3 Great Early Season Mountain Bike Rides South of Boston

Spring can be a challenging time for mountain bikers. We’re anxious to resume riding, but unpredictable weather often leaves trails muddy and impassable. Thankfully, some popular destinations dry faster than others. So, if you have the need to ride but your local spot isn’t quite ready yet, check out these locations.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Trail of Tears

With sandy, dry soil and mild winters, Trail of Tears in Cape Cod’s West Barnstable is the perfect place for logging early-season mileage. Offering a 20-plus mile trail network on a large parcel of conservation land, it features fun, mostly fast, and flowing non-technical singletrack, with twists and turns through a classic Cape Cod forest. Riders will also come across occasional boulders to roll over and small rocks to jump off along many of the trails. Just be ready for the occasional short, steep hills, which often leave even the fittest riders gasping for breath at their crests.

As you cruise around Trail of Tears, it’s easy to get lost in the rhythm and forget you’re even on the Cape. The woods are immersive, and stopping at the observation deck at the top of the North Ridge Trail reinforces this, as no beaches, traffic, or roads are in sight. It’s almost as if you’re in the woods of Vermont, New Hampshire, or Maine.

Of course, if you’re worried about getting lost, you shouldn’t be. NEMBA hosts rides on both Wednesday and Friday nights, allowing you to get a free tour. However, if you can’t make it, here’s a map. And, because Trail of Tears is the home turf of many Cape Cod NEMBA members, the trails are impeccably maintained, so you can let it rip.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Otis

Located a short drive over the Bourne Bridge, Otis is one of New England’s best early-season riding destinations. While nicknamed after its proximity to Otis Air National Guard Base, the spot is actually located within the Town of Falmouth’s conservation lands and the Frances A. Crane Wildlife Management Area, rather than on the base itself. And, if it weren’t for the hordes flocking to the Cape between late May and August, Otis could be a bonafide summer biking destination.

While very similar to Trail of Tears, Otis takes everything up a level. The singletrack is slightly rootier, rockier, and more challenging. More so, in riding up, over, and in between a series of drumlins, you’ll encounter a surprising amount of steep climbing that leaves many rethinking the Cape’s supposed flatness. Throughout the trail network, look for rock gardens, drops, and jumps, some of which add an extra layer of fun and may take a few tries to send cleanly. The cherry on the cake is the Gravity Trail, built in a natural half-pipe reminiscent of some of the classic trails found in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Don’t leave without checking it out.

Since space is tight, Otis has a well-deserved reputation as a difficult place to navigate. Indeed, the trails twist and turn, almost on top of each other at times. Fortunately, Otis hugs Route 28, providing an easy landmark and a bailout back to the car. If you ever doubt your location, just head toward the sound of traffic or pedal west, and then, take Route 28 South. Of course, this is easier said than done. Did we mention these trails are twisty?

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Wompatuck

Wompatuck State Park in Hingham, Massachusetts, is another great location. Built on land formerly occupied by the Hingham Naval Ammunition Depot Annex, it’s a bit closer to Greater Boston than the other two options and home to miles of fantastic mountain biking on single- and double-track.

Wompy has trails for riders of any ability. Ones around Prospect Hill are a must-do for those seeking out singletrack. From the park’s lower left quadrant, riders can take either a moderate (but steep) doubletrack or one of the four singletrack trails to the top. There, they can swoop back down the same fast and flowy terrain as it winds down the hill. Definitely worth checking out, the section between the S4 junction at the top of the hill and the S2 at the bottom offers some of the state’s longest switchback singletrack. Also, consider the descent between the S5, S7, and S10 junctions.

Wompatuck is full of surprises. As such, think about exploring the rest of the park’s trails. Around some corners, you’ll find abandoned military buildings dating back to the 1950s, many of which aspiring artists have spray-painted. Off to the sides, you may spot training sites, with ramps, jumps, and logs to play around on. And, near Wompy’s Visitor Center, you’ll find the Pump Track, an all-ages training course packed with berms, bumps, and jumps.

Although many of Wompatuck’s trail junctions are marked, the many intersecting trails make it easy to get disoriented. To plan a ride that sticks to the area’s singletrack, check out the Friends of Wompatuck’s interactive trail map. Then, keep it open as you ride to ensure you don’t get lost.

