May 05, 2021 7 min read

Modern Cycling: exploring backroads, byways, and trails on two wheels

It is no surprise that in the midst of the pandemic the cycling world is exploding – since now more than ever there are a myriad of ways to enjoy life on two wheels.Whether you are a longtime lover of adventure on two wheels, a bike commuter, a weekend cycling warrior, a bike racer, or new to the world of cycling, you probably know that in the last year abicycling boom has swept the country and many parts of theworld. 

Spurred on by the increased interest in outdoor adventure during the global pandemic more people are jumping back in the saddle in new and different ways. Theresearch is showing that as families spend more time together in the outdoors and more individuals turn toward outdoor activity for recreation, expanded interest in cycling will keep spinning through this season and beyond. 

Whether you are a seasoned rider looking for new adventures or just dusted off your old mountain bike and and are looking to find some trails for the first time, you might consider experimenting with new ways to explore on two wheels this season.  If so, this blog is for you.

Bike Geometry Has Come A Long Way 

1950's Era Bikes - Bicycle Heaven Bike Museum Pittsburgh
The Bowden Spacelander - a highly stylized, futuristic bicycle in the 1960s.


While the basics are the same, the nuances of bicycle design have come a long way and taken many turns since their development in theearly 19th Century

Bike design has always been a bit of a fine art, but todays bikes come with a massive dose of science as well. These days, final design is tailored precisely to the intended use. Steel, titanium, aluminum and carbon fiber are common materials - and you can even find bicycles made of wood.  

Bikes are now specifically designed for road riding, gravel riding, mountain biking, racing, commuting, easy trails, advanced trails as well as for the many different shapes and sizes goals and intentions of riders. The era of a one-size-fits-all bike is long gone, and it’s for the better. 

What is the right bike for your adventure?

The latest technology in the world of bike design does an amazing job of matching the bike to the road or trail it will be used on. Think about the surface, the duration and the purpose of your cycling. If you prefer to ride along paved backroads and avoid dirt, a road or touring bike is for you.If you want to explore the forestry roads which are mainly dirt or gravel, you might consider a modern gravel bike. If you are riding single and doubletrack trails on backcountry adventures, a mountain bike may be for you.  Want to learn a bit more about the range of cycling choices, including the bikes and bike design before planning your cycling adventures? Read on.

Hitting the Road – Scenic Roads and Byways

The Mid-Atlantic region has thousands of miles of breathtaking backroads where cyclists can wind their way on pavement through beautiful pastoral and rural scenery.  Whether you are up for a short or epic ride, the topography of the ridges and valleys on the pavement surrounding many of the Purple Lizard Maps is a great way to explore. To learn more about how to use your Lizard Map to map out your adventure, check out: The Best Adventures Start With The Best Map: 15 Ways To Squeeze Every Last Drop Of Adventure From Your Lizard Map

Rail Trails

One of the most exciting developments in recent years is the increased attention on the development and expansion of Rail Trails. Rail trails are built on historic rail corridors and give cyclists an opportunity to explore an area in a cycling friendly way - with relatively flat terrain and often beautiful scenic views. 

Nationallythere are 2,246 open rail-trails for a total of 24,677 miles of official Rails to Trails rail trails. Many of these trails are in the Mid-Atlantic region. All Purple Lizard maps have rail trails noted in the legend.


Rail Trial Riding with Family photo by Ryan Michelle Scavo 

Photo by Ryan Michele Scavo

Pro tip: Prefer a loop? You can often link public roads with rail trails to make loop rides so you don’t see the same thing twice, although in our experience a good rail trail is just as much fun going out and back.


Did you know that "Gravel Bikes" are a thing? If your first reaction is that any bike can be ridden on gravel roads, you would be correct, but a true gravel bike does so exceptionally well based on three main criteria: geometry, handlebars and tires.

Gravel Bike

The geometry of a gravel bike is more relaxed than a road bike, but quicker than a mountain bike. The handlebars are not the same dropped bars used on road bikes, nor are they the flat bars used on mountain bikes.They are a hybrid of the two: they may have a flared drop design or they may have a longer sweep, and they will often have more than one hand position. This makes them more comfortable for longer rides. 

The tires on a gravel bike are wider than road bikes, but not as ‘fat’ as a mountain bike tire. Gravel bikes also have a lot of options to add racks, and a variety of soft luggage lets you outfit them to carry extras for a couple of hours or a couple of days. If you or your family is interested in exploring in the quieter dirt and gravel backroad system, a gravel bike may be the right choice for you.


