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.


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. 


Mountain Biking Boston’s South Shore

Mountain bikers rely on their local trail systems to keep their legs fit, skills sharp, and the need for fat-tire fun satiated. From mid-week training sessions to giving an out-of-towner a tour, the local trail provides a reliable place to ride. As well, a “oneness” with the terrain comes after having logged countless miles on it. So, for those south of Boston looking to join the mountain bike scene or just ride somewhere new, these three destinations offer something for everyone, from first-timers to seasoned riders.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Blue Hills Reservation

Located just outside of Boston, Blue Hills Reservation delivers everything from moderate fire roads and double-track to long climbs and gnarly rock gardens, making it easy to tailor rides to almost anyone’s ability. The trails are user friendly and well marked, and the easy-to-read map makes navigating the 7,000-acre park a piece of cake. Because of this, you’ll find everyone from serious racers in training to casual riders enjoying Blue Hills’ trails.

White and Yellow Trails

The main jumping-off point is the parking lot at Houghton’s Pond (840 Hillside St., Milton). From here, two color-coded trails designated for mountain biking depart: the White Trail and the Yellow Trail. The easier of the two, the six-mile White Trail is a loop marked with white triangles. Running in a counterclockwise direction, the White Trail is mostly comprised of gentle fire roads and easy double-track. The 4.5-mile Yellow Trail loop, on the other hand, is the more advanced of the two. Much like the White Trail, the Yellow Trail mostly follows fire roads and double-track but involves more climbing.

Buck Hill

Just because the White and Yellow Trails offer little in the way of technical challenges doesn’t mean advanced riders won’t find anything. In fact, they offer a great way to log mileage in between sampling some of the reservation’s more challenging terrain.

For more serious riders, the White Trail connects with some of the rocky trails that border Chickatawbut Road between Tucker and Buck Hill, before heading up toward Buck Hill’s summit, one of the reservation’s signature climbs. The near mile-long climb up starts moderately, but the technical challenges grow on the last third, just as your legs begin to tire. A fantastic 360-degree view, including Boston’s skyline and the harbor islands, serves as the reward for your efforts. Then, a fast and fun descent takes you back the way you came.

Those visiting should know that the reservation is closed to mountain biking in March, there is no night riding, and some trails are off-limits to bikes. Also, be aware that most trails are multi-use, which means you’ll be sharing them with hikers and horseback riders. For more information, check out the Blue Hills Mountain Bike Map and Brochure.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Borderland

One of the best-kept secrets for New England mountain biking is North Easton’s Borderland State Park. Why don’t more people talk about it? Simply put, for all of the great riding found there, very little of it suits intermediate riders. But, with ample easy and plenty of challenging terrain, Borderland is the place for scenic, smooth cruising, testing your skills in some of the state’s most difficult rock gardens, and answering the question of “Just how rocky can a mountain bike trail get?” The answer: Very!

Pond Walk Trail

Leaving from the park’s entrance at 259 Massapoag Ave. in Easton, beginner riders will love the mellow double-track found on the Pond Walk Trail. More than merely pleasant riding, the Pond Walk Trail takes you past many of the park’s most notable attractions. You’ll ride by Ames Mansion, built using granite quarried within Borderland; the Wilbur Farmhouse, dating back to 1786; and both Leach Pond and Upper Leach Pond. As a tip, advanced riders can loop Ames Mansion in with the Quarry Trail, which circumnavigates the old quarry.

Bob’s and NEMBA Trails

Advanced riders will want to challenge themselves on many of the park’s rougher and more technical trails. Two have been specifically designed for mountain bikes: Bob’s Trail and the NEMBA Trail. A great place for new-to-Borderland riders to get a feel for what’s to come, Bob’s Trail serves as a popular warm-up for fit locals. Specifically, it packs rock gardens, baby head-laden singletrack, and a bridge, all in less than a mile.

Riders looking for even more of a challenge should head to the NEMBA Trail. Featuring open rock slabs, steep rollovers, and tight twists and turns, the NEMBA Trail is perfect for advanced riders looking to test their technical abilities.

Borderland does have a $10/day use fee ($5 for residents), available from a machine at the main parking area. While Borderland is very mountain-bike friendly, mountain bikes are prohibited along a few trails, including the Pond Edge, Swamp, and Quiet Woods.

Also, the park asks that bikers avoid the trails on wet and muddy days to help keep them usable for years to come. As well, the park can get busy, especially around the main entrance and the mansion, so help keep the trails open for bikers by paying attention to and being respectful of other users. This map will help you get your bearings.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

F. Gilbert Hills State Forest

F. Gilbert Hills State Forest delivers some of the best mountain biking south of Boston. Comprising over 1,000 acres in Foxborough and Wrentham, its 23 miles of trails are well marked and easy to navigate, especially with the maps found at most major junctions. From beginner-friendly double-track to narrow, technical singletrack, Gilbert offers something for everyone. But, be forewarned. Everything here is a bit more challenging due to loose rock and numerous rock gardens.

Moderate Trails

Parking along High Rock Road in Wrentham is the best way to access Gilbert’s mountain biking. Understand, though, that you may want avoid the trails on Patriots game days, when nobody in their right mind should be attempting to recreate anywhere near Foxborough.

Riders looking for moderate terrain from High Rock Rd. should continue on the unpaved road of the same name into the forest. Noticeably different from double-track found elsewhere in the state, many of Gilbert Hills’ easier trails are wide and less technical. But, they’re also a bit loose, so pay attention while ascending and descending the park’s short and steep hills. From High Rock Road, riders can access a significant portion of the park’s more moderate riding, including along Messenger Road and the Megley Trail.

More Technical Trails

The area’s designated mountain biking trail makes for a much more challenging ride. Bikers can join it where it bisects High Rock Road at the halfway point or from the main parking lot at the end of the road. Riders should expect technical terrain throughout, with small sections of flowing singletrack interrupted by regular rock gardens and other advanced features. Although you can go in either direction, riding it counterclockwise means you’ll get the (comparatively) easier terrain first.

In addition, you can access a slew of other trails for both dirt and mountain bikes from the High Rock Road parking lot. Consisting of rough, rocky terrain that tests even the most skilled riders, these trails feature small to large drops, rollovers, and even a little bit of pure rock riding not typically associated with the Northeast. And, the unique geography, with three interconnected drumlins, provides lots of short, steep up-and-down riding.

 

Whether you’re looking for a reliable place to ride south of Boston or just interested in mixing up your regular destination, consider checking out these three locations. Each offers plenty of opportunities to log miles, tackle challenging terrain, and get in a solid training session. So, go out for a ride at one or all, and tell us about it in the comments.

Credit: Tim Peck
[/media-credit] Credit: Tim Peck