GIANT x PELOTON: Riding the Old Croton Aqueduct
Words and Images by James Startt
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
After focusing on New York City’s west-side rides for our first two outings with our Giant Revolt team, we decide to take it farther north and hit what is considered by many the ultimate gravel adventure out of Manhattan—the Old Croton Aqueduct. “This is really one of my favorite rides,” says Maurice “Moe” Adams, a fixie specialist and one of our three Giant ambassadors on this day. “The whole ride up the O.C.A. is just great and then, when you get up to the Old Croton Dam, wow! It’s really one of the most popular rides around here and definitely one of my favorites.”
The O.C.A. ride up to the Croton Dam follows the remains of a 19th century aqueduct once considered one of the Eastern seaboard’s major engineering feats. In the 1830s, sufficient fresh-water supply was an ever-increasing problem for the burgeoning city of New York; and the construction of a 41-mile aqueduct brought as much as 100 million gallons of fresh water daily from the Croton River to Manhattan, where it was deposited in reservoirs located on what is today the Great Lawn of Central Park and the site of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue.
And while the aqueduct was essentially closed in 1965, the trail and pathway that runs alongside it has become ever popular with hikers and bikers. “Access is really easy from the city,” says Austin Horse, a bike messenger world champion and another of our Giant ambassadors on this day. “You just go out of the city via Van Cortland Park and then jump on the O.C.A. Once we get out here, we’re on and off trails all day. You get all kinds of stuff. You get some single track. You get some easier stuff. And then you get some stuff you can’t even ride up.”
The O.C.A. trail is essentially divided into several sections. From Van Cortland Park, our team quickly rides through Yonkers before reaching the Hudson Valley and passing Hastings-on-Hudson to Dobbs Ferry and Wickers Creek; the riders then pass the village of Irvington into Tarrytown; and from there they cross the Pocantico River to the villages of Ossining and Crotonville before paralleling the Croton River to reach the dam. Our trio dodges in and out of an abundant variety of off-road conditions, and along the way they encounter numerous aging remnants of this rambling aqueduct, frequently rolling past what were once working culverts, ventilators or weir structures that facilitated the flow of water in the aqueduct’s heyday.
“You know, I live in the city,” says Giovanni Jimenez, our third Giant ambassador on our escape from New York. “This is not what I see all the time. But I need something other than skyline. And that’s what I get up here.”
On this autumn afternoon, the ride is not about speed, but as the trail opens up in certain sections there’s plenty of opportunity for the riders to accelerate and really test out their Revolts. “The Revolt has a gravel-racing geometry, which is perfect for everything the O.C.A. can throw at you,” says Jimenez. “It’s fun. It’s lightweight. You can spend a lot of time on it. It’ll rip like a road bike, but you can take it anywhere.”
Finally, the towering structure of the dam comes into view and you can sense the satisfaction of the riders. “Getting up here is like a release,” Horse says, summing things up.
There is a certain stillness in the air around the dam. The main road across it is closed to traffic and the sound of water cascading over the dam’s magnificent spillway resonates between the lake above and the Croton Gorge below. “What better way to get away from that concrete jungle urban vibe,” Moe says. “You really get into the bushes and the woods. You really feel like you are in another world. It’s a totally different vibe. It’s an adventure!”
With the ride coming to an end, our Revolt riders enjoy the views from the dam as a late-afternoon light peaks from beneath the heavy, low-lying clouds. Rain is in the air, but we’ve been spared from a soaking this time.
“There is just something about this place,” says Horse. “It’s special.”