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Route advice on travelling west?

Greetings, My son and I plan to ride from Annapolis up the C&O/GAP trail to Pittsburgh. After that we want to go West to Indiana (actually the longitude of Toledo-long story) but it doesn't matter if we go straight west or route north or south before turning west. The limited advice I've received is don't go straight west. We're on a tandem and are experienced riders. Our goal is to have as much fun riding together as possible which means good roads and civilization are preferred. We'll be a mixture of camping and motels. being honest, that probably means more motels after camping up the trail. I'm not getting any younger. Guessing 70 miles a day by then but can flex to 90 have a good time. End of July. Thanks for any help/advice you can provide. Chris
2015-05-26 16:06:05
Adventure Cycling Association has some good routes with maps for sale. I havenb't used them, but people I trust recommend them highly. It doesn't look like they have much going west from Pittsburgh, and their Northern Teir is south of Toledo. I am very sorry to say that the best way west from the GAP is to bipass Pittsburgh itself and the Monour trail - if you imagine a smiley face with dot for a nose, Pittsburgh is the dot and the Montour Trail is a big smile. About15 miloes from the city center. The Montour connects with the Panhandle trail which goes into West Virginia. I haven't the foggiest after that, though. Good luck.
2015-05-26 16:27:16
ACA, referenced above, is working on a new US Bike Route 50 that might be of interest to you. I will see if I can find a good link.
2015-05-26 18:07:20
Traveling west from Pittsburgh is a little tricky because if you follow the Panhandle trail you end up in the hilly area of Ohio. If you travel northwest to Cleveland things are a lot flatter but you have to deal with some edgy roads. One option is to follow the route we randonneurs use towards Akron: Then find your way to Akron, and follow the Ohio & Erie canal trail to Cleveland. It's fairly flat west from there, at least to Bowling Green, as far as I've been.
2015-05-26 18:30:05
Everything everybody said ^^^^ is quite right. Another option - depending on where you want to penetrate Ohio - is a mishmosh that sort of represents a Pgh-Cleveland route. GAP to Point State Park. Cross the Ft Duquesne Bridge. Chateau Trail to SCI-Pittsburgh (a prison). Up the neighborhood, cross the McKeesRocksBridge. 51 North. Cross the channel to Neville Island (flat, better) At end of Neville Island, join 51N again. Sewickley Bridge. Cross SewickleyBridge. Beaver Street to Ambridge. Cross Ambridge-Aliquippa bridge. 51 North. (full warning: this is a four-lane, limited access highway at 55mph or more. It's also StateBikeRouteA. two cyclists killed on it in last two years) 51North to Monaca. Pizza at Yolanda's. Cross river to Rochester. Cross river to Beaver PA. OptionA: Take PA-68 west to Midland PA and then East Liverpool Ohio. OptionB: Take PA-51 northwest to Columbiana Ohio.
2015-05-26 18:30:53
If you like scenic trails, I'd try to do all of the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath, Zoarville to Cleveland. To get there, I'd go through downtown Pittsburgh (because it would be a shame to miss our nice city), then follow Vannevar's route over the McKees Rocks Bridge to Neville Island, then get on the Montour Trail in Coraopolis, bike west and south to the Panhandle Trail, take that to the end in Weirton WV, cross the bridge to Steubenville (heavy traffic on Route 22 for a few miles), then hilly back roads west and north to Zoarville, there get on the O&E Canal Towpath and follow it all the way north through Akron to Cleveland. It's mostly crushed limestone. Very scenic - kind of like the C&O in that it's a canal towpath, but with a much nicer trail surface. The only part of the above I've never biked is Steubenville to Zoarville. I don't know the routes west of Cleveland. I often use google maps (turn on "bicycling") to find routes.
