The best bike for the trail
The trail of fine crushed limestone provides a fairly smooth surface which can be managed with any type of bike. The most popular bike style is a hybrid because the more upright riding position tends to be more comfortable for extended periods in the saddle and the tire size is optimal. Because the trail is not technically demanding, any bike will work just fine. Be sure the bicycle, particularly the saddle, is comfortable.
The best tires for the trail
The trail can become soft after rain showers (which happens often in PA) and and thin tires can sink into the trail surface which makes each mile feel like two. Most people select a slightly wider tire (35mm+) which provides a smoother ride and doesn't tend to sink when the trail is soft. Hybrid tires or conservative mountain bike tires with just a little tread in the center and lugs on the edges to handle mud.
If you do your own maintenance, check the bike over before leaving for long trips. If you don't do your own, take the bike to your friendly local bike shop for a safety check and tune-up. Check out this site for hints.
Pack this gear
padded bicycle shorts
spare tube, patch kit
multi-tool, tire levers
headlight (you will need this for the Paw Paw Tunnel)
pump or inflation cartridges
bike bell (you will shout "on your left" apx. 400 times without a bell)
Other gear to consider
basic first aid kit
matches or lighter
You are not in California anymore. Five days without rain in Pennsylvania is called a miracle. Be prepared for wet weather. A lightweight rain shell and waterproof pants are usually a good idea. This link to the USDA Forest Service provides good weather related & outdoor safety information.
Shorts and chamois cream
Before I set out on my first multi-day ride I was worried that my legs were not going to make the distance. As it turns out my legs were not the body part that I needed to be concerned about. I quickly learned that sitting in the saddle for eight hours a day focused a lot of pressure on my hands and my bottom. I learned that two of the most important things to pack are a decent pair of padded bike shorts and chamois cream to protect yourself from rashes. I stopped at the bike shop to pick up a few things and the salesman suggested that I get some "as master". I laughed because I've been riding for years and never used chamois cream before. It was pretty funny that AsMaster is the actual name of a product. After my first long day in the saddle I realized how critical chamois cream is. If it weren't for chamois cream I never would have managed 70+ miles per day. I have since tried a dozen different products which all seemed similarly effective.
I was watching a movie about the Tour de France and there was a clip showing a guy from the support team applying chamois cream to the racers shorts. The coach demonstrated the proper technique which is to apply generous amounts of cream and then evenly distribute the cream across the chamois area of the shorts. Rub it into the chamois pad so it's nice and even.
Surprisingly, after 70+ miles each day (my furthest ride prior to this was 60 miles) my legs were able to go even longer. The miles seem to roll past a little easier when your not dodging traffic and negotiating intersections. Most of my fatigue was concentrated in my arms and my seat. Changing hand positions often and alternating between a standing position and sitting seemed to help manage the fatigue.
Snacks along the trail
The key to an enjoyable trip is being comfortable. Take breaks every couple of hours and stretch. Make certain that your bike is properly adjusted so that you are as comfortable as possible. Your clothes should not hinder your pedaling motion and if you feel clothing rubbing against your skin you should stop to adjust it. It doesn't take long for rubbing clothes to break your skin.
Bring plenty of snacks and water to avoid dehydration. Energy bars are easy to carry and don't require refrigeration. Eat a few energy bars a day to prevent yourself from ever getting really hungry on the trail. If you allow yourself to get real hungry, you might already be slightly dehydrated and be losing energy, so eat and drink before you hit the wall.
You need to plan your snack program a little better on the C&O because the towns have more miles in between.
If you are camping, you will need considerably more gear. Use the gear list on the hotels and camping page for guidance. Packing your camping gear adds another challenge. Check out the packing gear page for more details.
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