Do you have a favorite place to ride early in the season? If so, we’d love to hear about it! Leave your favorite early-season riding destination in the comments, so others can explore.


How to Prepare for Your First Century Bike Ride

Spring has finally sprung, and with it comes one of my favorite times of year: Century Ride Season. If you find yourself gearing up for a big bike ride this spring or summer—whether it’s a “true” century (100 miles), a metric century (100km/62 miles), or one of the shorter distances often offered at big bike events—here are nine tips to make sure your event is a success.

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1. Commit to a Training Plan

If you stay reasonably active year-round, you may think you don’t need to follow a training plan because you’re already fit. Personally, I fall into this trap often. You may also be turned off by training plans, because you think following one means you won’t be able to do the other activities you enjoy for eight to 12 weeks.

But, these plans exist for a reason. And, when you have a century ride on your horizon, it’s super important to find one—and stick with it. A quick internet search will turn up tons of potential plans. Look for one that puts you in the saddle for a minimum of three days per week, increases ride mileage and/or duration steadily each week, and leaves room for you to keep up with other physical activities. After all, activities like running and hiking are great for cross-training. And, as you don’t want to sacrifice strength training, either, keep your favorite boot camp or power yoga class on your schedule, too!

2. Hit a Spin Class (or Invest in a Trainer)

A lot of people love spin classes, but I also know many who can’t stand them. On one hand, spin classes help you mix up your routine and work on drills that are really good for you but that you’d never do on a real ride (I’m looking at you, Figure 8s). As well, you still get your workout in when the weather doesn’t cooperate with your plans.

On the other hand, I get it: riding in place can be boring. But, you know what else is sometimes boring? Century rides! Sure, the start and finish lines are always exciting. But, an hour or two into the ride, when the pack has dispersed, spectators are few and far between, and there’s no more music, you’ll need a strong mental game to keep going. Spin classes, and even trainer rides, are the best way to work on your focus. 

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3. Practice Fixing Flats

Most organized bike rides have a Support and Gear vehicle (often referred to as a SAG Wagon) or two on course at all times and bike techs at all the rest stops. Thus, knowing how to fix flat tires and make minor bike tweaks isn’t completely necessary. But, you should still know how to do it, and on the side of the road mid-century ride isn’t the best time to learn.

Practice fixing flats in your garage, so you can do it efficiently in the event that it happens on century ride day. Additionally, know how to handle chain issues, in case yours starts to give you trouble on the course. And, if you do end up having to perform a fix, be sure to have a tech at the next rest stop give it a once-over to ensure it will make it to the finish without any more problems.

4. Body Glide is Your Friend

Chafing may not be much of an issue when you’re just out on the bike for an hour or two. However, during a century ride, it can become a pretty big pain in the butt pretty quickly. Enter Body Glide, your new best biking friend (BBF). Before you ride, a quick application to high-chafe-risk areas—where the edges of your bike shorts’ chamois rub against your skin and upper inner thighs—prevents a lot of discomfort later on. And, if your feet are prone to blisters, Body Glide also takes care of that problem.

Courtesy: New England Parkinson's Ride
Courtesy: New England Parkinson’s Ride

5. Know Your Body

You’re going to be on your bike for a long time on century ride day. Plan for at least four hours, and that’s if you happen to be the fittest rider on the starting line. As such, it’s super important to know your body inside and out. Use your training rides to experiment with fueling options, so you know what foods and drinks your stomach tolerates the best. If you notice that one or both of your knees (or any part of your body) consistently hurt afterwards, take your bike into your local bike shop to make sure it’s properly fitted to you.

Do your hands get super sweaty while you ride? Bring an extra set of bike gloves to avoid palm blisters. More importantly, if you get to the check-in table and don’t feel like you can make it through a 100-mile ride, listen to your body, and ask if you can switch your registration to one of the shorter courses.

