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Trailblazers: Mountain biking on Cape Cod

Before exploring the reasons for the resurgence of mountain biking on Cape Cod, it’s important to better understand the sport itself. Mountain biking shares many commonalities with skiing—such as the thrill of speed, the bonds among aficionados, an appreciation for nature, the need for focus, and the never-ending quest to improve one’s performance. Add to these the endurance challenges of Nordic skiing and, often, the satisfaction of shared accomplishment that sailors enjoy. Perhaps most defining, however, is the innate, childlike joy that mountain biking reignites.

The driving force for development amongst Cape groups and trail systems has been the New England Mountain Bike Association, or NEMBA, “a community of mountain bikers committed to creating epic riding experiences, preserving open space, and guiding the future of mountain biking in New England.” This educational nonprofit organization boasts over 6,000 members dispersed throughout 27 chapters. While Cape riders have maintained a chapter since the 1990s, official Cape Cod NEMBA activity fell somewhat dormant for a while; by 2013, its membership had dwindled to less than 30. Over the past five years, however, the chapter has been booming, and there are currently 130 members of CC NEMBA. In addition, its Facebook group page counts 1,176 riders.

Bill Boles of Sandwich, the “Outreach Coordinator” for all of NEMBA, explains how the increase in members has helped lead to improvements in Cape trail systems. “It has allowed CC NEMBA to do a lot more volunteer trail maintenance as well as lead a lot more rides,” he says. “More rides lead to even more members. Right now, there is a lot more enthusiasm for riding and volunteering than there was in the past.” Boles also notes that the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce commissioned the group to produce trail maps of the best riding areas. He says, “Their goal is to have the Cape recognized as a great mountain biking destination all year-round. These maps are on the chamber’s website as well as on our own.” Currently, maps of 12 areas are available to view or download, from Beebe Woods in Falmouth to Nickerson State Park in Brewster. (These areas are also great for hiking, running and dog walking.)

Scott Fenner Memorial Rock

Cape Cod NEMBA members gather around Scott Rock after the dedication in memory of rider Scott Fenner.

CC NEMBA officers Perry and Kris Ermi of Marstons Mills serve as vice president and secretary, respectively, and both have been riding Cape trails for over 20 years. They started out riding mostly with True Wheels, the now legendary shop that used to operate in Bourne, near the Otis Air National Guard Base. Perry recalls that shop owner Mitch McCullough would ride trails every day on his commute to and from work, and he would lead bikers through those early networks. Kris, a school teacher, also worked at True Wheels in the summer. Early mountain bikes were fairly simple, and many lacked modern comforts such as shocks and suspension forks, so riders were somewhat limited. “Then, about 15 years ago,” Perry says, “there seemed to be a transformation in bike equipment and in the structure of the rides. People started building features like wooden ramps, and we’d go out on rock rides.”

Despite early enthusiasm for mountain biking, most of Cape riding was insular; individual groups would tend their own gardens of trails with little in the way of cross-pollination—but this has changed dramatically. “Since Mike Dube became president of Cape Cod NEMBA in 2013, we’ve become far more organized,” says Perry. “We hold monthly meetings, regularly contribute to SingleTracks Magazine, and now the involvement and participation is Cape-wide.” Mike Dube, in turn, credits Bill Boles, saying, “All of this really started when Bill moved down to Sandwich. He’s one of the original NEMBA guys, and he put the heat on me. Since then, it has barrel-rolled.” As the overall group has grown, so too has the community of women riders. Kris says, “We initially had just a handful, but now there’s a good core of women across the Cape. We often ride with a group of 8-10 women.”

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