Erie Canal Bike Tour


After 13 years of marriage, my (then) wife, Wynne and I decided it was about time for a honeymoon — our first trip without children since we had been married. We had been spending ever increasing amounts of time cycling together and she was intrigued by my stories of bicycle touring. When we discovered Harvey Botzman's book, Erie Canal Bicyclist and Hiker Route Guide, it seemed the perfect thing to do — we would ride the length of the canal towpath
Canal East of Lockport
There is something beckoning about the Erie Canal, a marvel of engineering in its day, now all but abandoned; somehow it is approachable technology. If in 1840, they could dig this 363 mile-long trench with shovels and horse-drawn plows, we could certainly traverse it by bicycle. Of course, even at a leisurely pace on our loaded touring bikes, we would have zoomed past the 5 mph mule-drawn barges that used the canal. Also, flatness made sense for an inaugural bike tour, and the Erie Canal was certainly flat; after all, each elevation change required a lock. It took 77 locks to raise and lower boats just 568 feet.

Early in the summer Wynne got a Ryan Vanguard bicycle — a long wheel-base recumbent with under-seat steering. I had been riding one for 2 ½ years, ever since I had back surgery, and her test rides had convinced her that cycling in comfort was the way to go. We cycled together as much as we could during the summer, ranging up to about 50 miles, our intended maximum. After all, this was to be a leisurely romantic jaunt, not RAEC (Race Across Erie Canal). She constructed a second pair of panniers, from the Outdoor Patterns kit, and we went off on training rides, loaded with books and clothes.

We also tested out a pair of short-range Maxan headset radios from Campmor. We could talk without having to stay wheel to wheel and without yelling. The handlebar-mounted buttons made access easy and the headphone fit right over our helmets. Occasionally we would pick-up baby monitors or other devices, but with 5 channels, we could usually find a clear band.

We enjoyed anticipating the trip and spent lots of time pouring over Harvey's book, picking our planned route (Harvey offers several alternatives and side trips), making our own cue sheets and plotting the route on a computerized map, DeLorme's Street Atlas. We were able to print off excellent maps at a couple of levels of detail.

Unfortunately, time limitations would only allow us to cycle from Buffalo to Utica, but three-quarters of a canal was better than none. The arrangements were made: we would drop off our kids with grandparents in Albany, drive to Utica, take the Amtrak train to Buffalo and cycle back to Utica.

Our thanks to everyone on the hpv (Human Powered Vehicles) mailing list and the touring mailing list ( for all sorts of ideas and suggestions about recumbent cycling and bicycle touring. Judy Colwell's equipment list is a wonderful place to start when deciding what to pack.

We decided to travel light, on a credit-card tour, but somehow still managed to pack almost 20 pounds each. I toyed with bringing a palmtop computer, but this would be a real vacation — no email in sight and outside of pager range! Because we'd be traveling over Labor Day weekend, we booked all our hotels in advance; we were committed.
Trip Summary
Date Destination Mileage Total Riding 
Tue 8/26 Buffalo 0 0     Drive to Utica; Amtrak Lake Shore Ltd 
Comfort Suites, Cheektowaga
Wed 8/27 Lockport 44 44 3:41 11.9 Best Western Lockport Inn, Lockport
Thu 8/28 Spencerport 52 106 5:51 10.6 Kirby's Courtyard Inn, W. Spencerport
Fri 8/29 Newark 51 157 4:38 11.0 Quality Inn/Burnham's Canalside, Newark
Sat 8/30 Weedsport 40 197 3:29 11.5 Best Western, Weedsport
Sun 8/31 Verona Beach 57 254 4:46 11.9 Dwarf Line Cottages, N. Verona Beach
Mon 9/1 Utica 42 296 3:40 11.5  
Click here for overview route maps.

 Copyright © 1997, Rachmiel Langer
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