, with no special app required. See more details further below.
On Sunday, several of us tested the ride with the Bike New Britain organizers, Mark Hoffman and Bruce Miller, who have planned out routes that take us on bike lanes, wide roads, and parks around the city.
The map above is also a mobile-friendly map that works on any smartphone, with no special app required—see more details further below.Before the ride begins:
- Type this shortlink into your browser:
- Turn on Location Services (your GPS locator) in your smartphone browser.
– For iPhone: Settings > Privacy > Location Services > On (for Safari browser)
– For Android: *instructions to come*
- If you get lost, pull off the road to location where you can safely use your smartphone, and click the “Show my location” button.
- Optional: Save the link to your phone as a bookmark, or add to your home screen.
– For iPhone: Press the “send” icon in the bottom center of your Safari browser, and either “Add Bookmark” or “Add to Home Screen.”
– For Android: *instructions to come*
This web map is designed to supplement paper maps and cue sheets, not to replace them. This web map does NOT provide turn-by-turn directions. The mobile version requires a smartphone with GPS and internet service. Always watch the road when biking, not your phone. If you need to use the web map during a ride, pull off to the side to view it safely. Remember that this is a free web tool, with no guarantee nor warranty.
To celebrate our 27th anniversary, Beth and I biked along Le P’tit Train du Nord (The Little Train of the North) rail trail, which stretches about 200 kilometers (124 miles) from Mont-Laurier to Saint Jerome in the northwest region of Montreal, Quebec. We highly recommend this wonderful trail for couples and families who are looking for beginner-to-intermediate rides of 50-80 km (30-50 miles) per day on asphalt and packed stone trails, with bed and breakfasts (or rustic camping) along the way. Learn about our three-day adventure below and read more about this trail on Wikipedia and the official tourism site.
The day before our bike trip, we drove to Saint Jerome, a suburb to the north of Montreal, where we parked our van at the 0 km mark and boarded the Autobus shuttle to Mont-Laurier, a town at the opposite end of the trail on the 200km mark. Max and his co-workers kindly loaded and secured our tandem bike to the trailer of their shuttle. Finding our way to the Autobus parking lot in St. Jerome was challenging for us because we could not rely on Google Maps, as we chose not to pay extra international data roaming fees to our smartphone carrier. But Beth navigated “old-school” using paper maps she found in our 1998 minivan, and we also downloaded the Open Street Map for Quebec using the inexpensive Maps.me smartphone app, which we highly recommend.
On Day 1 of our bike trip, we pedaled 55 km (34 miles) from our Mont-Laurier hotel to Nominingue, which led us up a gradual incline through the most rural portion of the trip. This section of the rail trail was paved asphalt and in good condition, with warning signs for bumps or holes. About every 10km along this section of trail were wooden “caboose” shelters and picnic tables, with water faucets less frequently, though we were glad to have brought our own lunch food from the IGA grocery store in Mont-Laurier. We met several friendly riders on the trail this day. Nearly all were Canadian, and most spoke French as their first language. In Nominingue, we arrived at the Auberge Chez Ignance, where Beth had booked us a room at this bed and breakfast, which also fed us an amazing gourmet dinner. Honestly, it was one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten, with amazing variety (meat, poultry, fish, and vegetarian options) and outstanding flavors. Beth, my French translator and cultural guide, taught me a new phrase—tourisme gastronomique—or traveling primarily to explore new foods.
On Day 2, we rode 63 km (39 miles) from Nominingue to the Mont-Tremblant region, and we stopped for the night at another bed and breakfast in the small town of Saint Jovite. The portion of the trail was relatively flat and shifted from asphalt to packed stone, which also was in good condition (with fewer bumps and holes than the asphalt section). Several of the old train stations here had been renovated into cafes and museums, and our lunch stop at La Belle was one of our favorites. Since Mont-Tremblant is home to a national park and center for tourism, we encountered many more cyclists here, and were pleased to see so many senior citizens and families with young children riding the trail.
Based on where we stayed the previous two nights, we had a long third day (82 km, or 51 miles) to finish our journey back to Saint Jerome. To start off the morning, we rode uphill for about 10 km, pedaled along the summit, then glided downhill to the end. Overall, the packed stone dust trail was in good shape, but watch out for some weather-related deterioration near the end, where it turned into sand. Although we rode through a not-so-attractive quarry and lumber mill at the summit, biking through the forest and along the waterfalls during the rest of the day was beautiful.