6. Know the Course

The influx of GPS-enabled watches and bike computers and apps like Strava means that even if ride organizers don’t provide course maps on their website—which is pretty rare these days—you should still be able to find a map of it somewhere on the internet. It’s good to know what kind of a ride you’re getting yourself into, especially regarding the elevation profile. Find out how hilly the course will be, and try to find training routes that are similar to set yourself up for success. If you live near the century ride route, or at least part of it, get out there, and train on the course itself! The more you know ahead of time, the more strategic you can be, since you’ll know where you can push yourself and when you should reel it in and conserve some energy.

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7. Know Your Gear

From the bike to your clothes and shoes to everything packed in your bike bag, there’s a lot of gear involved in 100-mile bike rides. Plan your outfit carefully, being sure to choose the bike shorts and jersey that will keep you the most comfortable for four to seven hours in the saddle. If you use clipless pedals, make sure the tension on them is set just right. Make sure you can click in and take off from the rest stops quickly, and get out of your pedals in a hurry, in case you have to stop unexpectedly.

Pack your bike bag thoughtfully, including a bike multitool, tire levers, spare tube(s), and a pump, in addition to anything else you may need, such as those extra gloves mentioned earlier or a travel stick of Body Glide, in case you need to reapply. Above all else, avoid using anything new—clothes, shoes, or pedals—on event day. Stick to the things you know and have been using during training to ensure a successful century ride.

8. Take Your Bike for a Check-Up

This one should be a no-brainer, but it’s one that a lot of people—myself included—often skip. Bring your bike into your local shop for a quick check or tune-up a week or two beforehand to make sure it’s as ready for the big day as you are. After all, while it’s great to have the tools (and necessary knowledge) to fix minor issues yourself, as well as access to rest stop bike techs, not worrying about having a mid-ride breakdown is even better.

9. Have fun!

Everything discussed above is important, or else, I wouldn’t have brought it up. But, perhaps the most important tip is to enjoy the experience. Most century rides are charity events, not races, so there’s no need to push the pace all day. Relax, make new friends, stop to take pictures, eat all the PB&Js you want at the aid stations, and just enjoy the ride—literally.

 

Did I miss something? If you have more tips for aspiring (or returning) century riders, let us know in the comments!

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10 Post-Ride Rituals to Keep Your Bike Clean

If you’re like us, washing your bike is the last thing you want to do after a mountain bike ride. However, allowing mud to accumulate on the frame, chain, and shocks is a great way to ensure that your bike will spend more days in the shop than on the trail. So, after your next adventure, follow these simple steps to keep your bike clean during mud season and beyond.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. Rinse

Begin by rinsing off the worst and most obvious mud. Start from the top and work your way down, using a gentle spray. High pressure may blow dirt into places you don’t want it, or blow grease out of spots that need it. In the process, make sure to hit the usual mud-collecting culprits: the underside of the frame, seat, and steerer tube of the fork.

2. Degrease

After the initial rinse, apply a degreaser like Pedro’s Oranj Peelz Citrus Degreaser to your chainring(s), cassette, chain, and jockey wheels. For the pro look, apply it using a small paintbrush to ensure total coverage.

Pro Tip: Cut an old water bottle in half, and fill it with degreaser. When it’s time to work on your bike, stick it in the bike’s bottle cage, get your brush, and everything you need to clean your drivetrain is right in front of you.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

3. Soap

While you let the degreaser soak in, cover the rest of your ride (except the disc brake rotors and pads) in a bike-specific soap, designed for use on all types of bikes. As such, you can scrub away with the confidence that it won’t harm the frame, components, or accessories and, equally important, will wash away grease from critical parts.

4. Scrub

After a few minutes of soaking, dig out a stiff-bristled brush and scrub your drivetrain—specifically, the front chainring(s), rear cassette, chain, and jockey wheels. Next, gently scrub the rest of your bike with a sponge (automotive sponges work great) and warm water, which does a much better job at cutting through grime than cold water. If your bike has a suspension, take special care to wipe any dirt from the fork’s stanchions and the rear shock’s shaft. If you don’t know, dirt can get dragged into the suspension when it moves in travel.

