Tours, Trails & Group Rides

Phoenixville, with Walnuts

Casual group rides are a terrific way to spend idle hours, especially when the expectations are that it’s the experience that matters more than the speed, distance or endurance.


When some of us gathered to ride the Schuylkill Trail from Conshohocken to Phoenixville, then, it was easy to accommodate our mate whose tire developed a slow leak.  Waiting became a good opportunity to talk.

Our resourceful ride leader had the right pump to hand, and soon had the tire functioning again.


Not everyone finishes these rides, though they are usually planned for a specific route and distance.  Riders tend to turn around where they feel most comfortable, or partway through due to other commitments.

The speedier among us made it to Steel City Coffeehouse well ahead of others, which is another advantage of this flexibility.  We all snacked, ate, or caffeinated, according to personal preference, and then made the return trip in bits and pieces.


My salad (the “Paulie Walnuts”) was delicious; I only wish my photo did it justice.  I’m publishing it anyway, in all of its unfocused glory, because the colors are so good. That blue plate: what a spectacular touch!


When we left the coffeehouse, Basil transported a ride buddy’s sandwich; his rear rack was the perfect device for hauling a puffy square package.  Those Bromptons, such handy little rascals!

5 Boro Tour Tours, Trails & Group Rides

5 Boro Tour, 2015 Edition

“It’s going to be a long forty miles [63.3 km] on those small wheels” smirked the guy next to me at the 5 Boro Tour.

“Don’t knock it, ” I said, “this is a great bicycle.”

“I know! I’ve got a couple of folding bikes” the twit fellow responded — but he obviously doesn’t have Bromptons.


Do we look as if we’re suffering?  Forty miles/64.3 km might, under some conditions, tax me, but they’ll never tax Basil, my Brompton.  See all those big boys in the picture?  They’re behind us!  Basil’s got the gears; no rider need supply extraordinary muscle.


Even if a Brompton weren’t an excellent bicycle, the unrealized truth about the 5 Boro Tour is that almost anyone can ride it.  Persistence is the key; not equipment–or Lycra.

The tour is a 40 mile/64.3 km ride through all five New York City boroughs.  Roads are closed, and support, in the form of lots of liquids, snack bars, other treats, bananas, and strategically-placed porta-potty stops, is plentiful.


Basil and I met up with Mme. Unfolded and her Monty at the front of Wave 2, early enough to be only about a block from the start line.  The adventure begins in the canyons of lower New York City, and always with at least a little bit of scooter-like activity:  stop-and-go.


That offers opportunities for some good-natured interaction.  See the gent behind me in bright yellow?  He and his buddy (yellow sleeve on the other side) spotted Basil’s under-seat bag motif, and cheerfully yelled “Lizard!” every time they caught up with us on the tour.  (That’s much more typical of Tour camaraderie than Mr. Snarky’s comment, by the way!)


In Central Park, while hordes of us waited for the right-of-way, another fellow mentioned that he always tells people that the 5 Boro Tour is actually a series of smaller rides:  five miles/eight km here; six miles/9.6 km there; eight miles/12.8 km; or ten miles/16 km now and then.

One stops, a lot–and everyone stops at Astoria, where we’re all required to dismount and make our way through the teeming masses.


The line Basil and I were in snaked around under the Queensboro Bridge and along the far edge of the park,wending back to us, where we stood next to a bank of essentially unusable porta-potties while we waited and I took pictures.  The sheer volume of people and bikes was stunning: 32,000 cyclists participate in total.  I think I saw them all at Astoria.


Most of the ride, though, especially in this second wave, went fast.  Basil and I nearly always whipped along between 13/20.9 kmh and over 15 mph/24 kmh, and were hitting over 25 mph/40.2 kmh on clear down hill trajectories — and close to that elsewhere, at points.

Stray water bottles and even sunglasses tend to litter the roads, so staying alert is critical, but there’s really nothing like flying down the FDR and Gowanus Expressways (no cars!!!) on a bright, sunny, day.


