Best PGH -> Eastern PA route?
Hi all! I’ll be coming through on a road bike in mid-August, looking to get from PGH to Phoenixville, PA. From PGH, Google Maps takes me down into Maryland through Hagerstown, then back up into PA north and east into Phoenixville. I know it’s probably impossible to find someone who has done a similar ride, but does anyone have recommendations on a better route along southern PA? Or even to confirm that the Google Maps route looks good. Any advice would be much appreciated.
Phoenixville is not all that far off the path of travel used by the Crush the Commonwealth riders, an informal cross-state bike race held annually. Odd numbered years, riders travel west to east. Many trip logs exist, and can be found on this message board. I’ve not done the trip myself, but in general you’re on the GAP trail the first 90 miles, then aiming for Breezewood and the abandoned Turnpike tunnel, then US30.
Let me see if I can dig up a couple of those trip reports.
2015 discussion. https://www.bikepgh.org/message-board/topic/2015-crush-the-commonwealth/
Links to various ride reports. Look for any odd-numbered year. http://pittsburghrandonneurs.com/links/
2013 discussion. https://www.bikepgh.org/message-board/topic/crush-the-commonwealth-2013/
One man’s 2009 trip. http://randanneuring.blogspot.com/2009/05/crush-commonwealth-2009.html
Thanks so much for the links and info! This might end up saving me lots of miles. I really appreciate it.
I’ve ridden Pittsburgh-Philly twice, once on the Crush the Commonwealth route and once following a route from Google Maps that took me further on the GAP trail.
The Crush the Commonwealth route isn’t particularly safe, even though it sticks to official state bike routes. There are some very fast, dangerous roads in there.
I would prefer the Google Maps route, which exits the trail at Cumberland and at least attempts to avoid the more dangerous roads.
You could also ask advice from Philly bike groups. I’d expect the more difficult parts of the route to be in the middle and eastern parts of the state, since the GAP takes you safely away from Pittsburgh.
Thanks @jonawebb, great insight. I’m a bigger fellow, and I’ll already have weight on my touring bike (Trek 520). I’m concerned that I’ll blow tires, spokes, etc. if I ride rougher sections of the GAP regardless of the tires I use. Anyone have insight on this question? I’ve seen threads on here that suggest not riding on a weighted-down bike.
The GAP is not rough until after Cumberland. You don’t want to ride skinny tires, but you should be OK with a touring setup.
(Technically, it’s not the GAP anymore after Cumberland. It’s the C&O Canal Trail, a walking trail that people use for biking.)
that bike has the same as my trek, 700×38. I’m a heavier guy and I rode the GAP/C&O with all kinds of crap on my bike and never had a problem. You won’t blow a tire/spokes/etc.
I’ve seen (CRAZY) people riding the C&O loaded down with stuff and riding on skinny tires without a problem. I think they’re absolutely nuts since it is muddy, rutted, wet, etc. etc. right now.
And, as people have mentioned above, the GAP is so well done that the non paved parts are pretty equivalent to pavement.
I’ve ridden the S route 3 times and it’s safe about 90 % or more. A lot of the factor is when you hit the areas that could be deemed unsafe. Be cautions around Chambersburg for sure. Also, I’d stay on 31 instead of taking the intended route to Somerset. S route turns on Menser road and I really don’t recommend taking it. The abandoned turnpike is kinda cool…so take it. The surface of the turnpike trail is a bit dicey, but I’ve never blown a tire. I’m a clydesdale as well. Here’s a pretty cool map. Here’s the route eastbound, I’m sure you can reverse it. https://ridewithgps.com/routes/20529378
For what it’s worth: I’ve biked to Bedford and back twice by taking the Yough River Trail to West Newton, then Route 31 all the way to Bedford. There’s a wide enough shoulder that you are not competing with cars for the same space, and most of the heavy vehicle traffic is up on the turnpike. The hills could be better, but could be worse. It is not scenic but should get you to Bedford without spending the entire day in fear of imminent death.
If I had to chart a route to Phoenixville, I’d look into riding the GAP trail all the way to Cumberland, MD, or even Hagerstown, then heading north. Although indirect, you would avoid a lot of the climbing on Route 31, and get nice traffic-free scenery. And the riding around Gettysburg is as good as I have ever found. I don’t think there’s a decent alternative route that’s north, e.g., riding to Altoona and heading east.
I had 28c touring tires on a ‘cross bike on the C&O Canal trail and still had problems with pinch flats on the perpendicular roots that cross the trail. You can “get away” with riding it with skinny tires, especially at the height of summer, when the trail is dry and hard-packed. But you’ll need to keep a constant eye out for roots. It’s not something I would do or suggest. Good luck!
totally agree — 700×28 = crazy, 700×38 = doable. I probably wouldn’t ride skinnier than a 35. (actually, I’ve ridden the C&O on 32s but wasn’t weighed down (except for my own fat supply))
Just a point of concern….The current tires on my Trek 520 are 27 X 1 3/8 (37-630), which I have read several sources say is not equivalent to a 700c tire. I have always been confused about tire/wheel size numbering standards and I think now is probably a good time to be done with that confusion. If I’m not wrong, 700c tires have a 622 mm diameter, not 630 mm like my tire does. Could someone shed some light on this?
One time I rode the C&O on 27×2″ tires. I think I would have been OK on 27×1 3/8″ tires. 1 3/8″ = 34 mm. You’re good.
the GAP is great for any type of tire. The C&O less so but it’s unclear how lnog you’re going to be on the C&O and your tire size seems reasonable for any amount of riding on the C&O.
If you’re super worried, get those steel belted tires that you need to be Hercules to put on. Like the marathon plus from schwalbe.
I agree with Jacob that 31 to West Newton is pretty good if you want to avoid as much rail trail as possible. You can cheat a bit outside of Champion and take County Line Road to get away from the Turnpike traffic. There is a lot of construction near the Donegal interchange; I believe they are widening the road (2 lanes each direction?). If that is the case, either take the County Line Road option or Somerset to Rockwood to hit the GAP. You can stop in the Rock City Cafe in Rockwood to celebrate the last leg of your journey.
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