When you’re done with all this, do one more quick rinse to ensure you’ve gotten all the soap off the bike.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

5. Extreme Clean

If you had a particularly muddy ride, skipped a few post-ride baths, or simply want to give your ride a pro-level cleaning, then put it in a bike stand and remove the front and rear wheels. With the wheels off, it’s easier to clean all the hard-to-get places, and you can really scrub the rear cassette when it’s off the bike.

Even better, spend a few dollars on a chain keeper. A chain keeper makes cleaning and lubing your bike’s chain easy, and saves your drivetrain from unnecessary issues caused by back pedaling.

6. Dry It

You towel off when you get out of the shower, right? Give your bike the same courtesy, and wipe it down after its bath. This helps remove any dirt you may have missed, and prevents water from corroding metal parts or leaking into bearings and pivots. To be extra thorough, give your bike a couple of bounces to shake free any water hiding in its nooks and crannies.

Next, grab a rag and wrap it around your bike’s chain while pedaling backward (or pedaling forward, if you’re using a chain keeper). This removes moisture from the chain and helps keep it clean by getting rid of any dirt and debris missed in the initial cleaning.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

7. Lube Up

To prevent rusting and minimize wear on your chainring and cassette, lube the chain. We prefer drip-on-style lubes as opposed to sprays, because they make it easier to get the solution on the chain and keep it off your bike’s frame and disc brake rotors. Drip the lube on the chain just before the lower jockey wheel, spinning the pedals backward (again, forward if using a chain keeper) until the chain is covered. After the chain is lubed, wipe off any excess with a rag, as it can collect dust and dirt and do more harm than good.

While some people lube the chain before their rides, we prefer doing it during the post-ride cleaning. This way, the lubricant has an opportunity to soak into the individual chain links. It also makes it less likely that your chain will collect dust and dirt during the ride.

Pro tip: While you’re lubing up the drivetrain, give your clip-in pedals a few drops of a dry lube, like WD-40 Bike Dry Lube, to keep them clicking and releasing smoothly all season.

8. Look It Over

With your bike clean, give it a quick visual inspection—especially if you’ve crashed—to make sure the frame has no cracks or, in the case of carbon, deep scratches or gouges. If you encounter any cracks in the metal or damage to the carbon, have a pro check it out right away, as failure can be dangerous.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

9. Gear Up For the Next Ride

To ensure that your next ride has no surprises, finish up by giving everything a once-over. Cycle through the gears to make sure the bike is shifting well and to work in the lube. Check your brakes to make sure they’re functioning, not rubbing. Spin your wheels to make sure they are still true. If you’re concerned about anything your inspection revealed, bring it into one of Eastern Mountain Sports’ bike shops.

10. Start Planning

With your bike put away clean and in working order, there’s nothing left to do but sit back and plan your next ride. Maybe check out the riding around Boston’s South Shore? And, if you haven’t ridden yet this season, make sure to get some additional pre-season tips.

 

Do you have any tips or tricks for keeping your bike clean during spring rides? If so, leave them in the comments section.


7 Tips for Mountain Biking Etiquette During Mud Season

Springtime means warm weather, blooming flowers, and, for many, the switch from speeding down snowy trails on skis to flying down muddy ones on mountain bikes. Unfortunately, with all of the melting snow and April showers, trails can deteriorate very quickly. Particularly, riding on soft, muddy ground leaves damaging ruts and increases erosion. Thus, with repeated springtime beatings, the trails may not last, impacting access for all cyclists. When conditions get too wet, some locations may in fact formally close the trails to preserve their quality. In order to avoid damaging the trails, follow these tips to ensure they stay rideable for everyone, all year long.

1. Do your research

Check trail conditions before you head out. Thanks to social media’s ever-growing reach, trail condition updates are just a click away. Many local mountain biking clubs and groups post these updates online, so that riders know where things are good and which ones need time to dry out. Organizations like BETA, MTBNJ, and VMBA are just a few groups in the Northeast that regularly provide this information. 

2. Take to the hills

Some areas naturally drain and dry more quickly than others. Trail systems situated on flat areas more often than not require more time to dry than hillier networks or those with more climbs and descents. If conditions are questionable at the flatter areas, head to the hills to avoid making ruts and mud puddles.

