Cape Cod Rail-Trail

The Cape Cod trail extends 27 miles from South Dennis to Wellfleet, Massachusetts. It is paved and has bike rental, food and rest stops along the trail, The trail passes several cranberry bogs on the western end. The trail also includes a traffic circle/rotary/round-about as part of the trail at the intersection with the Old Colony Rail-Trail.

I rode most of the trail in early May 2022. It was mostly flat with only an occasional small incline to pass over some busy roads. When there are road crossings traffic is supposed to stop for trail users and most do. There was one short on road section that was not well marked. I called up Google maps to be sure I was headed in the right direction. Overall, I found it to be a very enjoyable ride.

 

See a video of my ride on my YouTube channel Mark’s Bike Tock

Here are a couple of links for more information:

https://www.mass.gov/locations/cape-cod-rail-trail

https://www.capecodbikeguide.com/railtrail.asp






























Minuteman Commuter Bikeway

The Minuteman Trail is north of Boston. It is a Rail-Trail Hall of Fame trail. The 11 miles paved trail is often included in the top 10 bike rides in the Boston area. It roughly follows the route taken by Paul Revere on his famous midnight ride.

I rode the trail the beginning of May, 2022. There is garage parking at the southern end of the trail. I instead parked at 42.40069588271775, -71.14513804643462. This is a surface lot at a public park a very short distance up the trail. There is a 2 hour limit for parking which is free. I was a bit longer and didn’t have any issues.

The trail itself was asphalt paved making for a generally smooth ride. Just a few tree root bumps here and there to watch for. Mile markers were signs attached to granite posts. Unfortunately, vandals removed these signs on a couple of the posts. Similar signs were apparently added later to indicate half miles. These are mounted on steel posts. There are bike shops, eateries, and visitor centers right on the trail. As with most urban trails there were a fair number of users especially on the south end near Boston. I rode midday, I would guess it gets even busier in the morning and afternoon commute times. The south end of this trail ends as the Alewife mass transit station.

The trail is just a few miles from Logan airport so you will see and hear planes passing over the trail. You are still far enough that the planes are already high enough to not create significant noise.

If you are interested in history this trail oozes it in spades. Not just railroad history (is also has that) but American history. A history buff could spend all day just in Lexington.

To see a video of my ride visit Mark's Bike Tock on YouTube.  For more information visit the bikeway website: minutemanbikeway.org   


























Farmington Canal Heritage Trail

 

The Farmington Canal Trail extends across Connecticut and into Massachusetts. It starts in New Haven on the campus of Yale (an additional 1.5 miles is planned to extend to the waters of the Long Island Sound) and continues north, bisecting the state ending in Massachusetts. The trail is approximately 80 miles in total. Unfortunately, it is not completed with some sections temporarily on roads.  

I rode this trail the end of April, 2022. I started at the southern end and did about 19 miles before returning. This portion of the trail plus an additional 5 or so miles, is paved, off road bike path. There are numerous road crossings, but they are well marked. Drivers are supposed to stop for trail users and generally do.

The asphalt was in good shape with only the occasional root bump. It was great seeing several stops along the trail that include flush toilets. That is in addition to the several commercial establishments along and near the trail. Mile markers were sometimes visible painted on the trail surface but were often faded beyond usability.

For more information visit the Farmington Trail website at FCHTrail.org To see a video of my ride visit my YouTube channel Mark’s Bike Tock.

























Xenia

The Miami Valley in Ohio has a network of paved trails that connect ten counties in the valley. Together this makes about 350 miles of trails concentrated on one area. They claim to be the largest network of paved trails in the country and this seems to be reasonable. The hub of this system in a small visitor center called Xenia Station in the town of Xenia. This concentration of trails has made Xenia a popular destination for cyclists that prefer to ride trails.

Before I traveled there I pictured a small town of a few hundred people. I arrived to find a much larger community of over 26,000 people. The Little Miami Trail connects to the Ohio to Erie Trail in Xenia. In addition to these major trails the Creekside Trail also ends at Xenia Station. That means you can go in five different directions from Xenia Station. All these trails in turn connect to other trails across the Miami Valley.

