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Biking to Lunch in the Lehigh Valley

Updated: May 24

Before retiring, Carl Zvanut was an active bike commuter although admittedly he had some restrictions. These included only riding during good weather and days with no activities after work. His commute was 30 miles round-trip mostly along hilly, rural roads. At work he had access to decent facilities including showers and bike parking. It was a manageable setup for him.

Today, Carl pursues a different kind of biking. Each week, along with fellow retirees who are members of the Lehigh Wheelmen Association, he rides to different locations in the Lehigh Valley of Eastern Pennsylvania, culminating in a group lunch. Typically the rides are 40 miles long. It's a way for Carl to stay connected and active while exploring the beauty of the countryside.

Biking in the Lehigh Valley

Far n' Wide - South to southeast view of the Lehigh Valley. Photo by Nicholas A. Tonelli.

The Lehigh Valley of Eastern Pennsylvania is located about 60 miles north of Philadelphia and encompasses the cities of Bethlehem, Allentown and Easton, PA. The "Valley" was once a thriving industrial and manufacturing powerhouse. Today, the economy is more diverse and the area has been successful at luring large established companies as well as start-ups to the region. One of the more notable is the Boston Beer Company which brews more than 2/3rds of its signature Samuel Adams beer in the area.

The area presents a diverse set of landscapes including pastoral and rural scenes as well as historical and industrial structures that testify to the valley's heritage. For bikers, an abundance of rail trails, two-lane country roads and off-road trails across flat and hilly terrain offer diverse riding opportunities. Locally, a rich biking culture exists that includes a Velodrome and the home of two-time Olympic cycling champion Marty Nothstein who grew up in the area.

The Lehigh Wheelmen Association is the Lehigh Valley's largest cycling organization, with a program of recreational riding for all levels. Located in the namesake Lehigh Valley, the association boasts over 350 members of all ages and abilities and cultivates a vibrant cycling community. The group hosts signature rides such as the Donut Derby and the Gap Gallup Century ride as well as numerous weekly events.

Lehigh Valley Wheelmen weekly lunch ride.

Making Connections Through Biking

Carl was a runner for years, playing tennis and volleyball as well. After his knees started to give out his wife suggested he get a bike. As Carl puts it, "the bike has taken over." Although retired he is still very active and recently completed the Bike Virginia Tour which included six days of touring and camping the Shenandoah Valley. ​Several members of the club participated in the tour as well. Carl recalls camping and then riding into town of Woodstock, VA for dinner after a full day of cycling.

For Carl biking provides great exercise and is a wonderful social activity, but he also points out that it's a completely different way to observe and encounter one's surroundings. He notes that even riding a route in the opposite direction brings out new features. For Carl, "riding on your bike makes you feel so much closer to what you are doing - that connection is there."

Carl advises bikers to do what you enjoy, noting there are so many ways to engage in biking and it's easy on your body. 

Carl points out that the urban centers in the Valley have added bike lanes which are unfortunately ignored by motorists and difficult to enforce. It sounded all too familiar to the bike lane challenges here in Chicago. According to Carl, the behavior change on the roads between motorists and cyclists is still a work in progress.

He is encouraged by the investments in bike infrastructure and by the cultural change with regards to biking, especially among younger generations. He is amazed by the popularity of bike sharing, Not being one to be left behind, he has embraced this transportation mode and explored Chicago and various cities in Europe via bike sharing. Just listening to Carl makes me feel younger!

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