Cycling the Covered Bridges of Bucks County - a Tour de Joy
Bucks County is one of the three original counties of Pennsylvania. It was named after Buckinghamshire, England, where William Penn lived. Just an hour north of Philadelphia, it is renowned for its breathtaking scenery, which is ideal for outdoor activities.
The county is also steeped in history. Washington's troops camped there before crossing the Delaware River to take Trenton, New Jersey, on December 26, 1776. Their surprise attack on the unprepared British soldiers was a turning point in the American War of Independence.
The Covered Bridges of Bucks County
Bucks is also where you’ll find some of the oldest and most beautiful covered bridges in America. In the 19th century, there were more than 50 of them crossing the Delaware River or connecting the county's towns. Today, 12 bridges remain, the majority of which are still in use.
The bridges were covered for protection and to prevent rot from forming. In 1820, architect and civil engineer Ithiel Town was granted a patent for a wooden truss bridge with a lattice design. It was referred to as "Town's Lattice," and the design lowered costs without compromising safety. All twelve of Bucks County’s bridges are Town’s Lattice trusses.
With such a long history, Bucks has its share of sad tales, one of which includes a covered bridge. Van Sant Covered Bridge, Solebury, also known as Cry Baby Bridge, is rumored to be where a young mother hanged herself from the rafters after throwing her baby off the bridge to its death. Night-time drivers claim to have heard the baby crying and the sound of feet dragging on their car roofs.
Touring the Covered Bridges
If thoughts of ghostly disturbances don’t scare you, the Bucks County Covered Bridge Society suggests a self-drive tour of the bridges. The 90-mile trip can be done in a day by car and includes all the bridges. But why drive when you can bike? Especially when you’re guaranteed a good workout on Bucks’ hilly terrain.
The society’s route is an excellent place to start planning your cycle tour. To get a feel for the scenery, watch the Coffee Powered Cyclist's Cycling Tour of Covered Bridges in a Pennsylvania Autumn on YouTube. Coffee Powered shares his 37-mile circular route starting from Mainville, PA, on Strava.
Riding Bucks' bridges in autumn is particularly spectacular because of the fall foliage. However, the trails are good anytime between March and October. Remember to dress in layers if you set off in the cold, as the exertion of the hills will soon warm you up.
The Central Bucks Bicycle Club’s Annual Covered Bridges Ride
It's unnecessary to plan your own route, though, if you’re happy to ride with a crowd. The 40th Covered Bridge Ride of the Central Bucks Bicycle Club (CBBC) is planned for October 10, 2021. The CBR, as members refer to it, is the premier cycling event in the Bucks County cycling calendar. The ride is open to everyone, and proceeds go to local charities. There are five routes to choose from.
Two flat, family-friendly rides of 20 and 33 miles run primarily along the towpath along the Delaware River. Fat tires are recommended because of this fine-cinder and hardpacked dirt trail. The 20-mile route includes one bridge. The 33-mile route includes an additional 10-mile paved road round-trip which contains a second bridge.
Three hillier 33, 55, or 65-mile rides are all on paved roads and include up to six bridges. These rides are best suited to road bikes. The routes have approximately 2,600, 3,600, and 4,500 feet of climbing, respectively.
All races start and finish at Tinicum Park, and the event includes a warm lunch in the park at the finish. Final route maps are only released on the day of the ride, in case last-minute changes need to be made. However, sample details from a prior year can be found on ridewithgps.com.
Pennsylvania’s Riding Safety Laws
Cyclists riding in Pennsylvania need to be aware that headsets and earplugs may not be worn while cycling. Helmets are compulsory, and cyclists must ride single-file when encountering traffic and never more than two abreast. And littering is strictly prohibited, so be sure to take out all you bring in.
Leave No Trail Unturned
Bucks County offers a wealth of trails for walking, running, and cycling. The historic towns along the way can offer refreshments ranging from ice-creams and coffee to fine dining. And when you’re in the mood for trails of a less strenuous nature, the Bucks County Wine Trail and Bucks Count Ale Trail will be waiting for you.