Which is not to say that there aren’t challenges.  The approach to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge goes on forever (and, or so it seems, so does the incline on the bridge itself).  We weren’t doing 15 mph/24 kmh there; it was more like 3 mph/4.8 kmh just before the peak, and (ahem) barely 6 mph/9.6 kmh at one point on the approach.  There’s no shame in walking, though, and plenty of people do.  This is a fun ride, not a contest.


Mme. Unfolded and I lost track of each other early on, but caught up at the “party” at the end, at Fort Wadsworth.  We grabbed some Greek comestibles and eventually headed out to join the wait for the ferry.   “Partying” usually consists of some super-long lines for [really tasty!) food, and a mad crush of people and bikes packed all over the terrain.

Somehow neither one of us managed to get pictures of each other on the tour — how did that happen?  No matter, I did snap Basil and Monty again before we left Fort Wadsworth.  (Priorities, right?)


The final three miles/4.8 km of the tour runs from the end zone to the Staten Island ferry.  Participants ride most of the way, then join a queue for loading onto the boat.  Sniffer dogs, like that handsome, but bored, lad (lass?) below, were required to give each bicycle  and bag a once-over.


That was dull for the canines, it seemed, but one can only be grateful that nothing discovered was worth getting excited about.


Once aboard, we were sent upstairs (or up-ramp, in the case of the uppermost level), where we, and our Bromptons, had a view out the back of the ferry.


On the sparkling water, Lady Liberty raised her torch, as always, enduring silently even in the face of changing immigration policies and the well-worn immigration arguments that endlessly percolate through the contemporary American experience.  It’s good to have ideals, and monuments to them, even if reality so often falls short.

It was late afternoon by the time we returned to Manhattan’s fabled shores.  The intrepid Mme. Unfolded and her Monty chose to ride home, but Basil and I, mindful of the hour, took the subway back to Fort Washington at the other end of the island, basking, admittedly lazily, in the glow of a day well-spent.

Mr. Snarky?  Never saw him again.  I assume we left him behind in the dust.  (Or amongst the potholes.)  If he had half the fun Basil and I enjoyed on our ride, he will have done well, even if he had to do it on a less-versatile vehicle!

Tours, Trails & Group Rides

Spring Bliss (and an OT gripe)

This was another lovely ride along the Chester Valley Trail, about 24 miles/38.6 km.  The world still looks a little bare, but things are changing rapidly.


I took only these two pictures, perhaps because it was just so fine to be out on the trail on a beautiful day, and such a good thing to be with cycling buddies again after the long winter!

We stopped at Wegman’s, as is our habit, and got a bite to eat.  I meant to snap a picture of one of their new individual cheese trays, but forgot to.  The serving was delicious and generous enough that I took a portion home for snacking later.

hb-12(That’s one of Saul’s steeds, posing with Basil in Exton.)

This paucity of photos may also be due to my unending frustration with my smartphone, which is one lousy camera.  (Or maybe smartphones are strictly selfie-phones? Ugh.)

After this ride, I vowed to keep carrying my clunky little point-and-shoot.  You know, the kind with a viewfinder that is usable in daylight.

Response to comments and email will be slow or non-existent until early next week, as Basil and I will be travelling — and riding in our third 5 Boro Tour.

Tours, Trails & Group Rides

Winter’s End

Or so we’re claiming.  A bunch of us got together earlier in April — like several weeks ago, sorry Lisa! —  to ride together for the first time in far too long.  Saul was with us originally, and we lost a few others, too, to previous commitments (or maybe to the horrendous wind — a bane on the outgoing trip, but a boon on the return).

gr-grAs a result, I only got four of us in this photo, midway through our ride.We took the Chester Valley Trail from Devon to Exton and back, a distance of about 24 miles/38.6km.

Along the way, we made some pretty thrilling discoveries:  At Exton, where we turned around, we found a combined human/canine water fountain (that’s it behind Basil). The gap in the top of the column is an indentation and spout for filling water bottles — a nice touch!


