With the exception of 2020, late-September brings with it the Triangle 200k bicycle ride. Talk about long sweet rides, the Triangle 200k is precisely that and I look forward to it every year. The ride is a fairly underground event, but it is open to all and has a super inclusive vibe. It ties the Triangle region of central North Carolina (the cities of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill) with a little bit of road, a whole lot of greenway, and a touch of gravel. As the name implies, it is 200 kilometers long or thereabouts and at a party pace, makes for a nice long day on the bike.
This year was the 5th running of the 200k and my 4th time riding it. You see a nice variety of bikes on the ride with the most common being gravel/all-road bikes with room for comfy tires, a few fixies which I give big props to for a moderately hilly, all day ride, and a handful of traditional road bikes. There was even a classy Kona Kapu steel road bike out there this go round. I’ve done all 4 rides on a Kona, my first on a Private Jake, the 2nd/3rd on a Rove LTD, and this year on a Libre CR. All of those bikes were well suited for the ride and the first 3 times were on 700c wheels with 1X drivetrains. The Libre with 650b wheels and a 2X drivetrain was especially dreamy.
It’s been nice weather (dry and sunny) every year I’ve done it with the primary variation being temperature. This year was an especially lovely start with temps right around 60f. We also started an hour earlier than previous years, making the start particularly crispy. We roll out of my home base of Durham, NC bright and early on a lightly trafficked road and head northeast towards Falls Lake. The first stretch consists of city streets in town that are pretty quiet on an early Sunday morning. We gradually leave the densely populated areas and are pretty quickly in the rural countryside surrounding Falls Lake.
The rolling hills around Falls Lake lead us to our first car-free section, the Neuse River Greenway, which is a 44 kilometer paved greenway with scenic views of the Neuse River. Our route takes us through about 32 kilometers of it and while it’s a joy to not have to worry about cars, you do have to navigate other cyclists, runners, walkers, baby strollers, roller bladers, and the occasional snake as you make your way South towards downtown Raleigh. Raleigh is the capital city of North Carolina and once you exit the Neuse River Greenway there are a series of smaller greenways and short road connections that get you to the gravel roads of Umstead State Park and the extensive greenways of the town of Cary. You hit downtown Raleigh right on the halfway mark, so it’s a good time to seek out some supplemental snacks with easy access to convenience stores. We have traditionally made a stop at a local brewery, but the earlier start this year put us in downtown before noon, so we had to settle for salty/sugary snacks instead.
The gravel section in Umstead was a welcome addition to the route this year and while it’s quite hilly, it’s a nice break from the pavement and a chance for the gravel bikes to shine. Then it’s back to greenway through Cary as we head southwest to the American Tobacco Trail, a 36 kilometer rails to trails project that runs along the abandoned railroad bed that was built in the 70’s for the American Tobacco Company. This section of the route goes down pretty easy with a very mellow grade and a fast rolling surface, which is good because you are starting to feel the 150 kilometers you’ve ridden so far. There’s a great rest area about halfway up the ATT for a quick break and refueling.
Once we exit the ATT it’s a bit more road to greenway connection over to Chapel Hill, the 3rd city of the Triangle. At this point you are really feeling any hills and the grunt up into the aptly named Chapel Hill is mentally and physically challenging. The upside is that some of us know there is a special stop coming up that will lift our spirits for final stretch back to Durham. The route through Chapel Hill takes us within a block of the shop I work at, Back Alley Bikes, and our good friend Jordan (out of the ride this year due to spill resulting in some broken ribs) has set up a final stop filled with all the things we are craving at around 175k in the ride. There are tasty cakes, oatmeal crème pies, pizzas, seltzer waters, and cold beers!
Once our cravings are satiated (for the moment) we roll out for the final leg of the ride. We are pretty quickly back on the greenways of Chapel Hill, heading northeast towards Durham. In years past this bit has typically been a race against fading daylight, but the earlier start this year had us riding it with plenty of time before dark. It always turns into a bit of a scramble at this point as people are feeling the rush of nearly being done and ready to get off the bike. As we roll back into the park we started at nearly 11 hours earlier, everyone is in good spirits and ready for more food and beverages. I ended up with 204 kilometers this year and I’m already looking forward to the next long sweet ride!