Gravel Pimp – Railway Recon 1

23 07 2012

Sharon on her first recon mission…

JQ commented on my last Gravel Pimp Recon post that the E&N Railway might be rideable from the south end of Shawinigan Lake down into Victoria. If so it would be the most direct non-paved route you could ride so it seemed well worth a look.

Our ride in red – click on map for larger interactive version…

The E&N Railway line runs from Victoria to Nanimo and is currently not being used. There is some talk of reviving it, but the funding issues between Via Rail and the Provincial Government have not been resolved.

3 fat Gravel Pimps on the tracks…

Sharon has been keen to get some Gravel Pimping done, but she only has weekends off so this is the first time a recon mission and her time off coincided. I had reservations about taking her on this ride as I suspected it wouldn’t be the most pleasant one we’ve done, but in the end I figured the spirit of adventure would make up for some of the challenges on this ride. Sharon and I rode our Pugsleys and Scott rode his Jones. So it was a full-fat and semi-fat recon… ;)

It’s not smooth riding!

We started in the north where the E&N tracks meet Stebbing Road just off Shawinigan Lake Road. The thought was that the gentle down grade into Victoria would make up for some of the hassle of riding on the tracks. The elevation drop is ~300m and is a consistent rail grade so you don’t notice it too much, but I am sure it helped us along the ride.

Scott takes the easy path…

The riding itself was fairly brutal. Don’t let these photos fool you. I wasn’t in the mood to whip out the camera when I was been beaten up by the non-stop WHOMP WHOMP WHOMP of the tracks. We rode on the edge of the tracks when possible, but that was probably less than 40% of the time and often there was only a 4″ sloped gravel/dirt margin to ride. So you had to stay very steady or end up sliding down the slope into the ditch. Something I did more than a few times.

Sharon taking the hard path…

Sharon is new to the Pugsley and less confident about her riding skills so she stayed on the tracks more than I did to avoid the nerve-wracking riding on the edge and the inevitable tumbles down to the ditch. I felt really bad for her as she pounded down the tracks, but there wasn’t much I could do other than be encouraging. We aired down our fat tires as much as possible, but the reality is that they don’t help all that much in this situation. Having said that I’m really glad I wasn’t on a rigid MTB with 2″ tires.

Feel the bump! This was 5 out of 10 in terms of the worst bumpy sections.

Scott hustling down the tracks…

The scenery is nice along the route with a remote feel that is welcome especially when you consider the tracks run fairly close to the major island highway. It’s mostly closed in with vegetation on both sides, but occasionally the trees on the left disappear and you get some lovely views of the Sannich Peninsula.

Nice way to break in that Pugsley!

Of course you spend a lot of time looking down and concentrating on not crashing so you don’t get to enjoy the views quite the way you might hope to.

Railway spike…

The railway lines looked to be in great shape other than the overgrown vegetation that obscured the track in spots.

Team Pugsley – still smiling….

Don’t let my lack of enthusiasm for bumping down the tracks make it sound like we had no fun. The adventure of exploring a new part of our island was keeping us stoked. Plus we figured the constant WHOMP WHOMP WHOMP action had to be firming up our butts making us hotter than ever! Hahahaha :)

Does this bike make my butt look fat?

I refused to judge Scott and Sharon’s “who has the better butt?” competition.

Police State…

It wouldn’t be a recon mission without encountering the red gates of doom blocking us from entering the Victoria Watersupply Area aka the DMZ. Thankfully this time they were perpendicular to our route and we weren’t forced to find a way around.

Cool tunnel…

We found one tunnel along the route.

Proof I was on the ride…

The tunnel was short so no lights were needed.

A very tall bridge…

There were 2 bridges on the ride.

Don’t look down…

I’m not sure how high they were, but it looked like a long long long way down!

Are we there yet?

After the first 10K I don’t think anyone was excited for more riding on the tracks and we started looking for a convenient exit.

A butt break…

Rest breaks were not for our lungs or legs – they were to give our butts some non-pounding time.

Plant Power!

The E&N kept us riding for something like 17 or 18kms before finally providing an exit onto paved roads in Langford.

The tracks are sinking!

