Mountain Biking in the Western Boston ‘Burbs
So it’s early evening on a weekday, and you can still hear the phone ringing in your ears. You’ve got about two hours of daylight left and a biking itch to scratch. Where can you go to find a little piece of heaven near the Route 128 loop?
It used to be that the western Boston suburbs were known only for their road biking routes. Places like Sudbury, Dover, and Concord are still no stranger to the peloton, but what of a mountain biker’s needs?
The Middlesex Fells are close, but there’s a lot of “forest service road”. The trails have a few technical spots, and the hills will get you in shape pretty quickly. There is a loop for mountain bikers, but limited trail options beyond that. I like to treat it like my time trial course: where I go to gauge the progress on my conditioning. That is to say I like to avoid it because it reminds me what a fat wheezy creampuff I really am.
The Fells seem to get a lot of the attention from the mountain biking locals, mostly because some folks oppose all biking there. On the other hand some bikers feel like no rules apply to them and routinely ignore any restrictions. The ongoing conflict results in all sorts of tension over the rules, which is a little too much like my daily life at work. I hold out hope that cooler heads will prevail and eventually more singletrack will be open to mountain bikers. For now however, I’ll stick to the fire road loops, smile and yield to hikers, like a good mountain biker should.
Great Brook Farm
Great Brook Farm , is ahead of the Fells in technical terrain and has excellent singletrack. My favorites include Tophet Loop,
Heartbreak Ridge, Deer Run, and especially Stone Row. If you add the attached trail system in Chelmsford, there are hours of great singletrack to explore. Unfortunately, it is a forty minute nightmare of fighting traffic westward during rush hour. I would try a weeknight ride sometime, but I’m afraid I would only make it to the middle of Bedford before I park the car in the right lane and go all “Falling Down” at the local ice cream stand. To be on the safe side, I reserve it for weekend jaunts.
Burlington Landlocked Forest
Last year I discovered a little-known gem in Burlington, known as the Landlocked Forest. The park runs along side the southbound lane of Route 3 just before its intersection with 128. While relatively compact, there are many miles of smooth single track trails looped throughout. You can easily follow the abundant signs and well-marked intersections. It is not very technical, but has some man-made bridges and log runs if you’re feeling frisky. There are also a lot of unmarked and unmapped trails, like “blue crate” or “barn jacket”, which are available for exploration. NEMBA even organizes a Thursday night ride if you’re looking to check things out. Regrettably, getting myself there involves a drive on Route 128, which is like listening to Metallica on the way to yoga class.
A great place to take your first run on a mountain bike is not far from the Eastern Mountain Sports Newton Store at Cutler Park on the Newton/Needham line. The ride here consists of fairly tame singletrack with some long, wide bridges through the marsh. While it might get boring quickly, this spot is great for stretching the legs, doing a nightly timed ride to stay in shape, and learning what spiders taste like. Best of all, when you bash the derailleur off your brand new Jamis trying to impress your friends, the bike shop at EMS is only a short, shameful, walk away.
Weston Conservation Lands
Still on my “to-do” list are the Weston Conservation Lands. This expansive system of trails, centered on a rail corridor, runs all the way from Lincoln down to Wellesley. A map of the trails can be found on the site for the Weston Forest and Trail Association. While I haven’t yet ridden these trails, the word on the street is that they are relatively smooth, with very little technical challenge, making it another great place for beginners. The “word” also is that you should bring a GPS because the numerous intersections can get confusing.
Most nights I can be found at the Rock Meadow Conservation Lands in Belmont. While far from the wilds of northern Vermont, they are only five minutes from my house, and have all the flora and fauna needed to remind me what the woods look like. There are two tortuous climbs and plenty of singletrack in between. Bring your bug spray early in the season or you’ll pay a blood tax to the locals. While I can already burn close to eight
miles of trails without crossing the same path, the Belmont trails are part of the planned Western Greenway, which will add many more. Very recently, NEMBA built a connector linking the trails in Belmont with a substantial network of trails in Waltham and Lexington. The excellent singletrack tucked away behind the developments on Lexington Street sees little in the way of visitors.
Use caution, however, between Chestnut Street and the ball field as there is a lot of poison ivy. I mean A LOT. Hopefully with more traffic this will become less of a problem, but in the meantime, I risk looking like Brundlefly after every excursion.
As you can see, there are miles of accessible trails, even without venturing far beyond the Route 128 loop. So go ahead and throw down some cash for that mountain bike you’ve been dreaming of, even if you’re tied to a 9-5 job in the city.
The Boston ‘burbs have plenty of adventure for the taking, and they aren’t just for road bikers anymore.