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New England’s Best Winter Rides

By Krisztina Holly (SingleTracks #59)

Some riders hang up their wheels come December and retreat to the wind trainer. Others retreat to the couch.

But there is no reason to come inside if you don't want to. Not only is ice biking an exciting, new way to experience the trails, it's a great way to make your co-workers think you're crazy (if they don't already). Plus, keep riding all season and you'll smoke your riding buddies come April. We spoke with NEMBA members all over Southern New England to find the best winter riding spots, and we have discovered an assortment for you to explore.

Ice Capades
Burlingame, Rhode Island

Burlingame, at the southern end of the "North-South" trail that eventually makes its way to Massachusetts, is the destination of choice for Rhode Island ice biking veterans like Jim Grimley. "In the summer we call it Burling'lame' because it's so easy, but in the winter it's like Ice Capades!" But he also recommends it for first-timers. "It's mellow, flat, and fast."


According to Tina Hopkins, former president of Rhode Island NEMBA, the chapter does a lot of their winter riding at Burlingame because it's on the coast and it melts before anywhere else. But when it does snow, it usually turns into 1-2 inches of fast ice within a few days. "Don't unclip," Jim warns, "or you'll go down!"


The Ride: Your best bet is to take the blue-blazed North-South trail to the northern edge of the park and back, which makes for a great 10 mile roundtrip. To find the trailhead, ride back down the hill out the entrance, take a right, and look for the blue blazes on telephone pole on the right. If you’re not satisfied yet, try the 4-5 miles of trails near the campground, known as the "King Time Trial" trails. It's unmarked, but follow the tire tracks. Unfortunately, there's no map. Ask locals about the unmarked loop around the pond, too.


The Gear: Wear orange! Hunting season continues until the last weekend in February. If you're planning to ride the big loop, avoid studs that are too big, because you'll be riding on some pavement.


The Directions: Take Route 95, to Route 4 South, to 1 South to Charlestown. Follow signs for Burlingame Campground exit (second one). Park by the gated ranger station.


The Shop: Kings Cyclery in Westerly Route 1, just past Burlingame, about 6-8 miles on left hand side. Ask for Jeff.


Follow the 'Biler

Lowell/Dracut/Tyngsboro State Park, MA

Encompassing nearly thousand acres, Lowell/Dracut/Tyngsboro State Park is a top winter destination because of the snowmobilers. They often pack the trails down, making for a great fast surface. It's almost as fast as hard pack dirt, and some of the downhills can be really challenging. "The best part is you can't predict where they'll go, meaning I usually end up more surprised than anything," explains Mark Bialas..


However, once you venture off the packed snow, it's usually not passable. "There's little worse than riding in 18 inches of snow," warns Tim Boyle from Billerica, MA, after trying one of the untracked trails, "although I did get more exercise in that half-mile than I would in a normal 10 mile ride."


Not to be missed are Beaver Pond and the wetlands that meander around the park. They are usually frozen over, allowing you to explore areas of the park that would otherwise be inaccessible. Keep your eyes open for the beaver dens and the abundant wildlife tracks. "It's incredibly serene and beautiful," raves Mark. "I've seen plenty of deer, fox, rabbit, and even an owl." But be careful of thin ice!


The Ride: Maps are available from the Mass DEM or in Stu Johnstone's "Mountain Biking Near Boston" book. But Mark recommends just following the snowmobile tracks. Tim suggests trying the large loop around park, using Totman Road and Trotting Park Road to link it together. And if the snowmobiles have been in there, "the singletracks near Sheep Rock just east of the parking lot are wild - you don't notice the drop-offs (2-3 feet tall and rideable) until you're right over them."


The Gear: Hard knobbies are usually fine, but if you plan to ride the ponds or if there's been a freeze-thaw cycle since the last snow, you'll need studs.


The Directions: There are many entrances, but the most common is Trotting Park Road. From 495 and Lowell Connector, take the Thorndike Street exit (2nd to last exit off connector) towards Lowell. At the fourth sets of lights take a left onto Fletcher St., go through 2 lights and over hill to a T, take a left onto Pawtucket. At the next set of lights take a right onto School St., cross the Merrimack river, and at the next set of lights take a left by McDonalds onto Pawtucketville Blvd. (divided highway). At the next set of lights take a right onto Varnum Ave., continue for a few miles until D'Youville Nursing Home, and take a right onto Trotting Park Road immediately after. Follow all the way to the end, ignoring all other entrances to the park.


The Shop: Foxco on Route 38 in Dracut, and ask for Bill.

Trail of Tears
Barnstable, MA

The Trail of Tears is a great destination if you want to get away from the white stuff for a while. "That doesn't mean there's no snow or ice," cautions Charlie Genatossio, Cape Cod NEMBA President and tree warden of Banstable, "but this being a sand bar on the coast, it drains really well, and we're usually snow-free."


