2010 Annual Guide to the Great Outdoors
Through the Adirondacks on bicycles built for two
by Elizabeth Folwell
UNLESS YOU’RE THE LEAD DOG the view never changes. But if you occupy the rear seat of a bicycle built for two you have the luxury of not keeping your eyes on the macadam directly in front of the handlebars. That’s the captain’s job, along with shifting gears, braking and avoiding potholes. The stoker can watch for wildlife, read a map or even daydream. All in a state of bliss as both riders pedal in, well, tandem.
“How many activities can couples share where both look equally stylish, graceful and capable?” asks Bill McCready, president of Santana Cycles, a tandem manufacturer based in La Verne, California. “While most activities reveal our differences in strength, style and grace, every couple looks great on a tandem. We call this the Fred and Ginger factor.”
That classic, elegant partners imagery is pervasive. “When a couple gets in synch pedaling and balancing it’s like dancing,” says bike designer Dwan Shepard.
If mastering a good solo road bike provides a true sense of freedom, rolling with a partner is about as close to ﬂying as you can get with two wheels and no motor. Efﬁcient gears, strong but lightweight frames, long wheelbases and shock-absorbing seat posts put tandems in a whole new category. More than 20 gears bring any terrain within reach. A seat that truly ﬁts—and time spent getting accustomed to it, callouses and all—makes a huge difference in the overall ride quality.
Then there is price: a comfortable tandem can cost $2,000, while a high-performance bike in a custom paint job with your preferred pedals, bars and saddles can head for twice that and then some. But a ﬁne machine will last for many decades and thousands of miles, given the care it deserves.
Tandem cycles have been around for more than a century, according to Shepard, co-founder of Co-Motion, a tandem company headquartered in Eugene, Oregon. The new generation was created by road cyclists “who wanted the same kind of performance out of a tandem they got from a high-end road bike. The big, old-style balloon-tire tandems rode themselves. Picture a Cadillac versus a BMW. The Caddy is ﬁne for straight lines, but wouldn’t you rather drive a BMW on mountain roads?” he says. Engineering is one key to the way a machine responds. Fitting a bike is both art and science, so that a ﬁve-foot-tall stoker can reach the pedals and bars in back just as comfortably as a six-four captain can in the front. Shifting, balancing on turns, even starting out from a standstill take practice and coordination.
But once the riding becomes smooth, after a few trips that build conﬁdence and communication, there’s an interesting evolution. “You can take two cyclists of vastly divergent abilities and they really ride together as a team,” explains Chris Leary, from Warrensburg, who has navigated tandems with his wife, Charley, for years. “One cardinal rule for the captain: never tell the stoker to pedal harder,” he adds. The captain sets the pace, according to the strength and stamina of both riders.
The seductive sensation of gliding starts on the ﬂats, and descents can feel downright breathtaking as you hit 30 miles per hour or more. The ﬂip side is the dogged perseverance that climbs require. Leary says, “The secret to hills is momentum. It’s not just being in the proper gear but anticipating the climb.”
Going “around the block” for some riders can be the 56-mile cycle course of the Ironman, through Lake Placid, Jay and Keene; for central Adirondackers the circuit is 80 miles on Route 28 from North Creek and back, via Blue Mountain Lake and Newcomb.
If that sounds as enticing as chewing barbed wire, Lindy Ellis and Rich Shapiro, of Saranac Lake, offer less epic alternatives. The couple moved their Gear-to-Go Tandems to the Adirondacks in 2009, after operating in Elmira, New York, for 15 years. They’re here, selling top-quality tandems and organizing rides, because they love the landscape. Their idea of a great trip includes stopping for ice cream, taking a swim midway through the trek and, above all, soaking up Adirondack scenery and sensations.
Tandems turn heads, and bystanders wave, whistle and call out. Gary Schiavi, who lives outside Warrensburg and has bicycled all over the world—clocking more than 5,000 kilometers in 13 countries—says with a laugh, “We may be in Italy, Germany or France and the people we pass all yell the same thing—‘She’s not pedaling!’”
Rides and Rallies
Cyclists inevitably become connoisseurs of asphalt, sharing tips on where the smooth new pavement gleams blue-black on a summer morning. The book 25 Bicycle Tours in the Adirondacks: Road Adventures in the East’s Largest Wilderness (Countryman Press) lists plenty. Below are suggestions from veteran North Country riders. Carry a detailed highway map that clearly identifies country roads. A GPS can be handy for the stoker to consult.