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3. Get on some rock

Not all trails are created equal. Sculpted, flowing routes made from dirt or clay tend to be more sensitive to muddy conditions, whereas technical, rocky ones are more robust and less likely to be damaged if damp. If conditions are questionable, ride the techy stuff and practice your rock garden technique.

4. Steer dead-ahead!

It is inevitable to find lingering wet spots and mud puddles while you ride, even though everywhere else seems dry. When you come across a mud puddle, ride through it, not around. Widening trails are a problem everywhere, and are difficult to reverse. Consistently riding around a puddle’s edges only makes them wider, perpetuating the problem.

5. Gravel is great

Sometimes, everywhere is a sopping, wet mess, but you still need to get out on your mountain bike. In that case, head to the gravel roads, carriage paths, or rail trails. Here, you will still be able to scratch the off-road itch while protecting the singletrack trails until things dry out.

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6. Pay it forward

It takes a lot of time and hard work to make trails fun and sustainable. So, consider joining your local bike club for a trail work day. Building new, sustainable trails or fixing lingering problems on existing ones is a great way to help preserve the network and make it enjoyable for everyone. Just be sure you are working with an approved group, as rogue trail building does more damage than good.

7. Remember what you’re seeing

If you are expecting dry ground on your ride and are surprised to find less-than-ideal conditions, let others know that the trails still need some time before they’re rideable. Make a note of perpetually muddy or wet sections that may need some extra attention at the next work session. 


Explore Like A Local: Getting the Most of Fall in Burlington, VT

For this installment of Explore like a Local, we visited Burlington, Vermont, just as fall took hold. With its cool nights and warm days, we found this to be the perfect time of year to get outside and get after it. We packed in as many adventures as we could, but found ourselves wishing we had more time (isn’t that always the case when you’re having fun?). Given all of the possible activities in town and within a short drive, we just scratched the surface of this area—all the more reason to go back soon.

About Burlington

Located in Northwest Vermont, Burlington is nestled alongside Lake Champlain with roughly 43,000 residents, making it the most populous city in the state. The city has a distinct outdoor and progressive vibe along with a bustling restaurant scene and a busy pedestrian-only area on Church Street. The University of Vermont and Champlain College are both located here and contribute to the energy of the city. The city is served by a convenient airport and a major interstate (I-89), so getting here is easy.

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Activities

Cycling (Spring to Fall)

In Town—Activity Level: Easy

The Island Line Trail sits along the waterfront and heads north into Colchester. If you didn’t travel with your bike, head down to Local Motion and rent a bike directly on the path. The bike path is paved and almost completely flat. Approximately 35 minutes out of town, you’ll reach the amazing Colchester Bike Causeway (gravel, not paved). Ride directly out into Lake Champlain on an old rail causeway. Complete the trip out to the island community of South Hero by taking a bike ferry across a 200-foot gap, left open for boat traffic.

Stowe—Activity Level: Easy to Exhilarating

If you are seeking more challenging terrain, drive over to Stowe and the Cady Hill Forest Trail (on Mountain Road, not far from the intersection with Route 100). You’ll find a mix of beginner, intermediate, and advanced singletrack trails. The trails are generally smooth and windy, with some quad-burning climbs.
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Hiking/Backpacking (Late Spring to Fall)

Mt. Mansfield—Activity Level: Easy

For some of the prettiest views around, drive to Stowe and pay the $23 fee (+$8 per each additional passenger) to head up the Auto Toll Road. Follow the twisting road to a parking lot on the summit ridge, next to the visitors’ center. From there, hike 1.3 miles (600-foot elevation gain) along the Long Trail to the summit. Bring sunscreen, because you’ll be on exposed rocks for much of the way. Look for the geological survey marker in the stone at the tip of the summit. Fun Fact: For those who have skied at Stowe, the Green Trail “Toll Road” is actually the Toll Road that one drives up in the summer and fall!