But that wasn’t all.  Around the corner, Mike discovered a mechanic’s station, complete with a bike stand, an amazing collection of tools, and a tire pump with both Presta and Schrader fittings.

hc-mgThis one is a Dero Fixit station. Don’t have a clue how to proceed?  If you have a smartphone, you can scan the QR code to find out what to do.  Brilliant, isn’t it?


This one was donated by Malvern Federal Savings Bank.


There’s another, bright orange, Fixit station in front of the PNC bank just around the corner from the Target/Wegman’s complex at Route 29 on the Chester Valley Trail, donated by PNC.  Now that’s community banking at its finest!

Tours, Trails & Group Rides

Exton CVT Extension

The Exton to Church Farm School extension of the Chester Valley Trial is now open!  Basil and Argyll can now romp all the way from King of Prussia to the Main Street Mall in Exton (or vice-versa) if they want to.  And they do!


There are some issues, if you start at the Main Street shopping center — which you might do, considering that there’s a huge empty lot behind a long-vacant big box store that once was a Circuit City, and hence plenty of unused asphalt.  The trail runs along the north (?) side of the shopping center, next to Commerce street.  Crossing the major intersection at Commerce and Route 100 is the big issue; the process is a little bizarre, and probably fairly hazardous.


The trail follows the right side of the road, so if you’re traveling with traffic, it’s possible to just go through the light as a vehicle. Walking across the road is prohibited on the trail side.


However, the bike trail is signed in a manner that requires you to leave the trail to cross Commerce (illegally, if you’re riding your bike, since you’re crossing against traffic, on the wrong side of the road), then crossing 100, and then crossing Commerce again to rejoin the trail.

And if you’re a pedestrian, you must also take that circuitous route to return to the trail — crossing three streets instead of one to rejoin the path.

That’s messy, and involves traversing an infelicitously designed traffic island — 100 is a high-speed, divided, six-lane, highway.


Worse, though, is that the pedestrian signal for crossing 100, which should offer protection to walkers and dismounted cyclists alike, operates only when the left arrow releases traffic from Commerce to 100 — sending cars and trucks directly across the pedestrian/cyclist walkway when it is occupied.  Vehicles are used to making quick, impatient, turns here; not one stopped to allow either pedestrian or cyclist across 100 during our maiden trip here.

That’s a pretty dangerous situation, particularly if cyclists are traveling with kids.  A minimum of three signal changes are required to cross 100; more if traffic flow prevents crossing 100 on one light.

This is an intersection that begs for a signal that stops all traffic while pedestrians or trail users cross in any direction.  It’s common sense:  shut down the intersection to allow more vulnerable users safe passage, then resume the usual traffic patterns.


As soon as we crossed 100, we encountered this sign:  Authorized Vehicles Only.  We just assumed we were authorized.  Maybe it’s a relic left over from construction?

Then it’s a left turn, and a brand-new spiffy sign pointing the way across Route 30/Lincoln Highway, where there is a genuine, useful, signal to allow safe crossing.  And far more considerate motorists, too — perhaps because the signal, and its function, are clearer here.


The bright yellow gates on the new section are terrific — extremely visible now, as they will be in winter.


For comparison, check out these white gates further along:


Pretty lousy visibility, no?  In snow, they completely disappear.  The yellow won’t.

This extension, which crosses Ship Road, is fairly short, but quite varied; there are some houses along the way, gas storage tanks, a smattering of small businesses, and lots of greenery.


Along with the obvious recreational aspects, there’s a lot of potential here for commuting to work, and for running errands.  If you sneak off the trail to the side, where it crosses Route 30, you can ride through parking lots with access to a group of small storefronts, including Exton Bicycle (though it’s the back of the store that you’ll encounter first).


Go a little further — a very little further — and you’re at the Exton Square Mall.  That’s not my idea of an adequate destination, but bearing around to the right brings you to the Chester County Library.  A small trail spur, or even a sidewalk, leading into the library/mall/business areas here could be a nice move, and potentially increase the utility quotient of this section of the CVT.