The trails are identified on maps and signs by numbers. The Ohio to Erie is number 1. The Creekside is number 2. The Little Miami uses both #1 and #3. #3 is also the designation of the Simon Kenton Trail. Most of these trails are also part of the US bicycle route designation with an additional numeric designation.

The trails use mile markers that start with Xenia Station as mile zero. This can be a bit confusing if the trail does not start/end in Xenia. That is a bit of a moot point since the markers are painted on the center of the trail surface and almost all are not legible.

Generally these trails are paved, about 12 feet wide with an additional grassy shoulder. The surface is very smooth. The trails are very straight and flat. Exceptions are at road crossings where the trails usually turn a bit so they cross perpendicular to the road. This makes it easier to see in both directions.

More information including a detailed map may be found at the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission website mvrpc.org/bikeways  





How Far, How Fast

I see a lot of posts on social media about measuring distance traveled on a bike or occasional posts about average speed. Many times it is a debate over the merits of a dedicated cycling device vs a smartphone app. As an experienced cyclist trained in electronic engineering here are some of my thoughts.

Distance is generally measured one of two ways. The device may count revolutions of your wheel, or it may use GPS. Both methods will result in some amount of error. If you assume there is no slippage between your wheel and the riding surface then the first method seems like it should be more accurate. This depends on the system accurately knowing the circumference of the wheel being measured. Usually this is done by entering the wheel or tire size into the system. Assuming you calibrate the system in this way you should get a reasonable accurate distance measurement. There will still be error due to differing tread patterns on the tire resulting in a slightly different circumference. These slight differences add up with each revolution of the wheel. This results in what is know as systematic error. The error is the same all the time since the difference between assumed circumference and actual circumference is constant. Of course tire wear will also introduce some error but you get the idea.

What about GPS? GPS measures the distance from the GPS unit to a satellite orbiting overhead. If you know the location of the satellite, then you know you are somewhere along a sphere with a radius equal to that distance. Do the same with another satellite and you now know you are somewhere along the intersection of the two spheres. A third satellite narrows you location to a single point.

There are a lot of different sources of error with GPS. The distance is determined by the time it takes the signal to travel from the satellite to your location. The signal travels at the speed of light so the times are short. This means time measurements need to be very accurate. Atomic clocks on the satellites assure accuracy. In order to stay in orbit the satellites must orbit a high velocity. Velocities are fast enough to require a correction due to Einstein’s theory of relativity! This is done inside the GPS unit without the user even being aware. So where does the error come from?

The GPS satellite signals can locate you to within a few feet. Software uses additional tricks to increase accuracy. For example, it may use known locations of Wi-Fi hotspots or cell towers to fine tune location. These types of corrections vary with specific devices and manufactures. This leads to slight differences in results.

Another difference is sampling rate. Consider traveling along a curve. If your GPS samples often then your route approximates the curve. If the unit samples less frequently your route will look like a series of straight lines (chords). The straight lines will add to a shorter distance than the circle. There are many other small errors that vary depending on the software/hardware used. These errors are known as random errors.

Speed is easy once distance is determined. Time measurements are very accurate so speed accuracy depends on accuracy of distance.  Reporting speed is another issue. Do you report the speed you see while cruising on a straight away or the average indicated on your device. Road crossings result in a slower average even with auto pause functionality. Rail-trail surfaces typically result in a slower speed than roads. Hybrid and mountain bikes are slower than road bikes. Knobby tires are slower than slick tires.

I have used several software apps and dedicated devices. There is generally some difference in the results. I have also compared results with mile markers along various trails. I have found the differences to be slight, less than 1%. Many cyclists seem to concerned about these errors but unless you are a very elite cyclist doing serious training, I don’t see anything to worry about.

