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Do something different with your commuter bike: touring!

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Perhaps many of you just want to take a break from cycling after riding to work every day, but if you want to do something more serious and interesting with your bike on weekends, here is an idea: bike touring. It’s Summer and chances are that your commuter bike is already equipped to handle short tours. I’m not a terribly experienced tourer myself, but that’s kind of why I’m saying this: it doesn’t take lots of experience, fancy gear and lots of time-off to have a bike adventure. If you have a rear rack and some panniers, you’re good to go.

What is bike touring?

Bicycle touring means traveling over considerable distances by bicycle, for pleasure, not for utility. Pleasure, relaxation, recreation, exploration and discovery are the priorities of bike touring. Check out Wikipedia, they have a pretty good explanation of bicycle touring. Bike touring can range from serious, months long expeditions into the rugged wilderness of Asia or Africa to dayrides to nearby park or picnic area.

Generally, however, bike touring is distinguished from something like a club ride (even if it’s a century, daylong ride) or a recreational stroll around a park by the fact that you carry some gear with you, perhaps food, picnic supplies, extra clothing, a camera and you do the ride not to get the miles in, but to enjoy the ride, get to see some places, enjoy the outdoors and you don’t care much about the technicalities of the ride, not trying to go fast or worrying about your weight.

Also, most of the time when bike touring is mentioned it involves more than one day: you ride somewhere; eat, sleep and ride back the following day or continue riding to another destination. It’s kind of like all-day hiking or multi-day backpacking compared to walking around a park with your dog for an hour.

Types of bicycle touring

There are few types of touring, depending on whom you ask:

Self-contained, fully-loaded, self-supported touring: you carry all your stuff and your camping gear on your bike and generally camp at campgrounds, parks, etc, it’s just you and your stuff on the bike. Advantages: solitude, disconnection from civilization, sense of self-dependency and achievement, extreme bragging rights, low cost. Disadvantages: heavy, slow, limited gear and supplies, limited or no support and help, difficult for most people. Good for: strong, experienced, self reliant, creative individuals with a knack for adventure and adequate time.

Supported touring, a.k.a. light touring: you have a support vehicle following you around (spouse, friend, hired guide, etc) that carries all your gear between campsites. Advantages: light, fast, all the gear and supplies you need, ice-cold beer at the campsite guaranteed, help is always a phone call away, it enables you to travel away from home and start your tour elsewhere, it makes multi-day, off-road touring possible where carrying adequate gear on mountain bikes may not be possible, you can include your non-cycling spouse or a friend in your adventure. Disadvantages: lack of that sense of achievement and self-dependency, makes it too easy to bail out, bragging rights significantly diminished. Good for: pretty much everybody, families with kids, inexperienced riders, experienced riders without the desire to carry stuff by themselves, people with limited time because it allows you to ride faster and cover larger distances.

Credit card touring: you stay at motels, hotels, inns, B&Bs, hostels only and you eat out, so you don’t need to carry heavy camping and cooking gear and food,  but you still carry other stuff, like clothing, tools, etc., Advantages: like self-contained touring pretty much, but you carry less stuff so you can go faster. Disadvantages: you have to find a roof to sleep under every day or you’ll be in trouble, only possible in “civilized” areas where access to services and food is easy so it might not even work in all of the USA where there are areas where services are more than 60 miles apart, requires careful planning, more expensive. Good for: strong, experienced, self reliant individuals with a knack for adventure and plenty of money, people who like riding and traveling by bike but don’t like camping (not everybody does).

Expedition touring: it’s self-contained touring to the extreme, this takes you to rugged areas, far away from any services and most conveniences of civilization, for weeks at a time, you need to carry enough food and basic supplies to survive and filter water along the way, no electricity, no showers, and no phone service, it’s often dangerous, or at least very challenging, due to poor road conditions, weather and climate changes, distances, cultural difference, language issues and huge demands it places on your body, mind and gear. I won’t even list advantages and disadvantages as there are plenty of both I hope it’ll be pretty obvious what they are. This is something that very few people attempt and often end up writing books about it.

Any combination of the above.

There are organizations and commercial operations that offer all types of bike touring for a fee. Adventure Cycling Association is the prime non-profit cycling organization in the USA that promotes bicycle touring and bicycle advocacy and offers organized tours.

What preparations are required?

