New Hampshire is teeming with with mountain bike trails. From dirt roads rolling by stone walls, century-old cemeteries and covered bridges to narrow single-track paths, novice mountain bikers can take those fat tire bikes into the woods for exercise, scenery and fun.
State parks like Allenstown's Bear Brook, certain areas of the White Mountain National Forest, conservation lands and flattish rail trails are only a sampling of places to mountain bike. Select ski areas have welcoming mountain bike trails through forests and near streams, while it's also possible to take a chair lift at many to access some adventurous terrain requiring more body protection than just a helmet.
With loads of bike shops offering service, advice and rides to bicycle clubs geared to a healthy mountain biking membership, getting outside on a bike can be both a family affair or a solo undertaking.
"Mountain biking really does bridge the generation gap," says North Conway's Rob Adair, a mountain biker for nearly 25 years who also designs and builds trails. Mountain bikers tend to be stewards of the land they use, striving for low impact and goodwill while riding.
They're also a fun bunch. Novices should seek out group rides through clubs and bike shops to help navigate the Granite State's rocks and roots that are bound to pop up the better you get. A little trail etiquette, proper bike handling skills and knowing how to use bike tools go a long way.
Marty Basch is the author of several bicycling books including "The White Mountain Ride Guide" (2nd.). Reach him through http://martybasch.com.
Mountain bikers can enroll in trail building school to learn how to design, build and maintain the trails they will then use. They learn everything from how to use a chain saw to stone work and drainage.
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Raleigh's Mojave 4.0 mountain bike with 24 speeds, disc brakes, light-weight aluminum frame and Shimano components make it ready to tackle the trails whether it be a country dirt road or sweet singletrack. Sturdy and strong, its $449 retail price is reasonable for a dedicated novice (www.raleighusa.com).
Helmets are a mountain biking must and Bell's Influx ($64, http://bellbikehelmets.com) is a proven winner. The 18 vent channels and removable sun visor are nice touches.
Gloves can save your skin during a fall and help prevent blisters. The $35 price tag Pearl Izumi Pittards Octane Glove (www.pearlizumi.com) might be a tad high for newbies, but the leather side palm has good grip and the mesh on the back is cooling. And washable.
Rob Adair is the quintessential mountain biker. Not only does the North Conway engineer ride the trails, he plans and builds them. A mountain biker for almost 25 years, Adair is president of the White Mountain chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association (NEMBA), which was instrumental in developing North Conway's expert Red Tail Trail and the rollicking Sticks and Stones Trail. He is presently the vice-chair of the Conway Conservation Commission and a member of the Mount Washington Valley Bike Path Committee.
What's the best way to start mountain biking?
Probably the best way to start is to borrow or rent a bike and ride some empty dirt roads or easy, flat trails. Just get out there and pedal.
What is singletrack and some of the other terms used to describe various types of mountain biking terrain?
Singletrack trails are "one lane" paths, whereas doubletrack are woods roads or ATV trails. Typical mountain biking is known as cross-country riding, while downhill biking usually entails heavier bikes with more suspension and using ski lifts to access purpose-built downhill trails. "Free riding" is a term for biking on technical terrain, often involving rock features or wooden stunts.
There seem to be so many gears on a mountain bike. How do I learn to shift?
Learning the controls takes a bit of practice, but it is not overly complicated. Typically your right hand controls the gears at the rear wheel, called "cogs," which is where most of your shifting is done. The left hand controls the front "chain rings," which are used for more dramatic changes.
For example, climbing a long steep hill the rider would want to downshift to a small chain ring (low gear) to make it easier to pedal. A long downhill on a paved road would necessitate using the big chain ring. Most cross-country riding is done in the middle ring. In all cases, fine tuning your pedaling cadence would be done using the right hand to adjust the rear cogs.
What tools do I need to carry and how can I learn to use them?
A basic tool kit would include a pump and tire levers for changing flat tires; a tube and patch kit are also usually carried. A chain tool to repair broken chains is a good idea, as is a "multi-tool," which has a variety of Allen wrenches and screwdrivers. Most bike shops will explain how tools are used and there are many online resources.
Who builds the trails and how do they do it?
NEMBA is the largest trail building and maintenance organization in New England. We first seek permission from land managers, then plan and design sustainable trails that require a minimum of ongoing maintenance. Building trails is hard work; getting permission is often even harder.
When riding with kids, they want to go over rocks and jumps while I want to avoid them. How do we reach a compromise?
Why compromise? Mountain biking really does bridge the generation gap; the kids can ride over the stunts and features while the adults can go around them, and everyone can have a great time.
Where can I find where to ride?
A great way to meet people and find places to ride is to join a group ride, NEMBA and most bike shops offer lots of options.
This article appears in the July 2009 issue of New Hampshire Magazine