Sunday, September 27, 2020

Porsche bicycle adventure on the 184.5-mile C&O Canal Towpath

Porsche has always tested drivers and sportscars under extreme conditions. Whether it is Le Mans, Daytona, Sebring or race circuits around the world, you will find a Porsche pushing these limits. This same desire to test man and machine led me to explore what I can accomplish on a Porsche bicycle.


With this passion, I spent the last year researching, organizing and training to ride the 184.5-mile Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath on my 1998 Guards Red Porsche Bike S mountain bike. I accomplished my goal riding the entire towpath in just over 14 hours, across three days, September 24-26, 2020. It was an epic adventure of speed and endurance on a dirt path that followed the Potomac River in Western Maryland. My goal was to prove that a two-wheel Porsche performs as well as the four-wheel variety.


Most people, and even many Porsche enthusiasts, do not know Porsche sells bicycles. Porsche has produced 11 different models ranging from mountain bikes, road bikes, touring bikes and even electric bicycles from the mid-1990s up until the current range of ultra-modern bikes.


The first Porsche bicycle was the 1990 Porsche Bike Spyder 9.85. This prototype bike is the “missing link” between Porsche automobiles and Porsche bicycles. The Bike Spyder 9.85 was featured in a May 1991 Christophorus article written by Jürgen Pippig and explained in the second paragraph, “Since Weissach engineers and technicians are often enthusiastic hobby sports fans, it was really only a question of time until the strong two-wheel lobby within the technology smithy created a mountain bike which is the 911 RS of mountain bikes.”


The story went on to explain the goal of the Porsche engineers was to produce a prototype bike of consequent lightweight construction, uncompromising function and aesthetic proportions and shape. The end result was a serious mountain bike for the time. And at a mere 9.85 kilograms (21.7 pounds), it was incredibly lightweight. This bike was designed and built before the days of front shock absorbers, let alone a full-suspension mountain bike. 


Next, Porsche commissioned several bicycle designs in the mid- to late-1990s, particularly the Guards Red Bike S mountain bike I rode on the C&O, as well as the full-suspension Bike FS, the rare purple and yellow Bike R road bike and the high-tech and bright yellow Bike FS Evolution. All were wonderful bikes for the mid-‘90s. Porsche has since continued to commission the current line of high-tech carbon fiber road and mountain bikes found at Porsche dealerships today.


Most cycling enthusiasts see these bikes as a curiosity or oddity. When I ride one of my three Porsche bicycles, I’m often asked, “Porsche makes bikes?” This led me to push these bikes, and myself, to see if they are worthy of the Porsche name. I have now ridden my Porsche bikes thousands of miles, including the infamous 129-mile, 15,000 ft. elevation Death Ride in California’s Sierra Nevada on my 2004 Porsche Bike X in 2017 and now the C&O Canal Towpath this year.


The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal was built along the Potomac River between 1828 and 1850 to transport coal and other supplies by boat from the Alleghany Mountains to the Chesapeake Bay. The C&O Canal Towpath is a dirt trail that was used by mules to pull the boats through the canal. Once the locomotive came to the region, the C&O ceased operation in 1924. Thankfully the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park was established in 1961 for hikers, joggers and bikers to enjoy the towpath. The path is mostly flat, but today the trail ranges from freshly resurfaced, to rocky and muddy sections. The Porsche Bike S was perfect for the conditions with the front suspension fork, sturdy frame and mountain bike tires. My 1998 Bike S is all original, with the exception of the added rear mud guard, extra water bottle and bike pack.


My C&O adventure started in Georgetown, just after my wife dropped me off at Mile O near the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and World War II Memorial in Washington DC. She continued driving our 2006 Cayenne S as the “support vehicle.”


The C&O starts at the Potomac River lock where the boats used to gain access to the Chesapeake Bay. I rode the upstream and uphill direction, completing 74.4 miles the first day. Riding on this historic trail provides a glimpse of what life was like in the 1800s. The stone-carved locks and many stone and wood lock houses were an interesting sight. Back in the 1800s, people stayed in the lock houses and operated the locks around the clock to raise and lower the canal water level for the boats to pass. My first day of riding ended in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, where I met my wife at the Bavarian Inn. I planned this trip to fall within the traditional Oktoberfest timeframe, so the evening of German bier, spätzle and brats were perfect to refuel for the next day of cycling.


Day two, I rode 54 miles to Hancock, Maryland, where again I met my wife and support Cayenne for an evening out on the town. The final day was a 62-mile ride to the end of the C&O Canal in Cumberland, Maryland. The last day included riding through the famous Paw Paw Tunnel. The Paw Paw Tunnel is a 3,118-foot-long tunnel built using more than six million bricks. The tunnel is completely dark, which required a bike light to navigate.


Riding the C&O is amazing. The best way I can describe it is like riding a bike alongside the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland. Everything is green with the Potomac River on one side and the C&O Canal on the other. The canal is overgrown with trees, plants and flowers with deer, squirrels, rabbits, birds, snakes and turtles everywhere and the canal doesn't look manmade anymore. In a couple long stretches the canal turned into lakes. One lake had a lot of surrounding granite and even granite islands. This lake looked more like a high alpine lake than a canal towpath. The trees provided plenty of shade and the dirt path didn't collect heat like asphalt. I just kept riding and looking at all the sights. Since the towpath is surrounded by nature, you feel removed from modern society. And with the 74 historic locks and lock houses, you feel like you are in another place and time, not riding in 2020.


Cycling on the C&O isn’t usually a competitive effort. Typically, riding the C&O is more a relaxing and scenic bike tour. However, I wanted to push the bike, and myself, so I rode as fast as I could for the 184.5 miles. I passed every rider I encountered, and not one person passed me as I averaged over 13 miles per hour across the entire trip. The Porsche bike showed its speed potential over the long ride.


The towpath surface was challenging. Many hours of pedaling over the rough dirt trail conditions took a toll on my body and my bike. At the end of this incredible bike tour, I completed 190.3 miles in total. The extra mileage came from riding in and out of Shepherdstown and Hancock. Both the bike and I were filthy from dirt, mud and sweat. But the 1998 Porsche Bike S performed flawlessly. The bike did not have a single issue. Not a flat tire or any problem with the shifting, braking or suspension. The 22-year-old Porsche bike proved it is worthy alongside the great Porsche automobiles. 


If you have an opportunity, I would suggest purchasing a Porsche bicycle. I believe you will enjoy owning and riding a Porsche bike, as it provides the performance, style and engineering of a Porsche sportscar. And if you want a fantastic bike touring adventure, I would highly recommend riding the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath. It is an epic ride and will provide a memorable lifetime experience.


Click here to see photos from the C&O ride.

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