Rides We Like: The Overlooked Gravel Roads of Bucks County
(2017) Apparently there was some big to-do last night in the American sporting world. It is why I waited to publish this until Monday. Who would read something about cycling on a Sunday night weighed down with wings, beverages, and pizza? I spent the night struggling to stay awake as the hangover from a cold ride continued to zap my energy hours after completion.
Yup. Mike was there. Our ride had changed plans a few times. One aspiration that remained constant was the desire to hit a gravel road or two. Figuring people were where they needed to be for the “big game,” we took liberty in road selection.
For those who don’t know Mike, he and I have a few meeting spots based on which direction we’re headed. The ride was designated to be a low-and-slow event; both of us have been following a training plan that saw the slight ramping up for effort for the week. At some point leading up to the ride I felt the legs coming around and suggested upping the average pace for today’s ride. I repeated that request each time Mike rode away at a sporting pace.
We headed down to the river. Our plans were to use the Easton-Bristol canal path. This is a sixty-mile one-way affair linking both towns. The canal was in use in the mid 1800s but fell out of favor in what seemed like short time considering the amount of effort it took to build. It can be a great way to see old portions of Bucks County. It is a hardly taxing ride that often times overlooks the Delaware River. Sure there are times when a rider strangely needs to duck when passing below a bridge, or call out to avoid a head-on collision. Absolutely there are plank bridges connecting otherwise two dead ends. And then there are the houses, one group safely behind the canal should the river jump its banks, and one group who, I can only imagine, sweat it out any time precipitation arrives in the area.
Plus it’s gravel. That’s what we were looking for. Ignoring the wafting smells of numerous restaurants and taverns, we made our way to the spread out address of Erwinna, PA. We decided the Stagecoach Road climb would be the best way to recover from a tough week of effort. I had to admire the tucked away schoolhouse at the base on the climb. Where else in the world is a standard schoolhouse wedged between a rock wall and a large creek with an impressive pine tree umbrella? I imagined how many hours I would have stared out those windows as a student. We continued up the climb to gain an expansive view of upper Bucks County. The road switched to gravel and the phones came out to snap photos. It is certainly a road to give anyone pause, especially during sunset.
We plunged back down to access another dirt road, Mt. Airy Road is also a difficult climb for a rest day, but what’s more is that it’s rutted gravel. It circumnavigates a small cabin negating any chance for a rider to harness momentum. A right turn deals a steep pitch. Today that pitch had a lovely sheen of ice on it. This area probably never sees the sun in the deep of winter. The left turn adorned with an on looking herd of white tail deer gives another rutted steep climb. There was no chance to prepare for it. The climb continues over the horizon for quite sometime. It’s a think ribbon through thickly forested acreage. It does come with a nice descent to tap into a cyclocross feel only to end abruptly at a road called Twin Lear.
By now, those who have taken the challenge of Kermesse Sports’ Fools Classic should recognize these road names. The Fools Classic bends and twists to suck up each and every gravel road around this area. It is a hardman/ hardwoman’s ride. There are moments when registrants will ride alone, having lost the group who could be just around the next corner or over the next bump. But Bucks County doesn’t play nice in these situations; it enjoys making the event worthy of the bragging rights.
Twin Lear Road is like no other experience in gravel riding, I’m convinced. This road suddenly drops off on its way back down to the Delaware River. Riders squeeze the brakes to maintain the slightest control over their rigs. Hands cramp to keep the bike from firing down the decline where a sharp left into a sharp right could cause some concern should brake failure to occur. Don’t worry about the right turn, if the brakes fail, the structure on the outside of the left turn will surely stop you quickly.
If that isn’t enough, Twin Lear turns back onto itself at the bottom to become another unpaved road of Smithtown. I remarked to Mike how I wanted to grab onto the street sign ala cyclocross style just to whip around the acute right hand turn. It’s ok if you let the bike run a little bit past this turn. There’s a runaway bike ramp that can be utilized. Don’t worry, I used it once myself.
This brings us up the lovely Smithtown gravel section complete with shale cliffs and a deep cut creek. There’s even a spring that ejects water via a pipe in case the water situation is low. The forest is a mixture of coniferous and deciduous. This is certainly a road that I often wish to share with visiting cyclists I never meet. Where shall I ride to get the full Bucks County experience? they may ask somewhere else. I would lead them here for this short stretch of unsealed road. The hill isn’t even that taxing, despite Mike riding away again.
We wound our way toward High Rocks Vista Park to collect Tory Road and its unpaved attribute. That would make five gravel roads in fewer than thirty miles. This is the benefit of being in Bucks County. One could stop here and take in the cliff top scenery just scores of feet from the road.
Strangely enough we saw people out on the roads during our ride, but in the unlikeliest of places. We encountered cars on three of the five gravel sections, which I pointed out to Mike. I am hopeful people are touring the roads to get ideas for future bike rides. Yet as I nodded off on the couch in the early evening after a day of wind blasting and cloudy skies, I couldn’t shake off the desire to go back and add more gravel roads. Eventually the demand will be too great, and I’d have to register for the Fools Classic to string them all together.