By Steve Taylor
The arrival of cooler weather can give new perspectives on The Circuit Trails. For Linda McGrane, President of the Bicycle Club of Philadelphia, getting out in the later months is about enjoying “the crisp, refreshing autumn air, as well as the colorful fall foliage. As long as the roads are clear and dry—that is, free of snow and ice—I continue to cycle into the winter months.”
Jed Kornbluh, national sales manager for cyclewear company Verge Sport, is also a year-round cyclist. His favorite Circuit segments to ride this time of year are both on the Delaware and Raritan Canal Trail. “The first is from Stockton to Milford (and on to Easton if you cross the river into Pennsylvania), and the second is Lambertville to Kingston. These are two very different trails. The first section starts and finishes along leaf-swept gravel and cinder with the river on the western edge and rolling country highway Route 29 on the east. The other stretch starts in the bustling village of Lambertville, rolls along through historic Washington Crossing State Park and eventually goes from country to urban just after the Trenton Country Club section.”
Jed has this cool weather tip: “Remember to layer. This time of year can be tricky, with mornings in the 30s and afternoons in the 50s. It's best to pack a variety of clothing but the best options include vests, light jackets or convertible items (with removable sleeves). When I travel on the canal paths I generally ride a bike equipped with a large handlebar bag, which has enough space for tools, food and spare clothes.”
To this, Linda adds, “Remember also to cover your head, hands and feet adequately. Body heat escapes most quickly through the extremities. Another important point: Even when the temperature is cooler, you still need to stay hydrated.”
When the temperatures get wintry, John Boyle, research director for the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, uses some special gear for his often windy bike commute across the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, including handlebar mittens and a face-shielding balaclava. In the coldest weather, he breaks out his ski helmet, goggles and electric socks.
On the weekends, John enjoys getting out with his family for walks on The Circuit in less specialized attire. “The Pennypack and Perkiomen are great walking trails, but the D&L Trail may be the best. I like the Nockamixon Cliffs / Palisades section.”
Linda also enjoys the Pennypack Trail, especially the hillier part between Bustleton Avenue and Pine Road. She appreciates trails that allow her to ride parallel to busy and non-bike-friendly roads. “I like the Chester Valley Trail, since it allows me to cycle safely up and down the Route 202 Corridor. The Leiper-Smedley Trail near Swarthmore lets me ride near and over the Blue Route.
“Continuing to cycle outdoors, regardless of the cooler temperatures, provides a therapeutic dose of daylight and allows you to remain connected with other people and with the environment.”
Photo Credit: Photo 1 Jed Kornbluh (on D&R Canal Trail); Photo 2 Howard Hess (on Chester Valley Trail)
Written By: Steve Taylor
Take a ride on The Circuit and you could end up exploring a new trail, crossing a bridge into another town and having a picnic along a river. Or you might end up at work. Fortunately, in the latter case, the trip has the potential to make your commute—and your workday—much better.
Caitlin Youngster commutes by bike from her home in Center City Philadelphia to the architecture firm where she works in Conshohocken. “My commute is just under 15 miles each way and almost all of it is on the Schuylkill River Trail (SRT). As someone who grew up in suburban Florida, it is incredible to me that I can work 15 miles away from where I live and I still don’t own a car.
“If the Schuylkill River Trail didn’t exist, I don’t think I would bike to work. Without the SRT, the ride would involve big hills, busy roads and a commute that would be much different from the serene and stress-free ride that I enjoy now.”
Howard Hess uses several Circuit trails to commute from his home to his workplace, Johnson Matthey in Audubon. “My current commute is 14 miles each way. I live about a quarter mile from the Perkiomen Trail. My route takes me on the Perkiomen, the SRT and the Audubon Loop, then through a housing development and a few back roads. Roughly 11 of those 14 miles are via Circuit trails.
“I really enjoy the way I come into work fully awake and exhilarated after my ride. I can spend the time I’m riding planning out my day, thinking about how I may approach some of the challenges in work.”