Loon Lake Circle
Gary Schiavi suggests Loon Lake public beach for starting this 30-mile trip: there is both parking and a good spot for a post-ride swim. Go west on Route 8 (also Route 9), then north on Route 9 to Pottersville, where you make the first right out of town on Glendale Road. Cross the bridge over the outlet of Schroon Lake (look for the state boat access) and take the first left toward Adirondack. Follow Beaver Pond Road from Adirondack until it tees at Palisades Road. Turn right and ride along the shore of Brant Lake. Palisades Road ends at Route 8, so take this back to the start. Route 8 was paved last year, which helps, but it can still be heavily traveled on summer weekends.
Start at the parking area in Riverbank, just off Northway Exit 24, for this 30-mile ride that keeps close to the banks of the Schroon River and later, the Hudson. Head north on Schroon River Road. Turn left on Route 8, going straight at the Chestertown stoplight. Turn left at Friends Lake Road, then make the second left onto Atateka Road and follow this to Potter Brook Road (the intersection marked by Circle B Ranch). Stay on Potter Brook until the road tees. Turn left on Route 28. Take the first right onto Golf Course Road and stay on this into Warrensburg. By bearing right at Griffin House (formerly the Merrill Magee House) you avoid Main Street and end up at the Schroon River Road intersection, where you can proceed straight through the light across Route 9 and north to the starting point.
The Glen-Hudson Road offers nice riding as a 25-mile loop by itself or combined with the previous route. From Warrensburg, park near the Hudson River, take the County Road 418 bridge west toward Stony Creek. After crossing the Thurman bridge and railroad tracks, make a right on River Road, keeping the Hudson on your right. Then turn left at Bowen Hill Road. This merges onto the Glen-Athol Road, where you stay right and then head back to Route 28. Take 28 south (shoulders are narrow here, so choose a quiet day for this ride) to the Golf Course Road intersection as described above.
Saranac Lake-Norman Ridge-Franklin Falls Pond
This 30-or-so-mile ride suggested by Ellis and Shapiro combines vibrant villages, mountain views and roads skirting river and pond. From Saranac Lake’s Broadway or the fish and game club two miles beyond the town center, ride Route 3 along the Saranac River to Bloomingdale, then to Vermontville. Turn right (east) on Norman Ridge Road and climb up to panoramic views of Lookout and Whiteface Mountains. Turn left on Fletcher Farm Road, then right on Franklin Falls Road, to reach Franklin Falls Pond. The rolling ride along this impoundment of the Saranac River back to Bloomingdale is beautiful. Return to Saranac Lake on Route 3. Keese Mills Road This out-and-back route allows tandems to cruise between glacial hills and the St. Regis River. The road has very gradual terrain and little traffic. Start at the intersection of Route 30 and Keese Mills Road; you can park at Paul Smith’s College. Ride west on Keese Mills Road, turning around at about 7.5 miles. The road does continue, but is unpaved. Brighton-Onchiota-Bloomingdale Forests and rolling hills make this 20-miler a nice choice for tandem teams. The loop starts at Brighton’s town hall on County Road 31 (Jones Pond Road) and heads toward Onchiota. Turn left on County Road 60 (Rainbow Lake Road), then right on Oregon Plains Road toward Bloomingdale. Climb west on St. Regis Street (County Road 55) to Split Rock Road and then take a right on Route 86. Continue west to Gabriels. Head back to the town hall via Easy Street, climbing up and rolling back to your vehicle.
Saranac Lake Tandem Rally (SLTR)
June 25–June 27
Shapiro and Ellis have run the Southern Tier Tandem Rally, in Elmira, for years and are launching an event here this summer. The gathering of 50 to 60 people offers scenic rides that range from 14 to 60 miles, plus barbecues, wine tastings and other socializing. Register in advance by calling (518) 891-1869. See www.GTGtandems.com for details.
Easy Adirondacks Tandem Tour
Saranac Lake, June 28–July 2
A tandem tour for 10 couples, also arranged by Gear-to-Go, starts in Saranac Lake immediately after the rally. Cyclists travel to Tupper Lake, Potsdam and Malone and ride back to Saranac Lake, averaging 40 miles per day. The event is not all pedaling and pavement; stops at swimming holes, trailheads and the Wild Center, in Tupper Lake, are scheduled.
Eastern Tandem Rally, Saratoga Springs, July 2–4
This is a blockbuster for about 200 tandem fans, and over its four decades the event has become a well-oiled machine, exploring Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; Cape Cod, Massachusetts; Williamsburg, Virginia; plus other scenic and historic destinations. Each day presents a variety of rides on country roads in Saratoga and Washington Counties as well as ventures into the southern Adirondacks. Call (518) 439-4094 or visit www.easterntandemrally.org for information.