Bicycling with RVs

Combine the fact that the Pacific Northwest offers some of the best bicycle trails in the country and that bicycling is among the top activities enjoyed by active RVers, it’s no wonder you see so many RV’s carrying bicycles these days.

However, as we grow older, it becomes more difficult for some to continue bicycling, especially getting to those special places that might be a long ride, involve extended uphill sections or cover rough terrain.

One of the more well-known trails in the State of Washington is the John Wayne / Iron Horse Trail, which at nearly 224 miles long, is one of the longest rail to trail conversions in the United States. Another unique distinction is that 212 miles of the trail are part of Washington State Parks Iron Horse trail making it the longest State Park in Washington. The trail follows the old rail bed of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad, also known as the Milwaukee Road. Workers completed the railroad's rugged western portion of the line that connected Chicago with Seattle and Tacoma in 1909.

Some sections of the trail can be leisurely done downhill via car shuttle by parking at the Hyak trailhead on Snoqualmie Pass and rolling down the pass in either an eastbound or westbound direction. One 22 mile long section that can’t be done, is up and over the Boylston Mountains, along with a chance to view the 1,973 foot long Boylston Tunnel*. Regardless, whether you approach from the east or west it is miles of uphill pedaling through arid eastern Washington scrubland with no shade. As a fan of western history and early railroads, this section of trail had been on my “to do” list for years, but I wasn’t sure my wife and I were up for the endurance required to make the summit.


Boylston Tunnel Portal

With the promise of some nice spring weather, the itch to go camping and a standing offer from PIM Bicycles to test ride a couple of their electric bikes, I knew exactly where I wanted to go.


Nice Day for a Ride

Arriving at PIM Bicycles in Fremont (conveniently located on the Burke Gilman Trail (another landmark trail among cyclists), I was shown two bikes and their operation. We then took them outside pedaling (with no power assist) around the parking lot to get the feel of them. We then switched them on for a short ride down the trail, this is when the “wow” factor kicked in - these things could scoot and tame any trail.

With the bikes loaded safely in the back of my truck, it was time to head east to camp in the sunshine and complete another section of the John Wayne Trail. The 22 mile section of the John Wayne Trail that goes up and over the Boylston Mountains is located within the boundaries of the United States Army’s Yakima Training Center (YTC). Trail users self register at either the (west) Kittitas or (east) Doris trailheads. Free dispersed camping is available at the trailheads, but requires advance written permission from the YTC Morale, Welfare and Recreation Office (more information below) which I had easily obtained with a phone call. The west trailhead offers acres of places to camp, but is relatively close to I-90 and the din of traffic. The east trailhead is off Huntzinger Road, offers less space to camp but is far from I-90 with less noise and not far from the Columbia River. I chose to camp at the west trailhead as it was closest to home and the Boylston Tunnel which is at the highpoint of the trail.


Our Camping Spot

The Ride: The connecting trail from the camping / staging area to the old rail bed is steep and would intimidate the legs of most any bicyclists, but the PIM bikes were more than up to the task of effortlessly tackling the hill. Once on top, we headed east on the old rail bed (trail) riding upwards of 10 mph quickly covering the nearly 7 miles to the tunnel and summit via a constant uphill grade through cuts and fills of the scenic rolling hills. Even though most of the trail was through soft sand and small loose gravel, kept chewed up the many equestrian users that enjoy the trail, the PIM bikes pushed through it. We could clearly see where conventional pedal bikes had struggled in the sand making us grateful for the powerful motor propelling us up the grade.


Power Through the Sand

Thanks to the PIM bikes, we enjoyed a sunny campout and spring bike ride through some isolated country while scratching another section of the Iron Horse Trail and the Boylston Tunnel off my “to do” list while spending a lot less time and effort pedaling. Free camping at the trailhead was a nice bonus too!

