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.


5 Tips for Staying Comfortable Hiking in the Mud

Spring’s arrival is often a welcome change for the hikers, backpackers, and weekend warriors among us. It means that we can finally shed those cumbersome layers of wool and down, hit our favorite recently-thawed trails, and enjoy some warm weather for the first time in months. But, with spring comes mud, and a lot of it.

Hiking through the mud presents a unique challenge. Not only can it be exceedingly uncomfortable to trudge through ankle-deep puddles, but it can also increase your risk of injury and have a disastrous impact on the trail itself. Thus, it’s important to know how to responsibly and safely enjoy a springtime trail. Here are a few hacks to make sure you’re maximizing fun and minimizing impact during your mud season adventures.

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1. Bring the Proper Footwear and Clothing

And, make sure you don’t mind it getting soaked and dirty. Springtime hiking might not be the time to break in your brand-new boots, unless you know how to maintain them, as muddy conditions can potentially damage your footwear. Instead, reach for an older, sturdy waterproof pair that you’re not as concerned about potentially wrecking. In addition, it’s always a smart idea to invest in some high, water-resistant gaiters to keep mud and water from seeping in. You always want to keep your feet dry and comfortable when you’re hiking, especially when you’re walking through the cold spring slush.

Footwear aside, you’ll want to wear a good, sturdy pair of hiking pants that can stand up to the elements and have a water-resistant finish to keep the mud from caking on your legs. You’ll likely be getting a little wet, so look for pants that are made of a quick-drying fabric, like EMS’ Men’s True North Pants, to keep you comfortable on the trails. A moisture-wicking hiking shirt and waterproof top are always a safe bet, too.

2. Carry Trekking Poles and Mind Your Footing

Anybody who’s descended a steep, muddy trail knows how quickly your feet can fly out from underneath you without warning. Not only does a slick trail increase the chances of an embarrassing (and wet) fall, it also heightens your risk for a potential injury. For this reason, it’s important to use trekking poles for the added stability and traction they provide. Even if you’re not otherwise a big fan of trekking poles, bring them on muddy hikes. They help you keep your balance, minimize slips, and prevent falling altogether on a precarious descent.

On the topic of footing, it’s a good idea to make sure your shoes are tied snug—ever had a boot stuck in the mud and then tried to pull it out?—and to keep a close eye on where you’re stepping. Walk using smaller strides than you normally would to help maintain balance and keep sliding to a minimum. If there is any ice remaining on the trail, you should bring your MICROspikes, just in case. Also, when hiking in the mud, you should try to go at a slower pace than you normally would. In these conditions, being deliberate and mindful of your footing benefits you more than speed.

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3. Muddy Trails are Susceptible to Erosion, So Stick to the Middle

Once the winter snowpack has melted, trails are at their soggiest and most saturated. As a result, they are more vulnerable than ever to serious erosion damage. For this reason, it’s super important that you stay on the trail’s center and tread as lightly as possible. It can certainly be tempting to walk on the trail’s edges, or off it entirely, in order to go around that large puddle blocking your way. But, doing so would widen and erode the trail. So, do the right thing, and stay on the trail regardless. If you’ve heard or read that a trail is in particularly rough shape in the springtime, consider hiking elsewhere, until the ground has hardened up a bit.

In addition to sticking to the center of the treadway, do your best to step onto rocks whenever possible. Stepping from rock to rock helps minimize trail damage—not to mention, it keeps your footwear dry and in better condition. The conscious springtime hiker will always understand that the muddiest trails are also the most fragile.

4. Consider the Time of Day and Weather

Springtime is known for its fickle weather. Although temperatures can become warm during the day, evenings and nights can still get very cold—occasionally dropping below freezing. This means that the trail is likely going to be softer around midday and will be at its firmest early in the morning and later in the evening.

During mud season, always be aware of these temperature changes. You may want to plan for an early morning hike, as opposed to one in the late afternoon. The trail will be firmer, making for a less messy and more comfortable experience. Time of day aside, you’ll also want to keep a close eye on the weather forecast beforehand. A steady rain can turn an already-muddy trail into a Slip ‘N Slide. If it looks like it’s going to pour, it might not be a bad idea to reschedule your hike for a sunnier day.

