If you’ve included bike rental in your trip then you’ll be receiving your bike before the start of your ride. At the end of the ride, your shuttle will collect you and the bike, or you’ll be directed to a drop-off location.
We partner only with rental outfitters who we know provide high-quality bikes and service. The advantage to using a rental bike is that you can be assured of their suitability for the trail and their continued maintenance. For those traveling by air, it can be easier to rent than ship your bike.
(The following are our recommendations; each rider knows their own preferences and abilities best.)
If you do prefer to ship your bike, let us know and we can try to connect you with a shop at the start of your trip to receive and rebuild the bike.
We recommend hybrid-style bikes and at least 28 mm-wide tires with minimal tread.
If the trail is packed and hasn’t seen moisture for a while, you can run thinner tires (down to 23 mm). Mountain bike-style tires, or wide (2 in+) tires with large knobby treads, are not necessary for this trail and will actually slow you down.
If the trail has been moist for an extended period of time, April and end of October/November, trail conditions can be soft and slow going. It will not, however, be as muddy as the C&O Towpath can become.
We recommend hybrid-style bikes and 32 mm-wide tires (or wider!) with some tread. If conditions are known to be muddy, don’t bring fenders; they only become clogged with mud.
Riders on road bikes with 23 mm or thinner tires will find conditions slow and bumpy. We discourage the use of road bikes and tires on the C&O. Parts of the towpath also tend to be muddy depending on the weather. Many parts of the towpath are similar to a dirt road, there is a mounded, grassy middle berm and sometimes ruts. Trikes and bikes with trailers which will have tires running along the middle of the trail can find this surface to be difficult.
Remember that if you are riding with loaded panniers, the added weight will affect your tire traction. If trail conditions are wet and you are running a loaded bike, a wider tire (or less inflated tire) is recommended so you don’t sink into the trail too much, making pedaling more difficult.
If you are bringing your own bike, it is strongly recommended that you do a thorough check over the bike before leaving for your trip. Bring at least two spare tubes and a patch kit; you’ll be able to purchase most tube sizes at bike shops along the trail, if more are needed. It is a really good idea to take a few last “test runs” on your bike before riding, just to make sure everything is dialed in.
“The arrangements and coordination were flawless. We could just relax and enjoy the trip!”
– Joe G