Biking the GAP and C&O trails

So back in July I rode from Pittsburgh to DC over 6 days with my dad. I’ve been meaning to post about the trip but it’s pretty daunting to try and cover all of the details we collected over our journey.

But it’s almost November, so clearly I need to just get over the fact that this post isn’t going to be the perfect tell-all guide to the GAP/C&O that I had envisioned. But if it inspires some bike travel, I’ll be satisfied with that. I took approximately one billion pictures, but in order to not break the internet I’ll just post some highlights here.

 

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Biking the GAP and C&O trails

FAQ: Does that take you forever and a day?

One of the visions I had for this blog was to write about questions I get asked all. the. time. The funny thing about lifestyle changes is that once you get used to a new or different way of doing things, you often don’t even think twice about it.

So I’ll start off with a common one, which is how long it takes me to get from A to B versus driving. It really depends on where you are, which is one of the things that makes answering this question kind of tricky. Getting a feel for local roads is something that also just takes some time and getting used to, and it took me baby steps over the last 7 years to get used to. After all, most Americans spend our lives from a four-wheeled, car centric viewpoint that we typically take for granted.

What surprised me years ago when this all began was that in an urban setting biking is actually the fastest way to get around. It’s one of the aspects of cycling that wooed me into buying a pawn shop bike in Vienna while studying abroad (that and the 50 euros a month for a transit pass was far more than buying and selling back a bike). Even in a city with one of the best public transit systems in the world, I could get from our student house in the city suburbs to the middle of the Ringstrasse with 10-15 minutes to spare before the rest of the class joined up via bus/subway/streetcar.

When you factor in time for finding parking in a city and then walking from the garage to your destination, biking from the outskirts into a downtown location is also often the most efficient method of transportation. The efficiency decreases as distance and average speed limits increase, and often a 10 minute drive in a suburban area equates to a 30 minute bike ride, and this summer 252 miles broken into a 3 day trek across South Carolina was a disheartening 3 hour drive back when it was over.

When it comes to work, what would be a 5 minute drive in a car is under a 15 minute bike ride, following the “x3” rule of thumb. Last year I had a much longer commute across town that took a combined hour between biking and the bus, but if I’d driven I’d have had to allow for an interstate disaster and allotted myself at least 30 minutes, really 45 to be on the safe side.

The best way of figuring out how long different routes would take is the Google Maps bike feature. I’ve found that this calculation tends to assume you are on a mountain bike or city cruiser going an average 12 mph, so on a road bike I almost always shave off a few minutes from the projected time.

You can also check out the recommended cycling routes in your area using the “bicycling” feature on Google Maps and determining your own route. When I first moved to Greenville I scoped out some of these roads in my car before exploring them on my bike, but street view is also a handy tool for getting a feel for different roads. Dark green means a dedicated bike path, lighter solid green is a bike lane, and dotted lines mean sharrows or a recommended lower traffic route. I’ve included a screen shot of Greenville for an example:

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Generally more stores and development mean more traffic, and for Greenville this holds true as the east side of town near the interstates is a traffic clogged nightmare (also where you’ll find the mall, car dealerships, Costco, Target etc), whereas the west side of town is (for now) relatively quiet and it’s generally much easier to share the road.

Finally, avoid Apple maps at all costs, because until they have similar technology, Siri will not understand anything in between walking and driving speed and will lure you to an untimely death by trying to reroute you onto a highway if you’re moving anywhere above 5 mph.

Alternatively, this could be summed up as:

Q: Wow how long does it take you to ride your bike there?

A: Not really that long, I don’t have to worry about a standstill on an interstate, and I never have to pay for parking 🙂

FAQ: Does that take you forever and a day?