Sterling Mountain—Activity Level: Moderate (Difficult if wet)

Sterling serves as one of the three peaks at Smugglers’ Notch Ski Resort. Hiking up the backside of the mountain in late spring, summer, or fall is a terrific way to access Sterling Pond, which sits a stone’s throw from the top of the Smuggs’ lift. The trail is steep in most spots and is slippery when wet. It’s 2.5 miles out-and-back with a 1,066-foot elevation gain. We hiked up pre-dawn with headlamps to catch the sunrise over the pond—well worth the effort, I can tell you. The views are spectacular, at sunrise and otherwise. Campers are welcome at the pond; there’s a lean-to that can accommodate approximately 10 folks, but not too many flat surfaces for tents.

To access the trail, head up Mountain Road (Rt. 108) from either the Smuggs or Stowe side and park in the parking lot at the top of the notch. The trailhead is directly across the street from the information station.

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Cave Exploring and Bouldering (Late Spring to Fall)

Both activities are accessible from the parking lot at the top of the notch on Mountain Road (same as above). Huge boulders have fallen from the mountains over the ages and are known as the Smuggler’s Notch Boulders.

Cave Exploring—Activity Level: Easy

Just steps from the parking lot, caves have been formed within the clusters of boulders. Wander in and out of the spaces and marvel at the size of the boulders. A few of the more amazing spaces require a bit of scrambling to access the interior.

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Bouldering—Activity Level: Difficult

Bring your crash pads and get after the amazing boulders of Smuggler’s Notch. Situated on either side of Mountain Road, the boulders present a range of difficulty levels. Pick your problem and go about solving it. Just make sure to have a spotter or two along for the adventure. It’s really amazing to see folks climbing the boulders just steps from the beautiful twists and turns of Mountain Road. A group of cyclists took a break to watch us and others work on the rocks.

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Rock Climbing (Late Spring to Fall)

Bolton Valley—Activity Level: Difficult

The Lower West Bolton area is a popular climbing spot in Bolton Valley, located just off Route 2 on Notch Road. It can be busy after work or on weekends in the warmer months. Take your pick between leading a route or top-roping. An easy trail leads to the top if you prefer to top-rope, and large trees and bolts are available to serve as anchors. The difficulty of routes ranges from 5.5 to 5.10b.

Skiing (Winter)

Activity Level: Easy to Exhilarating

There are five terrific options for skiers (four for riders) within an hour’s drive from Burlington. Stowe Mountain Resort is the largest of the bunch and draws the most visitors per year. With 116 trails and 485 acres of skiable terrain, Stowe has something for everyone. Smugglers’ Notch backs up to Stowe and covers three mountains. The main draw for Smuggs, as it is affectionately known, is the wonderful children’s program. Top-notch instruction, coupled with wholesome and educational entertainment, has earned Smuggs a well-deserved reputation as a top destination for families.

Mad River Glen caters to a different crowd with their “Ski it if you can” mantra. With some of the toughest terrain in New England and a skier-only policy (sorry, boarders), Mad River Glen has a cult following among experienced skiers.

Less well known is the terrific and affordable Bolton Valley. Only 25 minutes from town, it boasts 71 trails over three peaks. The closest resort to town is Cochran’s Ski Area. While it’s the smallest of the five, it’s perfect for families with small children. It’s only 15 minutes from downtown Burlington and serves as a learning mountain for little and big ones alike.

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Dining

The Skinny Pancake ($)

For breakfast and brunch, you need to visit The Skinny Pancake. I have two words for you: Noah’s Ark. Just order it. Trust me on this one; I wouldn’t steer you wrong (you’re welcome). The good folks at The Skinny Pancake have developed an ingenious menu, centered around crepes, that features sweet, savory, and healthy offerings, allowing this establishment to stay busy from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Vermont Pub and Brewery ($$)

Comfort food writ large. Find all of the classics (shepherd’s pie, wings, meat loaf, etc.) paired with terrific beers brewed on site. The house-made, flavored seltzers were a hit, as well. Just what you need after a long day of adventure, without breaking the bank.

The Farmhouse ($$$)

For a top-notch meal, look no further than The Farmhouse. Order communal appetizers and watch them disappear in mere moments as people figure out how damn good everything is. Better not be in the bathroom! Our visit in late September corresponded with local Oktoberfest celebrations, and The Farmhouse had filled three chalkboards with different types of märzen lagers for the occasion. And, speaking of chalkboards, we may or may not have taken over one of the boards and added a little #goEast artwork.

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