I always carry my phone and don’t see a need for an additional device. There are several apps available for free. Many others prefer a dedicated device. Let’s consider some pros and cons. The dedicated units are much smaller and lighter than a phone. I however prefer the piece of mind of having a phone for medical, mechanical or other emergencies. A respite from phone calls can easily be achieved with the phone power switch, airplane mode or ringer shut off.

One frequently cited difference is battery life. There is no question that a dedicated device has a much longer battery life than a smartphone. That being said, I don’t have any problems using my phone even for rides extending 8 or more hours. Some suggestions for prolonging phone battery life include closing any apps not being used.  Keep your screen shut off unless you are actually using the phone. Since I ride rails-trails navigation is not an issue. Just having the screen on uses a lot of power. Use airplane mode unless you are actually making a call. GPS will continue to work in airplane mode. This is especially important in poor or no coverage areas. Your phone increases power usage to try to maintain contact with cell towers in poor coverage areas.

Shut off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth unless you use Bluetooth sensors for speed and/or cadence. Keep your phone warm. Cold batteries don’t perform well. In cold temps keep your phone inside your jacket. You can also carry a portable charger, a small auxiliary battery that plugs into the charging port. Most are the size of a cigarette lighter.

Tunnels

I find it fun to get a chance to ride tunnels when ridding the trails. Some are lit or short but many require you to plan ahead with lights. If you plan on ridding any of these trails be aware that some of these tunnels close during the winter in order to reduce the number of damaging freeze thaw cycles. Here are some of the trails that include tunnels that I have ridden:

  • Path of the Flood Trail in PA has one tunnel, the Staple Bend Tunnel. It is 900 ft long and has the distinction of being the oldest rail tunnel in US
  • York Heritage Trail in PA has one short tunnel, the Howard Tunnel. At 275 ft it is second oldest rail tunnel in US
  • Elroy – Sparta Trail in WI is considered the first rail-trail in the US. It has three tunnels.
  • The Mickelson Trail in SD has four tunnels.
  • Route of the Hiawatha in ID and extending just over the line into MT has nine tunnels. The first on the ID – MT line is the most significant at 8771 ft. It is called the Taft Tunnel or the St Paul Pass.
  • Historic Railroad Trail was set up on a specially built rail line for the construction of the Hoover Dam in NV.  It has five tunnels.
  • Great Allegany Passage, PA (and MD) includes four tunnels. The longest is Big Savage at 3295 ft. Next is the Borden Tunnel at 957 ft and the Brush Tunnel at 914 ft. The Brush Tunnel also carries the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. The Pinkerton Tunnel is 849 ft.
  • The Montour Trail in PA has three tunnels.
  • Abandoned Turnpike is a unique ride in PA. Included are the Sideling Hill Tunnel at 6662 ft and the Rays Hill Tunnel at 3532 ft.
  • The Katy Trail in MO has one 243 ft tunnel, the Rocheport Tunnel.



Abandoned Turnpike, PA

Abandoned Turnpike, PA

Abandoned Turnpike, PA

Elroy - Sparta, WI

Great Allegany Passage, PA, MD

Great Allegany Passage, PA, MD

Great Allegany Passage, PA, MD

Great Allegany Passage, PA
reopened since picture

Historic Railroad Trail, NV

Mickelson Trail, SD

Mickelson Trail, SD

Mickelson Trail, SD

Montour Trail, PA

Path of the Flood Trail, PA

Route of the Hiawatha, ID, MT

Route of the Hiawatha, ID, MT

Route of the Hiawatha, ID, MT

Route of the Hiawatha, ID, MT

Route of the Hiawatha, ID, MT

York Heritage Trail, PA














Katy Trail, MO




























































































































































































































































































































One more tunnel that deserves mention is the Turn Hole Tunnel in Glen Onoko, PA. It is an abandoned rail tunnel but you can't ride it. It is adjacent to the D&L Trail and is open to walk through and explore.

adjacent D&L Trail, PA

adjacent D&L Trail, PA

adjacent D&L Trail, PA