welcoming wheels

story and photos by James P. Hughes

It’s time to get outdoors to take in some fresh air! Octogenarianism (is that a word?) is closing in on my wife and yours truly. Arthritis and artificial joints have become the enemy, and with them reasonable choices for meaningful physical activity grow fewer and fewer. But fear not! The rolling wheels and supportive seats of our bicycles, not ridden for decades, have emerged as the saviors. Regular bike rides now provide a priceless physical and mental pick-up for sagging spirits.

No setting is more ideal for cycling than our own Finger Lakes territory. Now, I’m not talking about a 70-plus mile hilly, highway trek around Cayuga Lake, or rambling over the rocks and roots of a dirt trail in a verdant forest. Those challenges are geared to the young, robust and adventurous. We enjoy finding peaceful, pleasant spots … safe, relatively flat and away from traffic. Regional opportunities are plentiful.

Where to Start?

Start close to home. Here in Onondaga County, we often cruise stretches of the Erie Canalway Trail (1) with its sylvan scenery and glimpses of history. The “Old Erie” is a fine option, stretching across the entire Finger Lakes Region and beyond. Another local option, the Onondaga Lake Parkway Trail (2), improves with each passing year. The paved trail circles miles through wooded parkland with lake vistas, a close-up look at the popular Lakeview Amphitheater and a panoramic view of the Syracuse skyline.

The Erie Canalway Trail benefits the Rochester area as well. The back-and-forth stretch between Pittsford and Fairport (3) is just one favorite ride. With refreshments and canal-side relaxation in both villages, what’s not to like? In Rochester’s Genesee Valley Park, the canal trail connects with the Genesee Riverway Trail (4), multi-miles of riverside riding into downtown, then beyond to the shores of Lake Ontario.

There are far too many opportunities to list, but here’s just a few. In Geneva, a 5-mile loop through Seneca Lake Park (5) can be repeated or varied, and connects to the Cayuga-Seneca Canal Trail for an extended ride. Ithaca’s 8-mile Cayuga Waterfront Trail (6) passes through Stewart and Cass Parks, both with lakeside views and interpretive signage. From Watkins Glen south to Pine Valley, the Catharine Valley Trail (7) offers 12 miles of rustic countryside with gentle inclines. In Elmira (8), 8.5 miles of smooth riding take you through the city and along the wooded Chemung riverside on the paved Lackawanna Rail Trail. Tweak your imagination … an online search will uncover much more.

Make a Day of It

From short, preliminary post-winter outings, we gradually add mileage as the seasons progress. Single rides often give way to a full “day on the road” – morning and afternoon rides with a lunch stop, scenic drive or maybe some shopping in between. Morning ventures are usually a bit longer, similar to the options mentioned earlier, with the afternoon ride a simpler, “spur of the moment” choice.

The quiet Finger Lakes countryside is filled with flat, rural roads, some byways with traffic so light they resemble bike paths. Cruising residential village or city streets can be quiet and peaceful as well, enjoying local architecture and intriguing sites along the way: Canandaigua, Horseheads, Newark, Hornell and Liverpool are among those we’ve tried. 

Winding through parks, both state and local, is another favorite. Typical would be the unique, lightly traveled trails of Sampson State Park with its lakeside pathway and series of narrow, peculiar roadways and an aura of history. Now barren and tranquil, they once wound through a massive military base, a training site for thousands of recruits during both WWII and the Korean War. 

As well as returning to “traditional spots,” each new year brings fresh ride options and discoveries. First-timers on the 2021 docket are the Keuka Lake Outlet Trail (9), parts of the Black Diamond Trail (10) connecting Ithaca with Taughannock Falls State Park and, of course, those tranquil streets of yet-unnamed villages. 

Encountering others enjoying the fresh Finger Lakes air, we’re certainly not alone with our biking habits and routines. Give it a try! The ability to ride is there even if you haven’t been on a bicycle for years – scientists call it “procedural memory.” Once you get past some initial finger numbness and tush tenderness, you’re on your way!

Regional Bicycle Rides

1. Erie Canalway Trail

2. Onondaga Lake Parkway Trail

3. Pittsford and Fairport

4. Genesee Riverway Trail

5. Seneca Lake Park

6. Cayuga Waterfront Trail

7. Catharine Valley Trail

8. Elmira

9. Keuka Lake Outlet Trail

10. Black Diamond Trail

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