To learn more about PIM bikes, the Iron Horse / John Wayne Trail and how to find free places to camp as well as tips for dry camping visit the 2018 Puyallup RV show May 3rd – 6th where you will find:

A display of PIM Bikes at the show in booths 8 & 9 as well as an area where you can test ride a bike yourself.

Washington State Parks will be exhibiting in booth #39 where you can obtain more information about the trail.

The Boondocking 101 seminar where you can learn how to find free places to camp (like the trailhead) on State and Federal land along with tips on how to dry camp.


MORE INFORMATION:

PIM Bikes

While I am far from an electric bike expert, here is what I learned during our test ride:

The bikes were delivered to me on the second highest power setting (2) of 5 ranges from -1 to 3. Not having time to test them in advance of our ride, I left my wife’s on the higher power setting (2) and turned mine down to the (1) setting part way up the trail. The higher power setting resulted in the bikes being more like an electric bike than a pedal assist bike (requiring more battery power). Additionally, I took the sandier track to test out what the bike could do while my wife rode in the more well traveled track. As a result, I depleted the battery in my bike sooner than expected. Experimenting with the bikes since riding the trail, I learned the bikes would have been better suited running in the - 1 power setting which would have been a slower pace and easier on the batteries. Keep in mind when the battery is depleted you can still pedal PIM Bikes like a conventional pedal bike, but you will have the added weight of the battery and motor making it more of an effort than a conventional bike.


Readout

The bikes feature front shocks but no rear suspension, so you will feel the effect of rougher trails on your back side. This is not much of an issue on pavement.

The seats the bikes come with are more appropriate for someone racing in the Tour de France than those of us RVers that receive discount meals at Denny’s.

Here are some of the features I liked about the PIM bikes:

  • The integrated batteries can be charged in the bikes or removed to be charged elsewhere via a 120 volt charger or 12 volt charger that plugs into a standard 12 volt outlet (formerly known as a cigarette lighter outlet). The 12 volt outlet option is great for RVers who dry camp and have solar panels. The batteries fully charge in about 4-6 hours.

  • There is a readout on the left handlebar that shows your; speed, distance traveled, duration of the trip and battery charge level. It also has conveniently located up and down buttons for changing the power setting.

  • If you leave the kick stand down, the electric motor won’t engage which is a nice safety feature.

  • Up and down gear selector levers which also act as power selectors.

  • Regenerative braking just like hybrid cars.

  • The power assist will allow many RVers that had quit bicycling to take up the sport again.

For more information on the John Wayne / Iron Horse Trail:

Friends of the John Wayne Trail 

Iron Horse State Park Trail 

Click here to view the policy letter regarding travel through the section of the trail that crosses the Yakima Training Center. 

Camping:

Item “3 h.”of the Yakima Training Center Policy Letter states:

“h. Trail users may camp at either the Kittitas or Doris Trail Heads upon written pre-arranged approval by YTC Morale, Welfare and Recreation Office. Camping is not permitted elsewhere along the trail. Camping at these locations is restricted to individuals using the JWT.”

To obtain written permission call 509-577-3337

There are vault toilets at both trailheads, but no potable water.


Acres of Camping - Bring Your Friends

The Boylston Tunnel

*The 1,973 foot long Boylston tunnel bears the initials (C, M & P S) over the arch and the number (45) to one side. The initials stood for Chicago, Milwaukee & Puget Sound as the railroad was known at the time of construction. The 45 simply is the tunnel number, the railroad also referred to it as the Johnson Creek tunnel. Note: While there are no gates or signage keeping you from entering the tunnel, Washington State Parks and the Yakima Training Center consider the tunnel closed due to the potential of falling rock. A trail bypass is in place that takes you up and over the tunnel.

Final note: Washington State Parks recently voted to change the name of the John Wayne / Iron Horse Trail to something that provides a more recognizable and marketable identity.

 

Dave Helgeson
Author: Dave Helgeson
Dave Helgeson is the MHRV Show Director. He and his wife love to travel across the west in their RV.

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