I grew up in the small village of Elizabethtown and like most members of my generation, a bicycle was our major form of transportation. Today's kids don't ride bikes as much as we did, in fact bicycle sales are down nearly 23 percent in the last decade.
When I was young, a summer day consisted of pedaling from one swimming hole or fishing hole to another. Though it has been many years since I strapped a Zebco rod to the sissybar of my Stingray, I have not given up on the convenient transportation provided by bicycles.
With age, other pursuits and interests, my biking days became a thing of the past. However, with the purchase of a new mountain bike, I have become reacquainted with biking as a major outdoor recreational activity.
New technological developments in bicycle construction have brought lighter- weight frames, a wider assortment of gears, full frame suspensions including padded saddles and even trailers.
Mountain bikes are no longer the exclusive domain of thrill seekers who crash through the mud and hop over rocks, although this certainly remains an attractive option.
The thing I've enjoyed the most about my return to pedals and rubber tires is the quick and easy access that bikes provide.
The Adirondack Park has been considered unfriendly to mountain bikes since a ban was imposed on their use in wilderness areas in 1986.
While forest preserve regulations still prohibit bicycle use in wilderness areas, there remain nearly unlimited trails available on state lands classified as wild forest, primitive or canoe areas. Additionally, new easement lands offer additional opportunities.
Some of the trails in canoe areas have been reopened and a few Unit Management Plans, (UMPs) where bikes were originally banned have been revised.
In January 1993, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and state Adirondack Park Agency agreed to move ahead with regulations implementing the state land use master plan policy on bikes. DEC amended six completed UMPs to designate an additional 136 miles of bike trails.
Since that time, additional mountain bike opportunities have been identified and approved in the St. Regis Canoe Area, Split Rock Wild Forest, Wilmington Wild Forest, Watson's Triangle East and other state purchases including the Domtar lands, the Champion lands and easement lands near Cranberry Lake. There are even a few primitive corridors traveling through wilderness areas which allow mountain bikers to access waters from seven to nine miles distant. Instead of hiking all day and fishing for a few hours, I can now ride an hour or less and fish all day.
Biking also allows a nearly unattainable commonality with my children. It is one of the few activities where kids are as competent and comfortable as adults. Often, I feel as if I'm relearning the sport from them. We share this activity on an equal footing regardless of strength or stamina, and in the process I preserve a vital link to my children and my childhood.
Nearly everyone learned to ride a bike as a child, yet most of us gave it up after mastering the automobile. Regardless, bikes remain the most common form of transportation in the world today and they are also one of the most efficient. They offer quick and easy access, even with a canoe in tow.
For years, I have used a mountain bike to access remote waters in search of trout. I've pedaled the backwoods to fish small streams for brook trout and followed old railroad beds in search of beaver ponds.
I've even hauled in pack rafts to remote ponds and trailered a pack canoe into bigger lakes and ponds. Fishing trips are no longer exclusively paddle and portage affairs, now they consist of peddle and paddle.
Opportunities for biking the backwoods are limited only by a man (or woman) and a map to discover what's out there. The Web site of the Adirondack Mountain Biking Initiative can also provide some interesting insights. Visit http://bikeadirondacks.org/mtnbike.html and download maps detailing trail systems throughout the park.
On a local level, much of the Saranac Lake Wild Forest is laced with old logging roads that prove ideal for biking. Additional opportunities exist on many backroads, old logging roads and abandoned railroad beds, where many beaver dams exist.
Bike trailers capable of hauling a lightweight canoe or kayak are available for sale at Adirondack Lakes and Trails Outfitters in Saranac Lake or High Peaks Mountain Adventure Center in Lake Placid.
I've tried the manufactured trailers and they work fine, but I've also adapted my canoe dolly (a Canadian Walker model available at BlueLine Sport Shop in Saranac Lake) by attaching a trailer tongue to the deck of my pack canoe.
This rig has proven suitable for most journeys, as long as I don't overload it. On a fairly level road, barring major washouts, I can be fishing on a pond that's five miles away in about 30 minutes time.
Usually, I strap a pack rod to the handlebars, hook the trailer to the back rack and carry a small pack with gear and lunch. For longer trips, I use a set of panniers (saddlebags) to haul additional gear.
I recently spoke with Brian Delaney, an avid biker and the owner of High Peaks Cyclery in Lake Placid about biking in the Adirondacks.
Delaney explained that "Biking has gone full circle in the past 25 years or so. Road biking remains the most popular, although mountain biking is holding its own. There have been tremendous advancements in the areas of suspension, with front and rear suspension bikes designed with disc brakes, twist grip gear selectors and much more."
Delaney described the new rides this way: "It's just the same as a motorcycle. The more time a tire stays in contact with the road; the more control you have. Springs and shocks absorb the bumps and bounces and allow you more control while making for a much more comfortable ride. Bikes with 21 gears can make hill climbs rather effortless and can also make for easy trailering."
He also suggests that users who have been out of biking for a while jump ahead of the learning curve by taking a lesson.
"It's just like learning how to cross country ski. If you take the time to learn the proper technique from an instructor, you'll pick up the sport more quickly and enjoy it more," Delaney said. "A few simple skills as can make riding safer and much more enjoyable".
High Peaks Cyclery currently offers lessons, tours and their highly acclaimed "Fun Not Fear Riding Camps" and higher level dirt camps for the more advance riders at their Mountain Bike Centers at Mt. Van Hovenberg and Whiteface Mountain, where miles of forested trails and even a chairlift assisted downhill run are available. Call High Peaks at 523-3764 for further information.
If riding woodland trails doesn't appeal to you; the Lake Placid-Essex County Visitors Bureau has recently published an outstanding pamphlet entitled, "Adirondack Coast Bikeways and Essex County Mountain Bike Routes." Many of the listed trails follow local streams and rivers, making a set of waders and a flyrod vital equipment for the day's journey.
This little booklet provides maps and detailed route descriptions for numerous on and off road biking opportunities in the region. For a copy, contact the Visitors Bureau at 523-2445.