Besides housing all those wonderful books and media, the library has a lawn featuring a stream, and dotted with picnic tables.  Pick up a sandwich (there must be food places in the mall?), check out a book, and have a lovely mid-ride interlude.


If you wend your way back to the trail by exiting on an Exton Square Mall access road, you’ll see a big box office supply store across the street, another bike store, and a Starbucks coffee shop, none of which are accessible from the trail, which runs just behind them — but they are accessible by bike along Route 30.


Returning to our starting point in a parking lot at the Main Street shopping center meant riding alongside this bucolic scene. The juxtaposition of strip malls, derelict businesses, light industry, homes and malls against lovely views of countryside — artificially created, in this case, but still — is one of the major pleasures of the weird and wacky world that is Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Tours, Trails & Group Rides

We Ride Again (If Only Briefly)

Things have been hopping around here.  Dr. Diarist has a new job, and we’ve been switching things up to accommodate the changes that brings; the upshot is that the ride we took yesterday was our first in just over two weeks.  Basil and Argyll are not pleased with us. Things are looking up for our Bromptons, though, and it won’t be long before we’re back riding more consistently.


Along the way, Dr. Diarist demonstrated Argyll’s finer features to these two cheerful pedestrians; she’s just started working for a bicycle distributor, and he was learning to ride his long board, which we were sorry we didn’t get into the picture.


We decided to check out the Struble Trail, which has been closed much of the summer for a gas line repair.  That rather temporary-looking sign says “Approved Access Road”.  Argyll and Basil are pleased about this; access to the trail is good!

st-mwA little further on, this sign caused a little dismay, but the work being done is off-trail, so our progress was unimpeded.


It was a lovely day.  In another week or two, things should simmer down to a new normal.  (I’ve got a deadline to meet, myself.)  Basil and Argyll are more than ready.  This sitting around the closet stuff is not what Bromptons are made for.

Tours, Trails & Group Rides

To Pizza and Back

It feels like eons since we took this ride, but it needs a post, just the same, especially since it was a  photographic trip, too, rather than just a cycling one.

Not to mention that we had no idea that there apparently is a little reservoir next to the Chester County Trail:


Given how small the image is, you might still not believe it — but there’s a lovely patch of water there, behind the flora.  From the perspective of my computer, it looks positively Caribbean, allowing for the fact that the vegetation is all wrong, and, you know .  .  .   it isn’t!

We discovered it on the way to what is now the eastern end of the Chester Valley Trail, which turns into a parking lot just before Gulph Road.  That just happens to be the location of our favorite Pizza joint.



Basil and Argyll checked out the front window while Dr. Diarist and I indulged.  Basil — the herbal kind — and mozzarella with a ton of other herbs, oh yeah!


Then we rode back to Exton, snapping bridges and overpasses on the way.


Clean, traditional lines on this one.  Gotta love those angles!


It overlooks Highway 202, which is more usually a clogged commuting artery.  On summer weekends so many people go to the shore that it’s often nearly empty — except on Friday and Sunday nights when the shore crowd spends miserable hours getting to and from.


The Chester Valley Trail gets its own sign on this overpass — and a cage against mischief.

ej-wrAt Warner Road I snapped this bulwark.  I think these are hideous, especially finished in that awful blah beige, but they are apparently effective at what they’re supposed to be doing.  Short on aesthetics, but high on utility.


Utility counts, though, and a working trail is something to evoke genuine gratitude.


More virtually empty highway, under the overpass.  We usually travel different routes these days, but it’s still odd to see so little traffic.


Quiet days.

That’s Contention Lane, below.


I finally looked it up, and learned that British commander William Howe had made his headquarters at a home on the lane during the Revolutionary War, which was interesting, but didn’t necessarily explain the provocative name of the street.

