When I arrived in Buffalo for college, I came with my Fuji 10-speed bike that I loved so much at home. But the truth is, when you don’t know where to go in Buffalo, it feels like the city is 100x bigger than it truly is. My first ride out, I got stuck on a bad road and inevitably picked up a piece of glass along with a few honks. I carried my bike for an hour back to my dorm, sweaty and defeated. I never wanted to ride again.
I’m now finishing up my senior year at UB and have retired that old 10-speed. I have 3 bikes now and feel like I’ve traveled everywhere there is to go safely by bike around Buffalo, although I’m sure there’s still more to come. Of course, I still pick up glass from time to time, but my time working at Handlebars Cycle Company over the past year has helped me get the tools and skills needed to deal with that.
All of these rides I’m about to explain can be completed with the simplest of bikes and at the slowest of paces. All of these are longer rides, but don’t be afraid of the quick ride around the neighborhood or out to the Dairy Queen. In truth, many smaller rides are superior to the singular long fast rides of the “racer” types. These rides are just for when you feel like making a day out of it.
Since I’m living near the UB South Campus, I’m gonna separate these 7 rides into two categories — drive there or ride there. The “drive there” category is not accessible safely (or at least not without riding on the sidewalk, etc.) and necessitates a short drive (less than 30 minutes) to an entrance. The other category is “ride there”, meaning I use the North Buffalo Rails to Trails to get up to Tonawanda where you can choose your path from there. If you live in Downtown Buffalo you can still bike all the way up to North Buffalo to get to these “bike there” spots, but you have to factor that into the miles I give for those rides.
Clarence Bike Path
Clarence is a great place to begin if you’re looking for a longer ride that is still easygoing. Depending on where you begin and how much you want to explore, the ride can range from 10-40 miles. There are also maps all along the path to let you know where you are at all times. The full trail system forms a “Y” shape with a converging point in the middle that has a little shelter and a porta-potty. Each piece of the “Y” is roughly 6 miles long and then there’s a smaller piece that leads up to the town of Akron. You’ll need to do some exploring through the town but there’s a waterfall there that you can use as a destination for an out-and-back.
The ride up to Niagara Falls is a little bit more challenging as it provides less opportunity to choose your own distance. Coming from the UB South Campus area it’s a solid 40 miles out-and-back. But the good thing is that it’s scenic throughout, and the payoff is self-explanatory. Even if you’ve seen it before, the views are just that much better after a long ride. Make sure to bring food with you or plan on stopping in La Salle before or after you reach the falls, no need to pay tourist prices while you’re there.
Chestnut Ridge Park
If you want to climb hills in Buffalo, you go to Orchard Park. Buffalo is notoriously flat, which is great for going fast or just noodling around the neighborhood. I grew up just South of Albany, where the difficulty of your ride isn’t how long or fast you went, it’s how much you climbed. Chestnut Ridge Park is a short ride of ups and downs and lots of tricky turns. It’ll be tempting, but go slow on your first lap around exploring. You’ll soon learn how to use the descents to build up enough speed for the climbs, but it’s a fickle process, and one you should be cautious of. Tight turns and cars could be around any corner.
Delaware Park is hardly a long ride, it’s just a loop, not even a mile long. But it’s safe away from cars, scenic and provides a good beginning for a longer ride further south. You can do a couple laps around the park to warm up and put some miles on before exiting off to the right to the Jesse Kregel Parkway. If you follow that path, the fork in the road either takes you up a bridge or further along into a Japanese Garden. No matter which way you go, you can take it into the Elmwood Village which has a couple lanes for bikes. I don’t have too much experience in biking around the city yet, but I’m planning on doing more of that this summer so hopefully I can come back with another article of city rides.
Shoreline Trail: Tonawanda to Downtown
The main draw for this route are the views along the water throughout and the practicality of a route like this. When you get into Buffalo you can continue to follow protected lanes throughout and follow other trails Southbound. If you’re going up to Tonawanda, you can stop in at the main street for a completely different experience from the city. The path travels along the Niagara River for around 7-10 miles depending on where you get on and off. You might have to take it slow for the first half as people walking usually crowd the trail but after a certain point you practically have the whole thing to yourself. If you’re doing an out-and-back and aren’t used to doing long rides, be careful of how far you have gone because this route seems to rack up miles fast.
The ride up to Lockport is a good challenge for an intermediate biker. The mileage could seem daunting at first — 25 miles up, 25 miles back. But the route isn’t difficult and provides a good balance of time on a path and on roads (with a large shoulder). If anything, especially on your first time doing the ride, it feels more like an adventure than grueling miles. When you reach Lockport, you’re met with a hill leading down to the lock, and then a steeper hill once you reach it. As tempting as it is to bomb down that steep hill, I’d recommend that you stop in at Steamworks Cafe to get coffee, pastries, etc. to refuel. That steep hill next to the lock is more than fun but you reap what you sow climbing back up. Once you have enough energy to get back on the road, the ride back will always feel shorter than the ride there and before you know it you’ll have ridden close to 50 miles.
Medina is a charming town along the Erie Canalway Trail and a good place for a 2-day trip if you wanna stay at a bed-and-breakfast. At 40 miles, it’s comfortable for a day ride but a little too uncomfortable for an out-and-back. The ride there is the 25 miles of riding to Lockport and then 15 miles on the gravel trail itself, which you can ride with any tire that has a little traction. The 15 miles of trail riding is right along the canal for the most part which is very scenic but I would recommend heavily applying sunblock, as there is hardly any suncover. When you arrive in Medina, I’d recommend stopping at Avanti’s Pizza. The slices there are nearly as big as your head so I’d only go with one unless you’re really hungry.
Bonus – This cannot be completed with the simplest of bikes and at the slowest of paces.
Biking to Rochester is 100 miles. It’s fun, but it’s not fun. I have a bike that is perfect for that kind of riding and I was still hurting. That being said, if you want it, it’s definitely there for you. Stop in at that Medina pizza place as a good midway spot for lunch and make sure you have enough water/gatorade. There are also lock towns along the trail that you can stop in on to refill water. The signage once you hit Rochester is laughably bad. Everything is covered in graffiti, but as long as you slow down and maybe look at your phone for a little, you shouldn’t get too lost around that park the route sends you through. At that point in the ride you’re so exhausted that, depending on where you’re staying, you might just want to ask for a ride to their house, or if you’re staying at a hotel then plan on ordering in. But you made it and that’s all that matters. Some high points near Rochester are Pittsford Dairy and the REI store along the trail. Pittsford Dairy was my dinner one ride and then my breakfast the next time I went through there. There’s not much else to say to be honest, most of it comes down to just putting your head down, podcasts and muscle memory.