Erie Canal Bike Tour
Rachmiel Langer 

Thursday August 28, 1997   •   Lockport to Spencerport

After breakfast at the hotel, we cut through an adjacent parking lot to avoid crossing four lanes of  Rte. 78. It turned out to belong to the Union Sun and Journal newspaper and sure enough, a reporter ran out to us for a quick interview, followed by a photographer.

We rode into Lockport where we stopped for a walking tour of a working canal lock. The local police graciously let us leave our bikes and equipment in the briefing room for safe-keeping. (Apparently, there had been a number of bike thefts recently.) When we carefully left our names with the officer on duty, he introduced himself as Charlie. His friendliness was typical of the town; the visitor's center was staffed by elderly volunteers who were full of information and advice.
Lock Full of Boats
One of the slogans appropriately bills the town as "Life in the past lane". Lockport came into being from the construction of the locks and still celebrates them as a historic treasure. The "Lock City" originally had a double set of five locks, completed in 1847. The double set was to allow simultaneous east and westbound traffic, and the flights of five locks were to cope with the elevation change of 49 feet. Now, the five locks on the north side of the canal have had their gates removed; permanently open, they are a series of impressive waterfalls. The westbound flight was replaced by two larger locks during expansion in the early 1900's and are still in use today.

We watched three tourist boats, two small and one huge, all cram together into the lock and get raised up through. (I decided at that moment, that it was worth the higher cost to travel on the large boat.) Within ten minutes, the boats had raised 25 feet. There is a wonderful simplicity to these 'water elevators', first invented by Leonardo da Vinci. (Click here to see how a lock works.)

In the small canal museum, we learned the segment of canal from Lockport to Rochester is known as "The Long Level" — 63 miles with no locks. Certainly a good portent for cycling.
By noon, we were on our way. The towpath leaves from the center of Lockport (to the left of the old lock in the photo below) and riding along it was idyllic — pedaling alongside the quietly flowing canal surrounded by woods or rolling farmland or flower-dotted meadows, trees reflected in the canal waters, many butterflies flitting around us. (For a moment I thought I was trapped in a Disney cel.) The only signs of civilization were scattered barns or farmhouses, until we would ride through the next small town. Then, we would pass another bevy of competing style bridges. On the outskirts of each town, we might see a jogger or cyclist; occasionally we'd see a boat on the canal. Otherwise, we were alone in this Eden.

Towpath Leaving Lockport
Riding on the stone-dust towpath was not a problem with the tires we chose. On the rear, we used Specialized Nimbus III's which have a a moderate tread. The heavier treads of Cheng Shin or IRC Tractor-Grips helped the lighter front ends to grip the loose surface.

We stopped in Medina for food, stocking up on fresh baked bread and pastries from Corey's Bakery, as Harvey recommends in the Route Guide. With cheese from a local grocery, we had a satisfying picnic further down the towpath.

The trail continued as stone dust through Albion and Holley. In Spencerport it became small gravel over packed dirt. Toward the end we picked up the pace to beat the failing daylight. We rode right through the backyard of the Canalside Inn B&B, but pushed on, since we had reservations. We got off the towpath by 7:45 p.m only to dodge high-speed headlights on routes 259 and 104 in Spencerport.

We should have chosen the B&B. Kirby's Courtyard Inn looked like the rooms were rented by the hour. The nearby 'Char-broiled' restaurant was almost as disappointing — we were hard-pressed to find something they didn't deep-fry.

Well, a hot shower and food in one's stomach after an excellent day's ride feels good, regardless.

After a day on the dusty and occasionally bumpy towpath, we re-lubed the bikes, with Krytec, and tightened the few loose bolts.
Mileage Hours MPH
Cycled today 62 5:51 10.6

 Copyright © 1997, Rachmiel Langer

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