Best Winter Rides
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.
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
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
State Park, MA
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
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
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
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 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.