If you went to NEMBAFest on the Cape, you'll remember the wicked fun and wicked fast roller-coaster ride that exemplifies the Trail of Tears. In the winter, when the ground is frozen, it's even faster. Don't forget to check out the new singletrack trails and a really nice observation deck overlooking West Barnstable conservation land and Mystic Lake to the South, courtesy of Cape Cod NEMBA.


The Ride: Maps can be found at Barnstable Town Hall at 240 Main Street or at Cove Bike Shop in Hyannis. The kiosk in the parking lot has a map, too. Follow the well-marked 16 mile guided loop, and add more trails if you're adventurous.


The Gear: Most locals ride with studs, but you don't need them. "In fact, up until a couple years ago no one used to use studs," Charlie says. "I still don't use them."


The Directions: Park at the Racelane Parking lot. Take Route 6 East over the Sagamore Bridge and take Exit 4. Bear right and go approximately 2 miles to a stop sign. Take a left, go approximately ½ mile, until you see a sign on the left for West Barnstable Conservation Area. Take a left onto the dirt road up to parking lot.


Big Terrain for Big Fun
West Hartford Reservoir, CT

If you're looking for endless winter terrain and conditions that'll surprise you every time, head to Hartford Reservoir in CT. A few trails near the parking lot have been set aside for hiking only, but the rest of the 30-40 miles of trails are pretty much open for exploration on your two wheels.


"The terrain is typical New England - lots of rock gardens, logs, roots - but much of this doesn't matter under 6 inches of snow," describes Charlie Beristain, from CT-NEMBA. "In the winter, you don't know what's going to happen. Some years it's frozen dirt, sometimes it's snow. It definitely keeps things interesting." Last year the park had so much snow, riding was difficult most of the season. However there's usually a nice crust on top of snow, meaning you can ride anywhere without even leaving a mark.


The Ride: The main loop is 9+ miles. For a map, go to the website: http://members.home.net/mtbikes/maps/west_hartford_reservoir_map.htm.
Whether you ride trails or fire roads depends on conditions. If it's heavy, stay on fire roads, because you won't get far otherwise. If it's 4 inches or less, or totally frozen, the trails are really nice.


The Gear: Better have studs!


The Directions: Take Exit 39 off I-84 and head towards Farmington. At the junction with Route 4 turn right onto Route 4 and drive towards West Hartford. Just before you pass a large pond on the left, turn left into the park's main entrance, between two stone pillars. Follow the access road until the very end in which you will find a large gravel parking lot. (There are other places to park for this reservoir system, too, such as on Route 44.) For more info, see the CT NEMBA website.

North Shore Shenanigans
Dogtown, Gloucester, MA

Dogtown is known to riders in the summertime for its super technical rock gardens and the boulders carved with inspirational slogans such as "Get a Job" and "Industry." But unbeknownst to fair-weather visitors, Dogtown also delivers prime ice biking in winter.


Cape Ann doesn't have much snow cover in general - but what it does have is usually very icy. It is also very pretty, with pine forests, a big reservoir, and almost no people. You need to be wary of the more technical trails in the South, warns Tim Boyle, who was just learning to ice bike the first time he tried Dogtown. "On Old Rockport Road, I must have fallen down at least 6 times before turning around and riding the railroad tracks back, with big snow banks on both sides. Luckily we had the train schedule, but it's definitely not recommended!"


The Ride: Check out the northern section of the park, called "The Pines," near Revere Street. The trails are a little flatter, with fewer boulders. "The pine canopy is really quaint, and it shields the trails from a lot of the snow," describes Justin Tocco, Northshore NEMBA member. To get there, go North past Whale's Jaw, straight on Anne's path, and after the downhill, go left into The Pines. You don't have to stay in the park; the scenic Steel Derrick quarry to the northeast is a great loop. If you end up in the South part of the park, avoid the railroad tracks, as there are regular trains. For a map, try "The Book Rack" in Gloucester or Stu Johnstone's "Mountain Biking Near Boston."


The Gear: Studs are recommended but not always necessary, depending on cover. When it is icy, it's really icy, so shoe studs are also suggested.

The Directions: The Cherry Street parking area is the most common for riders, but Justin suggests the more popular (with local dog walkers, anyway) Goose Cove Reservoir entrance because of recent break-ins at Cherry Street. Take 128 North across Cape Ann Canal. Go ¾ of the way around the Grant Circle rotary before going north on Route 127. After about a mile, take a right onto Gee Avenue to the parking area for the reservoir.


The Shops: Try Harbor Cycles in Gloucester, or Seaside in Manchester.

 

 

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