2015-05-26 21:51:39
Thanks to all of you for responding. I've been making some phone calls, doing the internet thing etc. (Life keeps getting in the way of trip planning-there should be a rule against that!). Some thoughts for your comments please. We can take the Montour trail and add mileage but get to Coraopolis and miss some of 51. Also miss Pittsburgh which would be disappointing. However, nobody seems enthused about 51 out of town. it goes exactly in our preferred direction. Figures. 65 is worse or somebody would have suggested it, right? The bike shop I called said stay off 51 and several of you supplied the heritage trail etc, but it looks like we're on that if we want to go NE. How bad is 51? I suppose the best time to hit it is Sunday rather than a weekday if we go that route, right? Should we consider going east to Clinton and going up 30 instead? Thanks again for your help Chris
2015-06-10 15:41:42
One more follow up. We could, I suppose, go straight north and then cut east. Hwy 8 or similar. Looks like a lot of climbing there. Climbing we can handle. Traffic we can handle. Both together we can handle-without shoulders. Done it before. Sure like to avoid doing it again though! Thanks Chris
2015-06-10 15:46:30
I live in Monaca, in Beaver County, smack dab on Route 51. I ride it regularly. I am ready to die. Northbound especially, you're on a 4-lane road with cars doing 60-65mph. There are some ShareTheRoad signs. There are no sharrows. There is no shoulder at all (northbound) Oct31, 2014 we had an experienced cyclist killed by an over-taking car, hit-and-run, after sunset. This was on 51 just north of Aliquippa. My summary is: I ride it. I would not take my kid out there. (ps: if you'd care to post a date, you might get a PM from somebody offering to shuttle you through the Valley of Route51)
2015-06-10 20:22:50
I live in Beaver and ride it 3-4 times a week-traffic is usually light and respectful of my lane, but fast. Not for the faint of heart but as bikingteach mentions, the most efficient way to get from Pittsburgh to beaver county and west.
2015-06-11 05:47:50
With all due respect to my friend @Vannevar, I've ridden this exact route once, by myself, and several times with other randonneurs. It is far from the worst road I've been on. I think there is some shoulder on at least part of it, though it comes and goes, and it's sometimes completely absent where the drivers want to go fast. You also might not want to ride on the shoulder because of tire-puncturing-crap and a rough surface. But I think you'll draw more attention on a tandem and that will help drivers give you a bit more space. It also helps that traffic is generally pretty light and sight lines are not bad so most drivers will just switch to the other lane.
2015-06-11 15:53:09
+1 for 51 being reasonable to ride, and 65 being much less so. That said, I don't know if it's been made clear that 51 from downtown Pittsburgh is closed for long-term construction; you'd need an alternate route to McKeesport before you could continue on. I'd suggest: 1) Make your way from Pittsburgh to Brighton Heights (California Ave is probably the most direct, other options exist) 2) Take the McKees Rocks Bridge to a right on 51 3) Cross the channel to Neville Island (to avoid some significant hills) 4) Cross back over to rejoin 51 in Coraopolis 5) Stay on 51, or optionally (to avoid the infamous Stoops Ferry climb): 5a) Cross river via Sewickley Bridge, make left on Beaver Ave 5b) Stay on Beaver into Ambridge, where it becomes Merchant. 5c) Left on 11th to cross river again back to 51, and continue on your merry way Depending on when you're coming through, I may be able to offer native guide services...feel free to email me: dan dot blumenfeld at gmail dot com.
2015-06-12 09:37:44
2015-06-12 10:28:40
I'm with Vannevar on this one. I would bike via Steubenville, not Monaca. One of the things I enjoy most about bicycling is the stress relief, but biking on a road like Route 51 is stress-inducing. Side note: I think reddan meant McKees Rocks, not McKeesport.
2015-06-12 11:13:28
Side note: I think reddan meant McKees Rocks, not McKeesport
D'oh. Yeah, sorry about that.
2015-06-12 11:31:22
Once again, thanks everyone. You guys are great and I appreciate the help. Just some thoughts for consideration by other cyclists-many of you will recognize my situation. I won't determine the pace of the group and though I'll do the repairs, pull (such as I can on a tandem), and do the running off trail for groceries, I still expect to be the strongest rider. I think i feel about 51 like jonawebb. Far from the worst that I've ridden on. However I also agree with Vannavar and friends-it doesn't sound like any fun. More dangerous than we'd like. Real opportunity for fear. Almost certainly get away with it because yes the tandem is big and we will be lit up and draw attention. My stoker is coming on this because he loves his father, not from any enthusiasm about biking. Our last tour (1500 miles) was not near as much fun as both of us would have liked. I'd just as soon not scare him. I think it is very reasonable to think we can make the C&O/Gap by the 18th (sat) but I don't know if it will happen. If it does, I think we simply ride 51 out on Sunday and declare victory. if we get there a day late...thats what we're talking about. Our rules (we are crossing the country in sections) say longitude to longitude. In other words, we can drive out of pittsburgh 50 miles north and start from there as long as we don't cheat and go past Pittsburgh. I appreciate the thought about catching a ride through the valley and the generosity of the group. I think that is cheating though I'd consider it. There is precedent. We did it in Portland OR and the world didn't end. (talk about scared-that was me). I realize this doesn't tell you much. You guys have Uber. One option is to simply find a ride up to the land of good quiet roads. Another is to take advantage of local hospitality and just ride it-thanks in particular to Dan. it sounds like both of those are better than following the detours for 51 and trying to figure it out. Nobody liked or commented on Highway 8 so I'd guess thats lousy too. Same for 30. 65 is bad. You guys should come visit us in St Joseph county in IN. You'll feel right at home. I have a plan but scheduling is tough. Thanks Chris
2015-06-13 18:33:06
I think you have a very accurate handle on it. I agree with my friends above - it's eminently doable, it's not capital-F-fugly just not optimal. If it were a restaurant, you wouldn't pick it as the first place to eat or recommend it to visitors, but if it were the only food for 50 miles you'd appreciate the meal.
