A group of cyclists and history buffs gathered from near and far to experience the Erie Canal, learn brewery history and tour a selection of regional monuments.

The Erie Canal Museum rolled out its fourth Beers, Bikes, and Barges event of  the year on July 13. The 3-mile bike tour departed from the Erie Canal Museum in downtown Syracuse at 6 p.m. and concluded its tour at Talking Cursive Brewery. The sold-out affair welcomed more than 30 cyclists.

“We were looking to bring history to people and bring people outside,” said Steph Adams, a summer recreation programs guide for the Erie Canal Museum. “These have been a really nice way to make history more personal and also get more people into recreation along the canal.”

The tour stops included Clinton Square, Franklin Square and Inner Harbor. 

Now in its third year, the Beers, Bikes, and Barges event emerged from another exhibition, Erie Eats, which focused on the history of food along the canal and was curated by Derrick Pratt, director of education and public programs for the museum. 

Beers, Bikes, and Barges focuses on – well, beer.

During the event, cyclists cruised along Syracuse’s downtown streets in unison, halting at Adams’ signaled hand gestures at intersections. The group collectively parked their bikes, attentively listening when the tour guides took them on a narrated stroll through time.

 “It makes it a lot easier to connect to the history if you’re talking about an event standing where it was, as opposed to being in the museum looking at didactic texts,” Adams said.

Cyclists gather at one of the Beers, Bikes, and Barges events’ designated tour stops, Clinton Square, to learn the history about the Erie Canal and its influence on downtown Syracuse. Photograph by Yolanda Stewart | Central Current

The event had its share of newcomers participating along with regular attendees in the cycling community. 

“We just came out to ride our bikes and check out the bike infrastructure in Syracuse and be a part of the cycling community, and learn about the Erie Canal and our heritage,” participant Jason Woods said. 

Woods and his friend admitted that they didn’t know what they signed themselves up for. He was enthusiastic about the event, which gave him the opportunity to meet a community of bike riders, exercise and “[have] a cold one at the end,” Woods said.

A week before, both cyclists encountered a detour in their plans and missed that week’s Beers, Bikes, and Barges event. Woods and his friend instead rode along the Erie Canalway Trail from downtown Syracuse to Green Lakes State Park, riding for about 32 miles, Wood said. 

“The Erie Canal is the original superhighway, right? Now, we have concrete highways, and it went from the canals to the railways to trucks. We probably need to get back to more public transit and mass transit by rail, and other more sustainable means,” Woods said. “But in the meantime, the rail trails and Erie Canal trails in particular, I think it’s one of the longest – if not the longest – cycle trails in the country, and it’s just remarkable to explore what’s right in our backyards.” 

Pratt, a Central New York native from Chittenango, finds joy in talking about the history of the Erie Canal, riding with guests and drinking beer at the end. 

“I find it amazing how people from all around the world come to see the Erie Canal and experience it and ride their bikes,” Pratt said. “And, now, Beers, Bikes, and Barges is just great. I love how the public has really embraced it.”

With this event and the Erie Canal Museum, Pratt hopes to educate the public on how the implementation of the canal helped to transform and amplify New York State and the nation with trading and production of goods, including beer. 

“New York State became the largest beer-producing state in America, after the canal opened,” Pratt said. 

Greenway Brewing, which once stood where Talking Cursive Brewery is now, made 100,000 barrels of beer each year, he said: “And that’s all possible due to the Erie Canal being there, helping them ship there efficiently.” 

Clinton Square, where the Erie Canal once existed, is one of the major stops on the tour. It’s now a focal point for much of Syracuse’s year-round social activites, including festivals, farmer’s markets and a skating rink.

The tour highlights how the Erie Canal is credited with bringing wealth and success to the region through the infrastructure of the elaborate architecture displayed on the buildings, including the Gridley building and Syracuse Savings Bank, along with many others. 

“A lot of times, the economic success of the Erie Canal gets highlighted, but the Erie Canal also transformed New York socially and politically,” Pratt said. 

At the end of the bike tour, the riders parked their bikes outside of TCB and received their complimentary tickets for a cold beer.

The participants received a bonus adventure of getting a tour of the back room of TCB, where its beer is brewed.   

The partnered event drives commerce between both the museum and the breweries while promoting the history of the city, Pratt said.

All of the breweries that collaborate with the Erie Canal Museum produce their own brews and on-site and use as many New York-grown products as possible, he said.

Beers, Bikes, and Barges is growing in popularity, and many other towns have their own version of the bike tour. For the Syracuse BBB events, all of the participants brought their own bikes, and bike share programs are also accessible for individuals who may not own bicycles. . 

The organization also offers two different weekly walking tours of Downtown Syracuse, one that  focuses on downtown architecture and another that highlights the history of abolition along the underground railroad and Erie Canal called the Pathway of Resistance tour.

For Syracuse residents who are interested in participating in future Beers, Bikes, and Barges events, information about upcoming events is on the Erie Canal Museum website, social media and in its monthly e-newsletter. 

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