You will definitely need to do some preparations. How much depends on you and what kind of tour you want to undertake. If you already own camping and other gear, it may turn out to be too heavy and bulky for a bike. However, you don’t need a lot of stuff for an overnight ride so heavier, larger tent, sleeping bag and mattress may work just fine. Going for a longer tour, when you need more clothing and supplies will necessitate lighter gear, but at first you may not need that. You may still need to buy or borrow a thing or two. I will not get into gear and packing here, however. There are sites that already do an excellent job at that and I will provide links at the end.

Advantages of bike touring

You will likely learn a lot from bike touring. Aside from the obvious benefits of long and intense workout and being out on the road, traveling and seeing stuff, you become a better cyclist in many other ways as you gain unique perspective on cycling that only being on a bike for days can afford. You also learn to do with less. Packing into few bags can get tricky. Also, once you do a longer tour, you may be amazed how little you really need to enjoy life. For many people, including myself, bike touring was an eye opener. I certainly already had the tendencies towards simplicity, but riding around Adirondacks for two weeks was a life altering experience. I can only imaging how traversing the continent might feel. One day…

Overnighters

The main purpose of this article is to talk about overnighters, two-day tours, close to home that are possible on weekends, with limited experience, limited budget and limited gear. They will fall in the first category of self-supported, self-contained tours or credit card tours. Our destinations will be campsites (tent or cabin) or motels reachable within one day by a bicycle or a combination of a bicycle and a train or a bicycle and a car.

You can easily do two day, overnight rides to a nearby state park. Because you ride to work every day you’re already in decent shape and should have no problems with doing short tours. I figured that anyone should be able to easily ride four times the distance they ride daily to work. For instance, if you ride 6 miles each way, that’s 12 miles a day. Therefore, you should be easily able to do 12miles x 4 = 48 miles per day. It may seem like a lot, but keep in mind that you have an entire day to do this. At a very relaxed pace of 8 miles per hour that’s six hours of relaxed riding. That’s 3 hours before lunch and 3 hours after lunch plus plenty of stopping. If you start at 8am you can easily finish by 5pm.

As I mentioned before, you don’t need a lot of fancy gear for such tour and you may even be able to borrow the gear you need. Even if you need to buy stuff a light two person tent is under $200, warm weather sleeping pads and bags are also affordable. You won’t need cooking gear since you will be close to services (Dunkin Donuts are all over the place). You probably already own appropriate clothing and basic accessories that are needed to pull this off.

Overnighter opportunities in NYC area

Certainly, living in the bowels of NYC your options may be limited but there are few camping destinations that are reachable by bike from the city in a day. I will focus on state campgrounds here. There are few reasons for that:

- State Parks are less expensive than private campgrounds,
- State Parks are more peaceful and quieter than private campgrounds and are very safe as they’re located on state land and are patrolled by State Police Troopers and State Park Rangers,
- Most State Parks offer fewer electric hookups for motorhomes, therefore, those monstrosities are more attracted to private RV camps,
- Most of these campsites lay near hiking trails and NYS State Parks have some awesome hiking trails,
- Many are placed along lakes, rivers and streams and allow fishing and non-motorized boating,
- This is a personal choice, but most State Parks are more rustic, you really feel like you’re in the woods rather than in some attraction park,
- Majority have restrooms, hot showers, potable water, dishwashing stations, garbage and recycling stations, grills, fire pits/rings,
- Many State Parks offer day-use areas, picnic areas, children playgrounds, playing fields, boat rentals, beaches, nature programs for kids, historical expositions, offer Ranger guided tours (mainly for kids too).
- Supporting our state parks is important in general, because they are a part of the recreational and preservation programs that benefit cyclists as well as everybody else who wants to have an affordable and safe place to go to for the weekend.

State Parks have few disadvantages compared private campgrounds:

- Most have no electric hookups for tents, there are some with hookups though,
- The sites are not trimmed (kind of the point though),
- The amenities are more limited and not as nice, some may even be in state of partial disrepair,
- They don’t offer much in terms of entertainment,
- Some may be partially closed due to lack of funding,
- They have more restrictive regulations related to noise (good thing IMHO) and don’t allow alcohol (another good thing IMHO),
- There are seasonal closings and most are closed before May 4th and for Winter.

New York State Parks are operated by the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, OPRHP for short; and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, DEC for short. Most parks within the Catskills and Adirondacks are operated by DEC and the others are operated by OPRHP.

Harriman State Park

The park is adjacent to the Bear Mountain State Park, they’re divided by the Palisades Parkway. This park has one public campsite: The Beaver Pond Campground, located next to the Lake Welch. It’s operated by the OPRHP. The park is a prime destination for cycling in general as it has tens of miles of great roads with challenging but doable hills.  The park is as big as nearly Brooklyn and Queens combined. It also offers over two hundreds of miles of hiking trails and over 30 lakes! Yet, the Bear Mountain attracts most crowds leaving the Harriman State Park relatively uncrowded except for major holidays. The best part is that the park is less than 50 miles from NYC!

