▶ Biking excursion offers pollution-free look at Adirondacks

SARANAC LAKE -- About 70 bikers rolled into Saranac Lake recently -- but without the roar of engines or the curl of smoke from exhaust pipes.

These travelers were on long, slim, two-seated bicycles, peddled by pairs. The bikers were in town for their first tandem tour of the Adirondacks.

Their trip would take them from Saranac Lake to Tupper Lake, past mountains of heavily forested countryside, and then to Potsdam, where the land flattens out and fields of green crops stretch before them, on to Malone and then back to Saranac Lake, racking up 255 miles of pollution-free travel.


The genial guides of Gear to Go Tandems of Saranac Lake arranged the tour, motels and restaurants for the tour. The riders' personal luggage is carried in a van that follows the bikes.

Rich Shapiro and Lindy Ellis ran the tandem tours for more than 15 years out of Elmira, where they lived. They recently moved the tour business and their tandem bike shop to Saranac Lake because they enjoy skiing and felt the Saranac Lake area offers more winter sports for them to take part in.

The travelers on the July tour spent nights in the Adirondacks and days on their bikes, touring selected areas with grand vistas and historical stopovers.

Gear to Go Tandems runs similar trips in Ohio, the Thousand Islands and the Finger Lakes.


Brian and Cynthia Heppard and their 8-year-old daughter, Mara, travel on a three-seater tandem.

The Rochester trio said the longer bike "takes a little more room to turn around in, but is something you quickly get used to."

They said they average about 14 miles a day, with stops for food and some sightseeing.

The third seat allows a child to travel at adult speed and distance, while getting a sense of accomplishment. Special devices on the bikes raise the pedals to a level comfortable for a child's legs to reach.

The person in front is sometimes called the pilot or steerman and the one in the back, the rear admiral.

The pilot should have good bike-handling skills and judgment. It is usually better if the lead rider has a bit more upper-body strength.


Some cyclists have a little trouble getting used to the extra-long bike frame. Shapiro said he gives free lessons to first-timers on the tours, and he finds that in a short time they are riding a tandem with confidence.

For those who do master the simple balancing act needed, there are rewards over a single bicycle.

Bill Lindenfelser and Shae Hanford of Rochester said the tandems bring people closer together.

It also allows one person to take their eyes off the road while riding to read maps and to get the full benefit of the scenery that's passing by, they said.

A tandem allows two cyclists of different strengths to ride together without, as on single bikes, having to wait for the other person to catch up.

With a tandem, disabled people who couldn't otherwise ride a bike can share in the joy of cycling.

Traveling at 10 to 15 miles per hour gives tandem fans time to take in all the scenery.


David and Jane Buck of Chatham, Mass., switched to the two-seater bike because he "didn't want to wait for the other person, who might be a mile or so behind me."

The two have been on tandems for 10 years and have pedaled through much of Europe. The Bucks estimate they have traveled more than 15,000 miles on their bikes over the last decade.

They now have their sights set on a bike trip to Spain and Germany.

Steve and Amy Dunn of Michigan said their aim is to see upstate New York on their tandem.


Shapiro said the tour brought about 35 couples to Saranac Lake; they stayed in hotels, dined in village restaurants and shopped at local stores. He estimates their three-day stay brought in about $16,000 to the area.

Even better, he said, "the tour also introduced new people to the Adirondacks (and) most of them eagerly said they want to return."

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