Further along there’s another beige monstrosity, improved by bit of greenery.  The tunnel’s rather fun, even if the outside isn’t particularly interesting.

ej-bgSometimes, too, the underside of an ordinary overpass is worth a look.  I like the corduroy effect between the girders, though this isn’t really any kind of corduroy roadway.

ej-usAt Church Road, Basil and I rode down a short access road to get this shot of the overpass. (We’ve done this before.)  I’m partial to this rather organic look; it does the job, but blends into the landscape less jarringly than concrete slabs.ej-rt

Then it’s an old favorite, still being refurbished.  Sometimes people can’t resist shouting when  going through this archway; I admit Basil and I have sounded his bell a few times.  Resonance is irresistible!


No curves in the tunnel at Swedesford Road; it’s all rectangle.

ej-srThen, further along, mishmash — a small arch with a buttress on each side, fit a little bit like a child’s mismatched wooden blocks.

ej-loBack at the Exton trailhead, Basil and Argyll were not pleased to see that the new section, which will continue to Ship Road, was still barred to use.

ej-erIn spite of signs forbidding it, we regularly see people cycling down this pristine asphalt.  We don’t, and I’m not so sure that our Bromptons approve of our good citizenship.  Soon enough, guys!

Tours, Trails & Group Rides

Cheese, Lovely Cheese, and What Comes After

While the parents were visiting, we ate very well, including an evening of raclette — lovely melted cheese eaten with vegetables grilled on a hot stone.


Where there is cheese, though, exercise must follow, so we all hit the trail, too.


The mountain bikes had their own pump, an extremely efficient model which is operated by foot.  (“Pumps twice as fast as a hand pump.”)  It’s twenty years old, and still serving proudly.


Wait, does that say “Slime”?  Branding has changed a lot, it seems.  I find the name kind of refreshing — if you’re using an industrial strength foot pump, odds are whatever you’re doing isn’t very effete, and might even be, at times, slimey.


We headed for the Schuylkill River Trail, beginning in Conshohocken.   I didn’t know how many opportunities I’d have to snap a shot of Basil, so I quickly took one under this old trestle.


The trail extending to/from Alan Wood Road has been newly-surfaced, so it’s an especially easy ride here.  The first part was a fun, stop-and-admire the scenery kind of ride, and I ended up with more pictures than I had expected to.

But I got an early shot of Argyll, too, just in case.  Basil grows pale in direct sun, but Argyll becomes almost completely camouflaged in shadows and greenery.


It was another beautiful day, and the Schuylkill River was looking particularly good, at least at a distance, under that very blue sky.


Up close was a slightly different matter, with a lot of debris from earlier storms still evident.  Not those little swimmers — they live in the river all the time.


When, that is, they aren’t sunbathing on the rocky shore.


Spring’s goslings are giants now, and a little more unfazed by bicyclists than they should be.  On the other hand, they weren’t at all antagonistic, so that was a plus.

r2-smThree of us went on for a fast second half of the ride, out to Betzwood and back, including a stop at the Spring Mill Trailhead to check on progress on the system.

We all stopped at the Outbound Station, where I had the best grilled cheese sandwich ever — so crispy outside, and so melty inside; too wonderful!


At least three trains went by as we ate lunch; the Schuylkill River Trail runs parallel to the tracks here, between the trains and the café.  This is a trilling plus, as far as I’m concerned.

The buildings in the background are typical of those in the city of Conshohocken, especially the one on the right.  Someone must have gotten a virtually city-wide concession for the installation of those distinctive greenish windows; they’re ubiquitous.


There’s something new behind the counter at the Outbound — a magical Dyson fan.  It’s blade-less; standing in front of it — the breeze is strong — is a very, very odd experience.  There’s nothing there!   Maybe that’s twice as disconcerting because the design seems almost sculptural — is is art or science?


The Outbound Station is extremely bike-friendly — they’ll fill up your water bottle, loan you tools for minor repairs, let you use their air pump, and they sell a variety of bike-friendly energy bars and snacks along with tasty sandwiches and baked goods.