BikeWalkCT sponsored a Discover West Hartford bike tour on Saturday June 6th, 2015, the first of a new series of group rides in Connecticut. Riders had the option of an 11, 25, or 50 mile loop, and the staggered start times were designed to bring everyone back around the same time to the Celebrate West Hartford event. Thanks to Rick Thibodeau and many volunteers from Bike West Hartford, this was a well-organized event with over 200 participants (and perhaps more). Here’s some lessons I learned while riding as a marshall/mobile mechanic with the 25-mile tour.
Show safe and scenic routes to newer riders and they’ll come back for more.
While pedaling with the pack, my standard question was, “What’s something that you’ve never biked on before today?” The most common reply was that everything was new and different. Our 25-mile route took people through Elizabeth Park, down Quaker Lane to the Trout Brook Trail, and around Wood Pond, around the Cornerstone Recreation Area to the MDC Reservoir, then up Mountain Road and behind Bugbee School to the Center. Most of the cyclists I met had never biked on Trout Brook Trail (currently a tiny, beautiful route behind the Elmwood Community Center, which the Town is gradually expanding north to Albany Avenue). Some told me that they had never seen Wood Pond, despite living in West Hartford for several years. And while I’ve been biking around here for about a decade, the route took me on several roads in the Buena Vista area that I had never ridden nor driven on beforehand.
To help cyclists visualize the routes, I created an interactive map on the Bike West Hartford site (see below) and shared this shortlink to it (http://bit.ly/bikemapwh). Click “View Full Screen” and press the Layers icon to select the 11, 25, or 50-mile route. It’s mobile-friendly and works on smartphones, too, and you also can press the Marker icon to find your current location. The map runs on open-source code, which BikeWalkCT or anyone is welcome to copy, modify, and host on their own website. If you prefer turn-by-turn cue sheets, see the BikeWalkCT links to RideWithGPS for the 11-mile, 25-mile, and 50-mile routes. Also, the organizers handed out helpful paper guides and maps at the event, which could easily be uploaded to the website as a resource for riders unable to join us.
Explore this interactive map of the 11-25-50 mile Discover West Hartford routes
Continually educate cyclists about making our community a better place to ride.
Our best cycling organizations do an incredible amount of behind-the-scenes advocacy to persuade local and state governments to improve routes for safe riding. One week before the event, I participated in a pre-ride for volunteer marshals, and heard up-to-date info on several biking initiatives from experienced advocates. But we did not have an effective way to communicate this information to the 200+ riders at the event or to mobilize their support. Next time, we could hand out a one-page advocacy sheet to riders at the finish line. Even better, we could ask riders to share their ideas on video at the end point, and ask them “what did you learn today?” and “what worked well and what could be improved about biking around West Hartford?”
Create easy ways to bring families with young cyclists back into the event.
Last week, my five-year-old neighbor (who’s always on his bike) and his mother asked me if there would be any bicycling events for children in West Hartford this summer. For the past two years, Bike West Hartford sponsored a “Wheel Fun Day” festival in mid-May, with a 2-mile ride down North Main Street to Town Hall, where many events were geared toward families with children. But organizing this event required many volunteer hours, and questions arose about whether the limited outcomes warranted such a large investment of time. This year, Bike West Hartford collaborated with BikeWalkCT to sponsor this 11-25-50 mile ride, timed to coincide with Celebrate West Hartford. This type of group ride is great for adults, but does not offer much for families with young children.
Next year, if it’s too challenging to organize a separate “Wheel Fun Day” event, might BikeWalkCT and Bike West Hartford create a special 1 or 2-mile ride for families with children? One route could be the Trout Brook Trail, which currently runs from New Park Avenue (right behind Hartford Baking Company) to Quaker Lane South, then crosses the road and goes up to Jackson Avenue (a brand-new addition), and is planned to go further north to connect with other existing pieces. Oddly, the newest segment of this bike trail was not included in any of our 10-25-50 mile rides, partly because it is too new, and not yet fully connected. If we draw attention and organize a family-friendly ride on this work-in-progress, perhaps that will create more pressure to bring it to a more timely completion.
Interested in the next Discover Connecticut ride organized by BikeWalkCT? Learn more about the New Britain ride scheduled for Sunday, September 27th, 2015.