The E&N’s few KMs provided some mud to keep us on our toes.

Sweet relief…

As well as some of the worst of the bumpy track sections, but also some of the nicest margin riding.

The end in sight…

I managed to ride over a wasp nest and got stung a couple times. That was painful, but it did take my mind of the bumpiness of the tracks for a while ;)

The big picture…

A few KMs on Goldstream Ave took us to the Galloping Goose Trail and on to Victoria. If you were enough of a glutton for punishment you could ride the E&N all the way into downtown Victoria – which is ~34kms.

On the plus side you can ride the E&N Railway and it does connect the south end of the Trans Canada Trail [TCT] to Victoria. On the downside it’s not a fun ride. In fact I would only recommend it as a hike – probably quite a nice one actually! If you want to ride the E&N just for kicks once go for it, but I doubt you’ll go back for a second helping. We rode unloaded bikes with big soft tires and it was okay. Fully loaded touring bikes [racks & panniers] would struggle and would probably have to be walked most of the time. I could coax my bikepacking rig down the E&N, but I wouldn’t want to. Although this is the shortest most convenient non-paved route between the TCT and Victoria I think the longer logging road routes to the west are a much better choice for enjoyable riding.

I’m glad we took the time to explore the E&N and see what’s what, but I won’t be going back on a bicycle!

Update: looks like trains will be running along these tracks in full force in year or so when the repairs are done.


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10 responses

23 07 2012
Jed

Hi Vic
Great Photos!
When I was a Kid I always wanted a Perple Choper. Now I may be changing my mind. To Purple Pugsley.

Its time for you to add another bike to the shed a Railbike!
http://www.railbike.com/default2.htm

Thake Care
Jed

23 07 2012
thelazyrando

@Jed – Scott was saying that Rick Hunter had a rail bike kit or two he made for some exploring in California. We don’t have enough abandoned tracks here to justify such a thing, but it would be fun to try.

23 07 2012
All Seasons Cyclist

AWESOME! Thanks for sharing the photos!

23 07 2012
Ty

wow! great adventure! makes me want a fat bike!

23 07 2012
Pat S

As someone who recently did a section of rails and ties on a fully-loaded fat touring rig (out of necessity, not by choice), I can attest to the brutality. One and done, here. Glad you got to bag a tunnel and a couple of trestles, though. Some small consolation there.

The upside to all this is that if you can somehow manage to get Sharon out on another recon trip, it’s guaranteed to be an improvement. :-)

23 07 2012
JQ

Hey – thanks for the credit and even more importantly, for doing the butt-breaking work! I think the ultimate goal for the E & N trail is for it to help connect the TCT with the GG so this would be one of the logical routes. Too bad it isn’t in excellent shape for a bike …

Nevertheless – you 3 are quite inspiring – keep up the good work!

24 07 2012
thelazyrando

@JQ – the gov’t has come through with funding to get trains running again so the TCT won’t be using the E&N rail bed for a bike/ped trail anytime soon.

@Pat S – I told Sharon that all our normal bikepacking type rides are more fun than this!

24 07 2012
DerrickP

Cool recap. I’ve got a train track that runs from close-to-my-house all the way to close-to-my-work. I’ve often thought it would be fun to make my commute by track instead of by roads. I tried it on my Troll is it was miserable. I’ve often wondered if a Pugsley would make it doable. This is one of a few accounts of people saying, “Nope.” It doesn’t seem to be worth it.

2 04 2013
Gravel Pimp – Got her done! | The Lazy Rando Blog...

[...] We tried riding the E&N Railway corridor from Shawnigan Lake To Victoria which is quite a bit to the east of our previous route. It worked, but riding on the tracks was pretty brutal so I couldn’t really recommend it as a bikepacking route. Not to mention it was almost too easy with no real grades and such a straight shot to Victoria. The Gov’t keeps threatening to reactivate the rail service along this line, but so far it hasn’t happened. It you don’t mind getting bounced around a lot and want to check it out it’s a viable option. [...]

27 06 2013
Pedro

Awesome, doing some fat biking on the railway from Regina to Lumsden, looking to an epic adventure. Thanks for the pictures.

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