Biking the Erie Canalway Trail

Last week I had the pleasure of biking along the Erie Canalway Trail from Buffalo to my hometown of Albany, NY. There are dozens of guides online but I found the greatest advice is almost always the most personal and recent kind. So if you’re located anywhere along the canalside trail and are looking to ride it sooner rather than later, I have some tips for you. I’ll split the tips up into what I learned over the four days I completed the trail.

Day 1 

You can afford the long mornings. Going at your own pace is essential to a trip of any kind. That includes the mornings. I triple checked my setup, had a few cups of coffee, and watched the season 2 finale of Succession (it always hypes me up) before I left at 11. The first day out to Rochester is pretty grueling. There isn’t a lot of sun cover after you exit Lockport and besides the canal towns along the trail, there isn’t much support in general. It’s just you and the trail. You can visit Medina for Avanti’s Pizza. Only get one slice though, it will be enough. They’re the size of your head. You can stop along other towns for pieces of food and water, but I think Medina is a good midpoint between Buffalo and Rochester or wherever you stop in between. Now should be a good time to mention that the best way to ride the Erie Canal gravel is with a thick, high quality tire. I have 700x40s on my bike and found it very capable for the terrain. You can bike this trail with any bike and any tire. But for the best ride, you want to go with wide, high quality tires without too much tread. Although grueling, the first day is without much interruption, so a steady and consistent pace will bring you far.

Day 2

I started day 2 by realizing my slides and hat had fallen off the back of my bike. Conveniently though, there is an REI store right along the trail in Rochester that you can use to get supplies for the upcoming days. They open at 9 though so don’t get there too early. There’s also Pittsford Dairy, conveniently located near the trail right outside of Rochester. Another place to stock up on sweets. Ice cream for breakfast is a good way to start the day. I like to eat whatever I want on these trips. When you’re burning close to 2000 calories a day (sometimes more), you can afford these types of things. This trip to have fun, not to eat healthy. I recommend the banana split. On this day it rained quite hard and while that affected how fast I could ride, it also cleared the trails. After a while you simply get used to the conditions and enjoy it. It doesn’t matter whether it’s hot or cold or raining. Pack for everything and accept what you pack. If you do end up with conditions that affect your gear I would recommend getting a hotel for the night though. There are limits. This trip is to have fun, not to be miserable.

Day 3 

There is an acceptable amount of misery. That’s one of the reasons I like going on these trips by myself. My acceptable amount of miserability might be more or less than someone else’s. You always reach that feeling of being miserable, but if you’re with someone else then one of you is indefinitely dragging the other along. This day I went through Syracuse and ended right before Utica. This was not a fun riding day. I would recommend checking a map consistently through Rome and the surrounding areas as the signage is poor. Some of the trails are well-maintained during this section, most are not. Expect variation. I camped at Lock 20. It’s almost never a good idea to beat the sunset, it’s a losing battle. I was meaning to get to Lock 16 but would have gotten there at sunset and had to set up all my stuff in the dark. I instead ended at 5:30 and got ample sunlight to set up. Be careful what you bring for food too, I naively brought frozen burritos that were a soggy mess by the 3rd day but it was all I had. Bring something dry like pb&j ingredients and bananas or specialty camp foods (you can buy these at the REI in Rochester). I also need to mention that you always want dinner when you’re done riding. You might not always want breakfast. Leave that for the road. But always eat dinner. 

Day 4 

Never underestimate the willpower you can muster up when you’re close enough to home. If you have it in you to ride all the way instead of camping another night, sure enough you will find a way. It’s the best way to finish, anyway. A medium-hard ride that gets you home in the early afternoon is just anticlimactic. Candy and energy drinks are your friend and will be plentiful at gas stations along the trail but it’s always good to throw in a clif bar. This day I went from a little before Utica and ended in Albany. Roughly 120 miles. That last fifth of mileage you barely feel though. The trails in this section are quite nice for the most part and although there’s a lengthy section where you are on the road, the shoulder is manageable. I should also say that you need to bring an extra tube or two on a trip like this just for peace of mind. The bike shops along the trail are nonexistent and the effort to try to get to one so you can fix your bike or get an extra tube is not worth it. Don’t trust google maps or apple maps for this. Do extensive research before to find shops or ideally bring everything you may need in your packing. That’s about all the tips I learned from my trip. I arrived back home late so make sure your lights are charged for the last day. You will definitely use them. Good luck!