Thursday, June 1, 2017

And Summer Begins

School has ended for the summer - I finished the year having ridden to work 108 days, which was just three days shy of my record. I had a 61% bike-to-work average for the year. Now that I'm done, the first couple of days off have been about as ideal as can be for biking for pleasure.

I got up early this morning and took the younger of the Retrokids to school (yep - they still have a few days left - our schedules never line up). She was excited because she'd get to ride her bike to school. We rode over together, locked up her bike, said goodbye for the day, and then I decided to get out for a nice ride on my own.

The Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath is a fantastic resource for cycling. I've mentioned more than a few times here on the blog about riding it with my kids. Normally when we cycle the Towpath, we take it north from Akron, through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. But the Towpath not only runs from Cleveland to Akron, but continues through downtown Akron and south towards the city of Canton. I decided to take a ride on the southbound stretch of the path today.

Getting into the city via the Towpath, one crosses this bridge over the Martin Luther King Freeway. The Canalway Coalition recently put up these metalwork archways over the path where it enters/exits downtown Akron. I'm not sure what the crows represent - they're cool but a little ominous.
Coming into downtown Akron, one circles around the Akron Civic Theater which interestingly was built directly over the O&E Canal. That's right. The canal literally flows beneath the grand old theater. Then the path comes up behind Canal Park, the minor league baseball stadium and home of the Akron Rubber Ducks (still an awful name for a team), a Double-A affiliate team for the Cleveland Indians.
There's a nice view of the old canal, and one of the old rubber company buildings in the distance.
One of the cool things about the Akron sections of the Towpath is that it passes through the post-industrial wastes of the city. Cool? Hell yeah. It's beautiful in its own way. This recently-completed section of the path (well, completed within the last couple of years anyhow) passes right behind the former B.F. Goodrich plant. One of the smokestacks was partly taken down, so it now only says "Rich." Indeed.
Here's a plaza built around one of the old canal locks. Looking northward is one of the more prominent or noticeable buildings in Akron's "skyline."
When you exit downtown, say goodbye to the crows.
Just a little south of downtown Akron sits Summit Lake which once featured a resort for swimming, a big dance hall, and even an amusement park.
It was known as "Akron's Coney Island."
Then somebody figured out that the city's sewers emptied directly into the lake. Not kidding. I'm sure it's much better now (thank you EPA) but there are still signs around the lake warning "no swimming" and I don't think it's because there are no lifeguards. People fish in the lake, but I can't say I'd eat anything caught in it.

By the way, the Towpath crosses over Summit Lake by way of a floating boardwalk. Even back in the canal days, the mules towed canal boats over the lake via a similar wooden path.
As you can see, I took the Mercian path racer for the ride today. The bike was literally built for the Towpath. Single speed, fixed gear drivetrain, cushy 32 mm tires (Challenge Grifo XS tires, made for hard-pack surfaces), full coverage fenders, and small bags that are perfect for carrying tools, spares, maybe a rain jacket, and a lunch. Much of the path through downtown is paved, but most of the path elsewhere is hard-packed limestone. When it's dry, that stuff turns into a dust that works its way into every part of a bike. I've seen it coat chains, foul up derailleurs, and cause freewheels to seize up. Fixed gear is the way to go because there's less to get fouled up, and since the path is relatively flat (one of the steepest inclines on the whole thing is the section heading south into downtown Akron where it's marked as 5% grade) a single speed is all you need.

South of downtown, the Towpath passes by more old industrial sites, as well as numerous scrapyards. Admittedly, less pretty even for a post-industrial wasteland.
Blue herons still abound, though.
One thing about this southbound section of the Towpath is that there are a lot more geese for some reason. It's not unusual to get stopped by a gaggle of them, and right now they've got lots of goslings. Got to be careful, 'cause they get mean when the babies are around. The other thing is that the path south of Akron is generally a lot quieter - it's not as popular a destination for families as the sections that span the national park, though it also helps that it was a weekday morning.

Anyhow - as you can see, we had stunningly blue skies today, and temperatures only got up to the mid 70s. It was as perfect a kick-off for the summer as a person could ask for.


  1. It looks like you had a great ride.

    Canal towpaths make for some of the best riding. I also find beauty in some of the post-industrial landscapes. Sometimes the structures make for interesting compositions of light and color.

    Great-looking bike!

  2. That limestone dust is like powdered emery!

    Nice looking fix. Would you tell us about the handlebars.

    1. Those bars are from Soma Fabrications, called the "Portola" bar. 26mm center, and 53cm wide at the ends (they flare out quite a bit). There is also a 56mm wide version. They are very VERY similar in shape to the old WTB/Specialized Dirt Drop bars that were made by Nitto. I find them fairly comfortable -- a pretty shallow drop, and the angles give me some natural hand positions. You can see I installed a second brake lever body (I simply took out the actual lever) so I have those extra grips/hand positions. The idea of the bars was originally for putting drop bars on mountain bikes, but I think they work well for cyclocross bikes as well -- and in some ways, this path racer is kind of like a fixed-gear cyclocross bike.

  3. Nice ride report, Brooks. I ride that section of the towpath frequently...also from Barberton to Massillon when the urge strikes (I live in Norton). Never taken a camera along on rides so your pics have special meaning to me. Thanks.