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5. Plan for the Post-Hike

One of the best ways to make hiking in the mud a favorable experience is to know exactly what you’re going to do once you’re done. For starters, you should always bring clean socks, extra shoes, and dry clothes to change into after. Seriously, there’s no better feeling than getting off the trail and having warm, fresh clothes and footwear to put on. Conversely, there’s no worse feeling than a soggy drive home. It’s also important to think about where you’re going to put your soaking wet, mud-caked boots and clothes when you get back to the car. Keep plastic garbage bags handy, or use a tarp to line the trunk as you put them away.

When you get home, wash your muddy clothes right away to prevent further damage and mildew from building. And, even though it might not be fun, remember to thoroughly clean your footwear! Leaving the mud on can dry out the fibers, cause cracking, and ruin your footwear’s weatherproofing altogether. Take care of these post-hike essentials, and you’ll be ready to go for next time.


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. 


8 Reasons to Choose Waterproof Trail Runners

Anybody who’s working through the Northeast’s 4,000-footers should have a pair of waterproof trail runners in their footwear arsenal. Lightweight and blocking out moisture, they’re the perfect shoe for getting to the summit and back quickly on those less-than-perfect spring, summer, and fall days. Don’t believe us? Here are eight reasons they’re the ideal rainy hike footwear.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. Light is Right (Even When It’s Raining)

Everybody knows that a pound off your feet equals five pounds off your back. Since that adage holds true even when it’s dumping buckets, wearing these shoes is a great way to avoid a difficult choice between heavier hiking boots and lighter-but-not-waterproof trail runners. Not only will they allow you to maintain the hiking efficiency that you’re used to from regular trail runners, but they also provide almost as much weather protection as boots.

2. The Skinny on Being Heavy

Boots are also stiffer and less responsive, reducing your body’s efficiency. For every pound you put on your feet, you expend five-percent more energy. Five percent might not sound like much, but on a four-hour hike, that’s more than 10 minutes. Think of it as an extra 10 minutes to linger at the summit after the weather breaks.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

3. Flash the Flats

Waterproof trail runners let you move fast and keep your feet dry on soggy spring days or when you encounter unexpected showers. Since they’re designed specifically for running, you can race across that ridge, sprint ahead of that shower, or see just how fast you can cover that flat.

4. Warming Up to the Idea

Although trail runners might not be as warm as boots, especially traditional full-leather hikers, their waterproof liners add just enough coverage to make them suitable for cool spring weather or a little bit of snow lingering high up on the ridge. Even better, they adapt great on those days that start cold but warm up fast.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

5. Find Their Niche

Make the most out of waterproof trail running shoes by using them for the right types of hikes and conditions. Longer trips with lengthy stretches of flat ground and numerous short water crossings, like Bondcliff in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, are the perfect place to ditch the boots so you can cover the flats faster. They’re also ideal for shorter hikes, like Camel’s Hump in Vermont, where the support of boots isn’t needed—especially when you’re traveling through rainy and muddy conditions.

Pro Tip: When water levels are high, getting past a water crossing requires more than the right footwear. Check out this guide on safely crossing backcountry rivers.

6. No Need to Give ‘Em the Boot

Spring conditions—mud, rain, and repeatedly getting wet and drying—shorten the lifespan of both shoes and boots. Ironically, getting wet is what commonly leads to the demise of waterproof liners, as moisture brings minute dirt particles into the space between a boot’s exterior and its inner membrane. Here, the particles then slowly abrade the liner. Because waterproof trail runners are traditionally less expensive than boots, it is less painful to replace them when their time has come.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

7. Quivering for a Pair of Trail Runners

Even though trail runners are typically less expensive than boots, no one wants to be constantly replacing a key piece of gear. One of the great things about them is, they are an essential arrow in your quiver, truly shining during mud season and rainy days. Because of this, it’s not uncommon to get a few years out of a pair.

8. The Right Choice for the Right Day

Maximizing your time in the mountains is all about matching the right gear with the right conditions. Waterproof trail runners are perfect for logging miles in damp spring weather or whenever your trip has a high probability of mud and rain. Although they’re a key piece of gear, a lot of occasions still call for traditional hiking boots, as well as non-waterproof trail runners.

 

We want to know which types of footwear you wear hiking. Let us know in the comments!