Bicycle Culture in Easton

Easton’s cycling culture is diverse and colorful. From working commuters on bargain bikes to road cyclists on fully-equipped bikes, riders here fall across a wide spectrum. But what really sets Easton apart is its landscape—the social, geological, and technological layers that comprise Easton’s soul.

The Alleys

Easton’s city layout is modeled after Philadelphia’s, which is modeled after many cities in Europe. This is evident in much of the architecture around town, but for cyclists, the real treat is the alleys. Try riding Spruce Street alley from the county courthouse at Walnut Street all the way to 14th Street and you’ll get a taste of alley life. These alleys are not back doors of big buildings; they are front doors of peoples’ lives. They are where children play and scream and ride their bicycles. There is something present here that is not born overnight, best experienced as pedal pusher or pedestrian, when the senses are activated and interaction is most direct.

Getting Out of Easton: The Topography

Beyond Centre Square, Easton is a city of hills. This presents both challenges and opportunities to a biker. A word of safety: know the capabilities of your bicycle’s braking system before starting out.

When General Sullivan chased the Iroquois to New York in 1779 —presently Sullivan Trail—he definitely went against the grain of the landscape. Trying to find a flat route out of downtown, there are few options. But if it’s hills you’re seeking, the streets of College Hill offer intriguing residential architecture and solitude. Just keep following the switchbacks up until you’re at the top. The view from Gollub Park on Paxinosa ridge is excellent and worth the very steep climb up Shawnee Avenue.

Easton’s main street, Northampton Street, is a fun urban route with some rolling hills. This can be used to connect via Greenwood Avenue to William Penn Highway when heading west to Bethlehem Township.

Heading south across I-78 to Morgan Hill Road and Old Well Road is also a tough climb. However, it offers access to numerous small valleys that fall between the folds of the many east-west ridgelines in Williams Township.

The mother of all Easton hills is Washington Street, near the courthouse. A short and extremely steep climb with 20% grade, this is a great climb to practice hill training.

The Waterways

Let’s now look at the first mode of transportation that made Easton a regional hub of trade—the waterways. These include the Delaware River, the Lehigh River (and canal) and the Bushkill Creek. All three major waterways were focal points to transport coal and other goods, and for energy to power silk and textile mills in the early 1800’s. Today, it is possible to bicycle along each of these waterways to explore the ruins of days before cars and even before railroads.

For less than hilly cycling, following the rivers is the best bet. Cycling can be scenic along the Delaware River on Route 611, but motor vehicle traffic speeds are relatively high on this twisty road. Crossing the river on the Route 22 sidewalk or the free bridge, River Road offers reduced motor traffic and awesome scenery, north or south.

Following the Lehigh River—through Hugh Moore Park along the canal trail or along paved Lehigh Drive—are good bets for recreational and family cyclists wishing for less intense terrain and reduced traffic.

Cycling in the spring, one will see the first serious buds of spring green. In the summer, one will find breezes cooled by the Bushkill’s water surface and shaded woods. Cycling in the winter can reveal the real relics of history here—stone foundations of buildings along the Lehigh Canal in Hugh Moore park and more en route to Bethlehem.

The Railroad Effect

In the late 1800’s, railroad lines sprouted like tentacles with Easton at the center. Few railroad lines are still in use—but the ones abandoned are the Lehigh Valley’s favorite cycling trails for families, favored for their usually gentle grades and smooth surfaces. The most popular rail trail routes from downtown can take cyclists to Stone’s Crossing in Palmer Township (1 hour), to Freemansburg (1-2 hours), to Bethlehem’s Main Street (2.5 hours). The canal route heading south along the Delaware River runs 40 miles to New Hope, however, repair from the severe 2004 flood is still in-progress.

The newest trail, Easton to Tatamy, features well-surfaced macadam north of Penn Pump Park. From Easton to Penn Pump Park, the trail is still relatively rugged, but passable. When complete, the Tatamy trail will re-connect Easton to the Stockertown-Plainfield rail trail.

For additional exploring, one need only track down an early 1900’s railroad map, or have a keen sense of observation.

If you’re feeling adventurous, look for the pedestrian overpass above Route 22 that connects Lower and Upper Hackett Parks. Upper Hackett Park in the evening has a sensational view of the city and sunset. From Lower Hackett Park, following Wood Avenue westbound, pick up the scent of the old railroad line. This line runs through the trees, behind Cadmus Printing and Maier’s bakery, behind the K-Mart, across 25th Street and right through a pharmacy next to Easton High School. At the turn of the twentieth century, the rail line connected with the Palmer line behind the Bethlehem Corporation (modern day Home Depot plaza.) What is left of this train line is a phantom of its former self, deconstructed, but still visible if you follow it very closely.

Into the Future

Since the decline of the railroad and the growth of motor carriage travel, the landscape has changed even more radically. Easton’s cycling community is increasing, as is the consciousness of personal health and energy consumption. This is evidenced by the number of cyclists on Genesis rides on any summer Thursday evening. Easton is the perfect city for motorless travel, as all necessities and many attractions are within a short bicycle ride.

For non-cyclists, it doesn’t matter where or why you start riding. Whether in Spandex or jeans, you’re getting somewhere on your own power and becoming more in touch with your neighbors, the Easton way!

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