2015-06-13 21:27:34
Hi all, Thanks again. Ok, we have a plan. Use 51 if necessary and I've contacted Dan. Do our best to make it in so that we ride out on a weekend if that's the way we go, but it can be ridden (unhappily but it won't last forever) on a weekday. Don't know when exactly we'll arrive but I'd be pleased to buy the beer and will figure out how to let you know. Thanks everyone Chris
2015-06-22 14:31:36
Sounds great, Chris! If you do make it on Sunday, the City will be enjoying its second Open Streets (cyclovia) of the summer. You'll be passing within a couple blocks of it as you enter downtown, assuming you make your way to Point State Park and MP 0 on the GAP as you pass through town. There is a pedestrian/bicycle bridge that connects Point State Park to Route 51 on the opposite side of the river (past the Ft. Pitt Blockhouse), but it is narrow, and I am not sure I would recommend it with a fully loaded touring tandem. The 4 block back track to the Smithfield Street Bridge is highly recommended in this case. I am sure you will have offers of "escorts" through the region. Posting here will reach a lot of us (especially those with the RSS feed activated) quickly. Best of luck!
2015-06-23 08:17:51
On a related note... I'd love to see your DC to Annapolis route as I've been meaning to visit an aunt in Davidsonville and a cousin in Annapolis at some point.
2015-06-23 23:26:18
Hello all, We're on our way and will try to get in touch as we come off the trail. Still up for local advice laughs and food/drink when we get there. As far as a route to Annapolis, Washington seems to be like Pittsburgh from the east-there ain't no good way. I sent the links that they sent me (that seemed to have Annapolis) but most of them involve coming in (or leaving the city via metra. Good for a single but not so great for a tandem. We are going to come over from Deale which is further south and come in through 4 to Pennsylvania and into the city that way. Sounds like that is kind of exciting but better than 214. Everything is good until you hit Washington-then a few exciting miles. Assuming it works out I'll be able to tell you all about it. Thanks again everyone. Chris
2015-07-10 07:58:09
Good luck!
2015-07-10 08:10:35
Thanks everyone and we're in town now. Story as well as route commentary below but first things first. If you can make it, we'll be at The Hop House 2749 Noblestown Rd Pittsburgh, 15205 at 730 PM tomorrow with a 50 on the table. Show up and have a drink on us. Trivia at 8 (you're on the team if you are there-free), dinner available and the place looks reasonable and nice based on a look at the menu. We have no idea where that is except its down the road from our motel. We'd be glad to meet you though. Look for 3 guys, 2 in there 50's and one 20's wearing yellow shirts. Hope you can make it. Second we'd be looking for local guidance out of town for either Friday or Saturday morning if anyone is available. We came off the trail, over the bridge, out Steuben and out on Noblesville Rd. Pittsburgh has our complete attention and respect as a place to ride and we would very much appreciate help getting out of here as easily as possible. Plan right now is 51. Or my son is working on an option which involves driving to "Go Ape" (nets, zip lines etc) north and east of here then riding from there. Anybody know about 19? Since the longitude is east of the fountain, that counts under our crossing the country rules. We're real interested riding out with guidance or anyone that might want to go to Go Ape and can carry a tandem can contact me at 574 850 1091. Should be fun either way and we can work out any charges. 3rd is one more thank you for all your help, our route from Chesapeake Bay to Washington and very brief commentary on the trip. It was a long tri[p since my brother doesn't have to leave us until tomorrow. We did the the trip from the east coast starting from Deale MD which requires you to accept Chesapeake Bay as part of the Atlantic. Ourt primary road was route 4 which had good shoulder and no problems into Washington DC. part of it shows illegal for bikes but its only 5 miles and we sailed thru with no problems (or signs). About even with Andrews Air Force Base the road pinches tight several times. keep going because it gets better. (Those of you following this thread know that I looked a LOT for a good route). We went all the way in on this road tho we did a drive around first. 4 turns into Pennsylvania which is still ok for a long time. Then 2 blocks of curbs and there is a bike trail on the left side (as you head into the city) at the corner of Alabama and Pennsylvania. We rode that in and had about a mile onto the bridge which had a sidewalk. Exit the bridge and go right (sorry east and west don't really apply) and you have the entrance to the Anacostia Trail which can be followed around the city next to the river. This is NOT well marked (not just my opinion) but thats the way we did it. Somebody asked about this and feel free to call me on it 574 850 1091. I'll try to help. We did the GAP which you know and was great and the C&O. It rained every day on the C&O and was tough riding. We had 700x32's on the tandem and 700x25 on the single. if we had it to do over we would have more tread and width. Probably mountain bikes actually but we made it with the rubber side down. Thats pretty much the commentarty. Had a great time. Also, we would never shop at Bill's place in Little Orleans which is touted in the on line guide. We would stop again at the hostel in West Newton but thats pretty close from this end. If interested in further details, our contact info is above. Long post but think I have everything. Thanks again and we hope to either hear from you or see you tomorrow. Chris
2015-07-22 18:38:33
if you're going to go north first, before west (which is recommended in my mind), getting to Go Ape in North Park is not that sketchy of a ride from the City. You can take Babcock Blvd the whole way. I'd avoid 19 north of the city (but it's great once you get far enough north), but Babcock parallels it and is fairly pleasant and flat.
2015-07-23 10:07:08
oh, by 19 i mean avoid McKnight Rd at all costs. Perry Highway is also 19, but is different. I'm sure someone more experienced than me can give their review of Perry Highway
2015-07-23 10:11:30
Getting out of North Park I'd suggest Pearce Mill Road (it's part of this ride) and then maybe connecting through Warrendale Road to Mars Road (I'm not familiar with these roads) to take you west to Cranberry. Then pick up the left branch of this route to take you up as far as West Pittsburg or New Castle and then west to the top branch of this route. Once you get to Ohio, things are pretty flat, though some of the roads up there are pretty bad (lots of truck traffic tearing them up, due to fracking). The last route will get you near Akron; I don't know a good way in to the city. But once you get there you can connect to the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, to take you all the way to Cleveland. From there you have a flat route west as far as the western edge of the state, following Google Maps bicycling routes.
2015-07-23 10:26:04
Perry Hwy isn't too bad. I ride it daily, or nearly so. But it does have varying personalities. The biggest problem is the elevation change to get to it from river level. If you're not into a long, difficult climb, I would use the river trail out past the casino, and wiggle over to Island Avenue, where you can access a switchback structure to get up to the corner of California and Marshall Ave. This switchback is less than a year old. Find the corners of Island/Beaver/Chateau, and California/Marshall, and realize that they are about as far apart vertically as horizontally. After you've climbed it, file it away in your heads under "Remember that ramp thing we rode up in Pittsburgh? Can we have one of those here, too?" Marshall is actually US19 at this point (technically after the on-ramp that merges 100 yards up). When you get to the T intersection with Perrysville Ave, turn left/north and continue following that for several miles. At some point it starts being called Perry Highway. It's four lanes for part, two lanes for part, with a lot of elevation changes. (You're following a ridge top.) Watch the horseshoe curve on a long, steep downhill after you pass the West View Water Authority building on the right. (Pro tip: You might want to take Center Avenue, which branches off to the right just after the park & ride lot and PennDOT salt dome. Avoids a long climb and the above mentioned descent.) To get to North Park, look for CCAC (Community College of Allegheny County) on the left, as a landmark. Not the pair of lights at the college, nor the next one (Cumberland), but the one after that (Ingomar Road), turn right. You will go under McKnight Rd (the other Rt 19), and about a mile later, will get to the traffic light at the edge of the park, Kummer Road. Make a left at Kummer and a quick right, and follow the road through the park. After the last 15 miles of city and suburban hell, this will be the nicest part of your whole trip. When you get to Pearce Mill Road, turn left and follow prior directions. You're into the exurbs now, and while you still have another 15 miles of sprawl to get past, the worst of the congestion is now behind you.
2015-07-23 14:13:37
Thanks everyone. Hope to see you in a couple of hours. The restaurant is right near the corner of Mansfield and Noblestown. Best Chris
2015-07-23 16:40:48