James Rebarchak also uses the Perkiomen Trail and the SRT on his commute to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s office in Norristown. Like Johnson Matthey, the DEP office supports bike commuting and participated in the National Bike Challenge this year. “This past bike season we had 19 employees who biked during the challenge. We logged 1062 days riding and 22,260.5 miles. We have a couple very dedicated riders who live along or near the SRT who try to commute as often as possible. One employee biked 152 out of 153 days during the 2015 Bike Challenge. An employee who lives in Reading would drive down to Lower Perkiomen Valley Park and then bike in from there.
“This past year our office received the League of American Bicyclists’ Silver designation as a Bike Friendly Business (BFB). We were excited about receiving this designation and are looking to grow the number of employees who will commute by bicycle. As part of the BFB program, we updated directions to our office to remind visitors that we are located along the SRT, and with advance notice we can arrange for secure bike parking for them.”
James takes advantage of his office’s location on the SRT for the commute home, and he also makes use of another Circuit trail. “I’ll extend the ride in Graterford when I take the Skippack Trail into Skippack before getting on the roads to Harleysville.”
Howard belives that, “commuting by bike is something that many people can do. It requires some planning, preparation and flexibility, but once you’ve got a system down, it is a very enjoyable way to commute. [At Johnson Matthey] we’ve got a few that have added it to their routine after talking through the idea with experienced riders.”
Like James, Caitlin also likes to vary or extend her route on the way home. “I think the best part of The Circuit is the way it connects places. Sometimes I will jump off the trail at Shawmont and cut over to Forbidden Drive, my favorite place in Philadelphia. I would often leave the trail at Green Lane in Manayunk and ride along the Cynwyd Heritage Trail. I’m incredibly excited about the opening of the Manayunk Bridge, which makes this portion of the ride infinitely better!”
Photo Credit: Photo 1 Caitlin Youngster; Photo 2 James Rebarchak; Photo 3 Caitlin Youngster; Photo 4 James Rebarchak
A trip on The Circuit is always better when it includes a trailside snack or drink.
A Pennsylvania and New Jersey loop on the Delaware Canal Towpath and the Delaware and Raritan Canal Trail might include stops at the Point Pleasant Village Store, the Bridge Cafe in Frenchtown or one of the coffee shops in Lambertville within a block from the trail, like Rojo’s.
Then there are some destinations that exist because of a trail. They were conceived by trail users and advocates and designed to meet the needs of those who would start, end or take a break from their trips there.
Ken Fields, owner of Outbound Station, has ridden on the Schuylkill River Trail for over 20 years. While biking through Conshohocken, he would often stop at an antique store in the old train station sitting on a hill above the trail.
When the owners decided to close their antique business and lease the property for another use, Ken immediately saw the potential. He knew that he wasn’t the only one who would like a place to warm up with a coffee on a cold morning or to share a meal outside on a sunny afternoon.
Outbound Station features salads and sandwiches assembled in the full kitchen, an assortment of local pastries, and locally roasted La Colombe coffee. They make their own soups as well as their chicken salad and egg salad.
Looking at the cycling posters on the wall, a large selection of energy bars and the floor pump and tool kit in a corner by the coffee station, it’s obvious that a cyclist is the owner. Ken doesn’t require a purchase to fill up a water bottle or to use the restroom or the tools.
For Ken, being situated on the trail is great and being on a popular route is even better. “We're eight and one-half miles to Valley Forge and 12 miles to the Art Museum. We're roughly that center point where people can start their ride here with plenty of parking on the weekends or use us as a meet point or a mid-point.”
While Outbound Station serves as a waypoint on The Circuit, the Cynwyd Station Cafe and Tea Room is a gateway. Owner Sadie Francis notes that, “When you come to us from the trail, we’re the entrance to Lower Merion Township. When you come to us from Lower Merion, we’re the entrance to the regional trail network.”
Sadie became involved with the development of the Cynwyd Heritage Trail in 2008. Along the way, her expertise in green building was called upon to help plan the reuse of the 1890 Pennsylvania Railroad station that overlooks the trailhead.
