This is a review of the annual eight day bicycle tour of the Erie Canal from Buffalo, NY, to Albany, which is about 400 miles, organized by Parks and Trails New York. As of 2018, I have done this ride six times with PTNY and I highly recommend it. My son Eric has been with me for the past three years. In 2017, my fifth Erie ride, his daughter Sofia was with us. Every year I revisit my review to be sure that it remains accurate.
My first ride on the canal was self-supported. The travelogue of my self-supported trip is here on the Edek’s Attic. Doing the ride with Parks and Trails New York is a less demanding way to go. This is also a great ride to test your desires to tour on a bicycle.
The daily activities on this ride are conducted and managed by many volunteers and the staff of PTNY. As of this update, they have successfully run this event 21 times. They select great camp sites that are grassy with many suitable spots to pitch a tent. Many of the sites are on school grounds and access to the school facilities such as showers and bathrooms is provided. When the school facilities are not available, PTNY provides a large shower truck and clean chemical toilets.
PTNY transports your personal gear between camp sites. Riders usually help by loading their gear onto the box trucks each morning. The volunteer staff unload at each camp site by the time the riders begin to arrive. People bring suitcases, duffel bags, or panniers to carry their stuff. You need to be sure that whatever you are using is durable because it will get rough handling. If it rains, they will cover all of the stuff with tarps to protect it as much as possible. Some people have had problems with wet clothes after heavy rain. PTNY suggests that you take care to wrap such things in plastic just in case unless your bag is water proof.
The food is good, including breakfast, dinner, and rest stops. The breakfasts are adequate to fuel you through the morning. There are usually scrambled eggs and other sources of protein as well as juices, coffee, and sweets. The scrambled eggs are sometimes reconstituted dried eggs and most of the time the caterer does a decent job of preparing them. I ate them every morning and thought they were acceptable. By the time the trip is over you will be tired of reconstituted eggs.
The dinners are better and PTNY tries to offer one or two special dinners, such as barbeque and cookout-style meals. There are typically two nights when the cyclists are on their own for dinner in Seneca Falls and in Rome, New York. On those evenings there are many nice choices for dinner nearby.
The are rest stops set up for mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks. There is an almost endless supply of cool Gatorade and water along with peanut butter, fruits, and cookies at these stops. There are also additional stops that are set up by some of the local people and businesses in the towns along the way. Each stop is a social event and you will meet many new people at each one.
Lunch is optional and riders need to find a place to eat on their own. There are lots of interesting restaurants and old fashioned diners along the way. By the time I get to my lunch stop, I’ve been in the saddle for four or five hours. Lunch offers a longer duration stop and another opportunity to meet more of the riders.
There are camp services and facilities that have been provided by Comfy Campers LLC. You can bring your own tent or you can have Comfy Campers provide one for you. They have several tent sizes as well as mattresses. Each day they tear down all of the tents and move them to the next site so that your tent will be ready when you ride into camp. Comfy Campers also provides towel rental, umbrella chair rental, and morning coffee service. All of these services must be purchased in advance when you register for the ride. They do a great job of making the camping experience as comfortable as possible.
There are two other important services: the Support and Gear (SaG) vehicles and the mechanic. The SaG wagons will pick you up and drive you to the next camp if you are having some kind of difficulty. Sometimes people get exhausted or even injured and the SaG supports their needs. The mechanic is available on the road and in camp each day. This is a full-service mechanic with parts and supplies. They do everything from adjustments to repairs at reasonable prices. One year I needed my derailleur adjusted and the another year I purchased tires when I had a sidewall blow out as I rode into a rest stop.
The route in upstate New York passes many historic and current Erie Canal features. The ride goes through Rochester, Syracuse, and Rome as well as a number of small towns. Between the towns the country side is peaceful and scenic. About 80% of the ride is off-road on dirt, packed stone dust, and paved trails that follow either the current Erie Canal or historic remnants of the older canals. The remaining 20% uses roads that generally are bicycle-friendly and each year the amount of road travel decreases. It has been impressive to experience the trail each year as improvements are made and as the amount of trail increases. PTNY provides cue sheets each day that provide the turn-by-turn details and the locations of the rest stops.
You don’t need a touring bike for this ride. Since PTNY hauls your stuff, you can successfully complete this ride with many types of bicycles. I have seen recumbent trikes and bikes, folding bikes, tandems, road bikes, mountain bikes, and touring bikes participating. You do need to be reasonably physically fit since you will ride over 50 miles most days. Even if you are fit, I recommend training on the bicycle that you plan to use for the trip. That includes at least one long ride of 50 miles to be sure that your bicycle is comfortable enough for eight days on the road and 400 miles.
This is a great ride for people of many ages. There are usually tweens and teens on the ride, but you need to be sure that they can endure the long stretches of time on the road. My granddaughter was 13 when she did the ride. She plays softball and ice hockey, so physical endurance was not a problem. She was very focused on the ride, so mental endurance was not a problem either. I wouldn’t recommend trying this ride with a young child in a bicycle seat. They should be able to pedal or ride their own bike. There are people 70 years old and older who do the ride and that includes me.
If you can tolerate the camping experience, this is a great ride to take. The price is reasonable and it is generally well organized and managed. It is difficult to find fault with this annual event and I highly recommend it. If you contemplate doing this ride, the annual ride handbook offers planning details and can be found on the PTNY web site.