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Trailblazers: Mountain biking on Cape Cod

More and more riders are embarking on the Cape’s impressive trails, with one local organization paving the way

Shards of splintered sunlight sparkle against oaks, bayberry bushes and tangles of forest undergrowth in the West Barnstable Conservation Area. As you pedal your bike forward, downward, and east, you don’t exactly feel the sun at your back, but from the slant of its rays, the time is undoubtedly dusk. Perhaps an eight-point buck watches your progress from a clearing in a thicket; as you lean into a corner, maybe you’ll see him wave his white flag tail and bound off deeper into the woods. The trail unspools through the beech and oak that stands before you—firm dirt dusted with a fine sheen of silvery sand, a winding rope seemingly woven of moonbeams. When a garden of rocks breaks the earth ahead, you choose your line and shift your weight back slightly in order to glide over this uneven surface.

Now, as the trail curves in a wide “S”, you hug its outer edge, knowing you can catch a few feet of flight by popping off a half-embedded rock. Soon the trail turns sharply downward. You whip past the “Pine Corner” trail, which branches off to the right. The oaks have given way to pines, while the moonbeam sand is strewn with red, brown and tawny needles that seem to provide your already ample tires even more cushion. The sunlight nearly vanishes in this virtual tunnel of trees, then reappears after you’ve climbed up and around another rock garden. You push harder on the pedals as you near the hill’s summit, anticipation of the upcoming descent powering your legs. Oaks dominate the landscape once more, and the trail leads down to the jump, a rock that rises about a foot from the surface that you know will launch you nearly to the loose corner below. You corner hard, hop off another rock, then crank your way on a smooth slalom stretch to the dirt access road before you, where your riding friends wait—refueling with snacks and water, chatting about the latest greatest bikes, and spinning riding yarns.

This is the last section of “North Ridge,” an intermediate trail that rolls about one mile from Chase Road in Sandwich to Crooked Cartway, a fireroad in West Barnstable. It is one of the finest, “flowiest,” and most venerable trails on Cape Cod, a testament to the skills and countless work hours of a dedicated group of mountain bikers who, since the early 1990s, have been building, improving and maintaining multi-use trails in parks and public lands from Bourne to Provincetown. In the West Barnstable Conservation Area alone, behind the Cape Cod Airfield and wedged between exits 4 and 5 off Route 6, bikers of every riding ability can ride for hours on over 30 miles of trails. Visitors are often surprised to discover that our arm of sand and glacial drift contains so many riding opportunities. Questions such as “But there are no mountains here; where do you ride?” have contributed to a fog that for years enshrouded the sport in this area. Recently, however, through organizational developments on the parts of riding groups, the local mountain biking community has widened, and more riders are enjoying the trails.

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