More and more people over the years have been hitting the trails with their bikes, and since the pandemic, Mountain Biking has experienced a massive surge.

Mountain Bike Trail

Mountain Bikes

The mountain bike has come a long way since the early days. Modern mountain bikes span a wide range of designs from hardtail to full suspension. A ‘hardtail’ means it does not have a suspension (shock absorber) for the back wheel. Most have a suspension fork up front to help smooth out the ride. Full suspension bikes have shock absorbers front and back.


From there, the discussion about types of mountain bikes turns to how much travel the shocks have – the longer the travel, the more serious terrain the bike is built for. Sub-categories of mountains bikes include cross country, all-mountain, enduro and downhill.



Photo by Ryan Scavo

These days, the mountain bike options are quite sophisticated, you can match the right mountain bike for the right trails and rider ability, of course your local bike shop will be a great guide if you are new to this market.

Don't Forget Fat Bikes

Of course, we would be remiss not to mention one of the biggest hits in the bike design world over the last several years. Fat bikes took the idea of the first generation 'fat' mountain bike tires and made them two, three, even four (or more!) times wider. This is all about flotation, and fat bikes will float over snow and sand like no other. Expand your riding horizons and seasons with a fat bike!

Fat Bike/Snow Riding

Photo by Ryan Scavo

The eBike revolution 

Electric bikes are the latest innovation in cycling. E-bikes have been popular in Europe for years and are just catching on in the United States. They open up a lot of opportunities for beginning and experienced cyclists! They make eBikes in every flavor we mentioned above: road, gravel and mountain, so whatever terrain you are looking to explore you can find an eBike to match.

Exploring backroads on Ebikes is fun for the whole family

Exploring Backroads on E-bikes can make cycling fun for the whole family.

E-bikes allow riders to cover more ground in their adventures, and for those who still want to get out, but are apprehensive about keeping up or making it to their destination with less suffering, they can be a great choice.

Types of eBikes

There are different classes of eBikes, the Class 1 eBike is the most popular – it is an electric assist design, meaning the bike does not move forward unless you are pedaling, and as you pedal the electric motor adds an assist, a little help to keep you moving along smoothly. The assist stops at 20 mph, so it isn’t a particularly fast bike, although it will let you cover more ground than you usually do ‘unassisted’. 

A fun, and we think helpful, way to think about eBikes is a guitar comparison: eBikes are electric, non-eBikes are ‘acoustic’ bikes. E-Bikes are definitely a little more rock and roll! There are many places that rent eBikes, and most bike shops carry them if you are looking for a test ride. Not every trail system allows eBikes at this time, so check with the land managers before you head out onto a trail.

eBike Regulations

In Pennsylvania State Forests, class 1 eBikes are legal everywhere an acoustic bicycle is allowed, but at the federal level, National Parks and Forests are still deciding which areas they are allowed and it differs by area.  Purple Lizard has been using e-bikes as a part of our Map Recon bike fleet for the last few years.

The Most Important Thing? Get Out, Peddle & Enjoy!

Whether you are sticking with the decades old bike you love, or planning to explore new types of modern bikes and new forms of cycling, your Purple Lizard Maps will unlock a whole lot of new landscapes for you to explore!

Lizard Maps show the dirt and gravel roads, the bicycle trails and the rail trails to help you get out an explore more. A bicycle remains one the very best ways to experience the outdoors with family and friends.


We think Dr. K. K. Doty said it best over a hundred years ago,

“Cyclists see considerably more of this beautiful world than any other class of citizens. A good bicycle, well applied, will cure most ills this flesh is heir to.” (1892)

Love bike history?

If you find yourself in Pittsburgh, don't miss the chance to check out Bicycle Heaven,the worlds largest bicycle Museum and Shop.

Lizard Founder Michael Hermann visits Bicycle Heaven

Bicycle Heaven, Pittsburgh PA - where bike history comes alive.

Purple Lizard Founder and Lead Cartographer, Mike Hermann, checking out a vintage purple Grove Innovations bicycle that he remembers from when he worked for Grove Innovations in the 90's. Grove innovations was known for cutting edge design and exquisite paint applications, two things Mike has carried over to the design of Purple Lizard Maps.

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