There’s an ode to bikes or bicycling in nearly every corner.

Not much farther down the trail, we spotted this locomotive, pulling a maintenance vehicle.  The orange structure just behind the engine is actually a rail car.


Standing on top was a crew working on the overhead wires.  The locomotive pulling this fantastic structure is to the left, out of the picture, and, for some reason, there’s a passenger car linked to the maintenance car, just visible to the right.


That was a fascinating sight — we sometimes see track maintenance equipment, but rarely see it in use, and this particular car was not one I’d seen before.

It’s also unusual for us to see the Norristown high speed train when we’re riding, probably because we’re usually on the trail at the wrong time of day.  There it was, though.


Further down the trail, these little guys startled us, and vice versa.  They had the good sense to flee, fortunately.  I think we’d just seen Mama, but I hadn’t reacted fast enough to catch her, too.


The guys changed out of their cycling shoes when we got back to the vehicle.  Am I the only one who wears comfortable biking shoes?  (In this case, mine are actually biking sandals, but my winter cycling shoes are quite comfortable, too.)  I wonder.

r2-tgOur Brompton bicycles got tossed — gently! — in the back of the truck (a first for them).  Ancient moving pads make for good protection in unusual circumstances, and let us put the mountain bikes’ front tires on top of the little bikes.  The mountain bikes themselves go on a roof-top rack.


This was just about the perfect ride for our from-out-of-town parents (and would be for other visitors, too)  — the terrain is good for all skill levels, the sights are varied, there’s a fine place to stop, snack, and visit, and it’s also a great way to share an interesting, and perhaps not well-known, aspect of the Philadelphia area.

As some of you already know, response to comments and email will be non-existent over the next few days.  Basil and his Diarist will return to these pages early next week.

Tours, Trails & Group Rides

CVT Ride, the Last of May

The Chester Valley Trail is getting a real workout now that summer is here.  It’s  a nice, easy, run with a lot of beautiful landscape, some suburban views, just enough lightly rolling terrain and  a few small inclines to keep things interesting.


Steve marshalled the troops before we began.


Then we were off.  The bowered trail is so restorative!

People tend to drop off at points along these rides.  By the time we got to Wegman’s, on the leg back, and stopped for refection, there were only four of us left.

Basil came in with me, because, you know, he’d rather have the whole experience.


On the other hand, he was perfectly happy hanging with the big guys while we ate lunch.


I’m beginning to think of this trail as if it’s a national treasure.  The full ride on the main section is now about 22 miles/35.4 km; that’s a perfect length for a basic recreational ride!

Tours, Trails & Group Rides

Lock and Roll

Bert’s Memorial ride was an excellent experience, but very short on miles.  Altogether, I clocked just under 13 miles/20.9 km, and that with many (good!) stops along the way.  Back home the  next morning, I jumped on the chance to ride with the usual suspects on a longer jaunt.


The Chester Valley Trail is quite familiar now, even though the new section only opened late last winter, but so beautiful!

We started at the trail head near Warner Road in King of Prussia.  Only Saul and Mike showed up for the ride; I had forgotten to take my allergy pill, and they very kindly agreed to a stop at Wegman’s so that I could pick some up.


Basil waited in the shade with them while I dashed in and gulped down the pill.

I took very few pictures on this ride; I was too thrilled to be zipping along, and we’d already made a stop that normally wouldn’t be necessary. This, however, did not prevent us from stopping for a bite to eat on the way back.


Shockingly, Saul suggested locking up Basil when we went in to find food.  I was horrified, but, hey, sometimes you need to try something to see what it’s really like.

Basil was cool, but you know, it’s just so wrong to lock up a Brompton!

Nicely fed, we released the bicycles and headed back.  End-to-end, this section of the Chester Valley Trail, which runs east to Exton, is just under 24 miles/38.6 km.  It’s mostly level, too, with only a few slight or short inclines, so it’s perfect for almost any cyclist, fit or not.