“What makes us so special is the entire business is built around the location. Normally when you start a business, it’s the other way around.” Sadie saw the need for a community space for informal gathering and events. She also “asked people what they want, and everyone said ice cream!” So, she sought out a local source and found Jenny and Frank’s Artisan Gelato.
Like everything on the menu, the gelato is made from ingredients available in 1890. For even more of a 19th Century feel, have a phosphate soda with your ice cream sandwich. Less chilly selections include soups and grilled nut butter sandwiches. The well-curated tea menu is complemented by fair trade coffee, hot chocolate and hot lemonade. Everything is prepared and served without the use of plastic.
With the opening of the Manayunk Bridge, a new Circuit segment linking Philadelphia and Lower Merion over the Schuylkill River, Sadie is excited that the Tea Room’s role and that of the Cynwyd Heritage Trail as connectors will grow.
Written By: Steve Taylor
In late July, a group of women active in the Women Bike PHL group organized a bicycle camping trip that took advantage of two connected Circuit segments. The 42-mile route started on the Schuylkill River Trail at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Twenty three miles later, they turned onto the Perkiomen Trail, which lead to the campsite at Green Lane Park.
According to Shelly Salamon, owner of Fairmount Bicycles and one of the organizers, “This trip happened because The Circuit connected us directly to a campsite. We wanted to plan a simple bike trip that would interest both experienced tourists and beginners, and that's exactly the group we got. We were able to get folks on board who were initially intimidated by bike camping.”
Shelly and fellow organizer Caitlin Martin made a video showing what to bring. The clip gave those who were new to bike camping, like Hana Elum, guidance for what to pack and how to carry everything on a bike. For Hana, “the trip seemed like a safe, local, affordable way to try bike camping and a good way to spend a summer weekend and meet people.”
Takia McClendon shared that, “Prior to the Women Bike PHL camping trip, I had no experience with long distance cycling or camping. My longest rides were 8–12 milers in the city or along the Schuylkill River Trail.” The fact that the entire trip was on The Circuit made this new experience inviting for Takia: “I'm fairly comfortable riding on designated bike paths, but I still get nervous riding in traffic. Covering that distance on open roads would have been a little much for me.”
Kiera Smalls, who was also new to long rides and camping, appreciated “the support from the other women, who stayed with me the entire time, made me feel at ease during my first long-distance trip and shared so much knowledge about biking and exploring.”
Rebecca Cweibel is an experienced cyclist and camper, though—like other women on the trip—she didn’t know many of her fellow riders. “When I arrived at the Art Museum meetup spot, I realized that I had only met one person on the trip before. It seemed like most people didn’t know anybody else on the trip, but were looking to branch out over some low-risk bike camping. A few weeks later, someone from the group hosted a potluck at her house. The shared experience of bike camping for a weekend was a quick way to bond.”
Takia’s “highlight of the trip was definitely the bike ride up. Not having prepared for traveling that distance, I had no idea what to expect. My other favorite moment was roasting marshmallows over the campfire. That's something that I always wanted to do as a kid but never had the chance to do it.”
For Kiera, the trip was an eye-opening introduction to the potential of The Circuit: “The fact that I can get through so many towns on connected trails is unbelievable. It definitely showed me that I need to do some more exploring.”
Group Photo Credit: Lauren D'Auria; Riding Photo Credit: Caitlin Martin
Saturday, June 1st, 2013. Penn-Tammany Greenway Coalition Rail to Trail Demonstration Ride for National Trails Day on the Perkiomen Trail.
Meet at the Rahn's Trail head of the Perkiomen Trail at 9:30 AM. There is parking at the trail head which is located off of Route 113 (Bridge Rd.) across the Perkiomen Creek from Central Perkiomen Valley Park. Ready to roll out of the parking lot by 10:00 AM. Ride approximately 4 miles to Pennypacker Mills near Schwenksville which is having a Civil War Reunion that weekend with many scheduled activities including a Civil war medicine demonstration at 11:00 AM and a Civil War Artillery Demonstration at 12:00 PM. Eat lunch at Pennypacker Mills and then return to our cars at the Rahn's trail head by roughly 1:30 PM.
Link to trail map and mileage chart can be found here: