Ever dream of thru-biking across the interior of the United States? Thanks to a decades-long project spearheaded by the Rails-To-Trails Conservancy, that trip is one step closer to fruition.
When completed, the Great American Rail-Trail will stretch from Washington D.C. to Washington state, encompassing nearly 3,700 miles along the way. The idea has been in the works for 50 years and more progress is being made every day.
About 80 miles of the trail are considered complete, but the Great American Rail-Trail already connects with existing bike trails. It's built on old railroad lines, hence the name. The path is made from paved asphalt, crushed stone and other materials.
Unfortunately, the trail won't be completed until 2040. But if you want to get a head start, you can begin in Washington D.C. The trail starts near the Smithsonian on the National Mall. From there, it meanders northwest through the city and into Maryland. Stay overnight at a 19th-Century lock house along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal or pitch a tent in a cutout along the C&O Canal Towpath. Cross the continental divide at the 3,118-foot Paw Paw Canal Tunnel and venture along the Potomac or Shenandoah rivers til you reach the Blue Ridge Mountains.
This excursion is just a sampling of what the Great American Rail-Trail will offer cyclists. The Rails-to-Trails organizations want the trail to connect the nation's history, geology and towns, allowing bikers to discover new faces and places along the way.
At completion, the Great American Rail-Trail will be within 50 miles of 50 million people. In that sense, it will be a boon for the millions of Americans who have recently discovered cycling. A Rail-to-Trails Conservancy study found 200 percent more people spent time on its trails in 2020 than in 2019. While that's probably due in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing social distancing measures, hopefully, those people have discovered how much fun biking in the great outdoors can be.
"I think [the pandemic] demonstrated to a lot of officials that access to the outdoors actually is key. Creating these connections is really critical," Brandi Horton, vice-president of communications at the RTC, was quoted as saying in a BBC story about the trail.
Many Americans are just now learning about the joys of biking, but elsewhere in the world, similar cross-country through trails have been in use for decades. For instance:
In Europe, the EuroVelo 6 route traverses 10 countries between the Atlantic and the Black Sea.
In Northern England, the Transpennine Trail ambles through villages, historic sites and national parks. The trail is built on old railway lines and connects the country's coasts.
The Cycling Through Water path in Belgium allows bikers to travel through the ponds of Bokrijk. The path sits at the same level as the water, so riders appear to glide through the pond.
Lots of people are taking up the hobby of cycling, so it's more important than ever before to provide safe, secure places to ride. Plus, the proximity of trails brings riders through forgotten downtowns that need an economic boost.
The government requires drivers to keep license plates on their vehicles to protect public and private safety. Commuters are opting to ride bicycles over driving cars for any number of positive lifestyle benefits, but cyclists trade off the safety afforded to drivers.
License plates are not required by law for bicycles in most areas, but there are various benefits to implementing this measure to protect cyclists in reckless riding behavior. Several American states have attempted bicycle license plate systems on a provisional basis, as documented.
Whether you are a leisurely bike rider or consider more of a passion, all riders should be in the habit of regularly cleaning their bike. Simply put, a clean bike looks betters, operates better, and will last longer.
Even if you are using your bike just to cruise to the beach or around town, Bicycling.com recommends, "Cleaning your road bike monthly (or every 20 to 25 rides) and a mountain or 'cross bike more often". So, while it may be easier just to put your bike back in the garage after a few rides, making an effort to wash your bike monthly (even if it doesn't look dirty) can really help extend the life of your bike and help with day to day operation of the bike!