The Beaver Pond Campground offers access to hiking trails and a beach, and fishing is allowed. Restrooms and hot showers are available as well as picnic area. It’s one of few that has laundry facilities.

To get to the campground from NYC by bike you’d ride route 9W from the George Washington Bridge (GWB) up the Hudson River. This is not an easy ride though, not for beginners. I wouldn’t recommend this except to strong riders. It’s a rather hilly ride with about 3500 feet of total elevation gain. Its not impossible however. The grades, except right before the park, are under 10% and we’re talking long, even climbs with nice, rewarding downhills. The last climb before the park is tough though and many people will end up either stopping often to rest or pushing their bikes, you will need a granny gear. But you will be riding the opposite direction next morning :) The final, ramp-like, short climb, a few hundred feet only, definitely means walking for majority for cyclist as the campsite lies on top of yet another hill. However, this is basically the only ride to a state campground that can be done entirely by bike from the city, all the way. Other rides require taking an MTA train to get out from the city or would mean a lot more riding.

Most of the ride is rather nice. Route 9W is mostly cycling friendly too with very good surface and wide shoulders, but prepare to be intimidated and demoralized by fast roadies along the route :) The road leads to Piermont, a mecca for NYC cyclists. Don’t pay attention to them though, they’re riding 20lbs road bikes, so they have an easy job ;) Route 9W gets crowded and loses some shoulders around some towns with Haverstraw probably being the worst.

There are plenty of opportunities to buy food and water, to stop for rest and lunch along the way. But that also means the route is not rural. There are quiet stretches between towns and you can take some bike trails along the way but it’s mostly suburban riding.

There are two basic options to start from GWB: you can either take the more picturesque and quiet, but very hilly route along the Henry Hudson Drive with great views of the Hudson River and less traffic, or take Route 9W. Here is the proposed route. I guess, most people will opt to skip the climbs along the Hudson Drive though. In that case, instead of making left after GWB, turn right into Hudson Terrace and go up to E Palisades Ave when you’ll make a left turn away from the Parkway and then a right turn into Route 9W, known as Sylvan Avenue at this point. Then continue up from there. Be very careful on the Hudson Terrace: it’s usually very busy, lost of cars and bikes alike and the Police strictly enforces single file riding and I’ve seen cyclists getting tickets for not riding in single file. Sometimes there are so many bikes up there that it’s possible to collide with another cyclist if you’re not careful.

The State Line Lookout, is just that: a lookout, some views to enjoy. The route takes you along some bike trails, but they’re unpaved, just hardpack and gravel, but they are rideable on skinny tires, you’ll just need to take it slow. It may be worth though to take those detours to avoid roads. You can just continue on 9W if you want to skip those trails. Right before the Tallman Mountain State Park there is a nice little place to stop for a snack, called simply The Market. The Tallman Mountain State Park is a nice rest stop as well. Then, there is an optional stop at Piermont. You get a good view of the Tappan Zee bridge just a little later, right before reaching Nyack. You should get what you need for the evening in Stony Point, since this is the last town before the park and there is no shopping of any sorts in the park

To return just reverse the route.

Taconic State Park, Copake Falls Area

TO BE CONTINUED…

Written by Adam DZ

June 3rd, 2012 at 4:12 pm

  • http://nycbikecommuter.info/ Adam

    Sorry, I wasn’t really reading any posts here for a while. Congratulations! I’m really impressed. I have to admit that I have done 100 miles only once. But it was pretty heard and hilly: Mad River Valley Century in Vermont. I feel like 60 miles is a perfect dayride, I like to stop, relax, look around, etc. 100 miles is a bit on the extreme side for me. I’ve done some 70-80 mile rides too.

    If you’re interested in riding more you should really give 5BBC a try. It’s a very friendly bike club. They have rides every weekend, mostly around the city but they also do car-pooling rides outside of the city. The rides are usually pretty relaxed catering to average cyclists. You’ll get to know the city too. Perhaps we could meet on one of their rides.

    http://5bbc.org/

    I had a surgery last year and haven’t been riding as much as I would like and I’m in the worst shape than last year, heavier and weaker.

  • ballroomdru

    This past Sunday, 2 days ago, I did the NYC Century. All 100 miles of it. Thank you so much for your advice and inspiration. When can I meet you in person and buy you a beer? You can email me at my user name at Gmail dot come.

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