Pandemic Pedaling

Owen Selby, 15, demos the mounds, berms and jumps he helped to build at the Peterborough Bike Park.

“There were more riders on the mountain bike trails than I’ve ever seen before and so many new riders,” says Mike Davern, president of the Brattleboro-Keene chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association (BK NEMBA).

        Davern’s observation echoes what has been going on across the country as families try to remain active during the coronavirus outbreak. According to retail sales data from the NPD Group, a consumer research company, children’s and adult leisure bicycles have seen double and triple-digit sales increases.

        Locally, in conjunction with the arrival of COVID-19, Davern says he saw a significant increase in children, families and even bike riding newbies taking advantage of the region’s trail systems.

        Since early spring, that’s dropped off a bit, he notes, likely due to businesses reopening, as well as seasonal changes like heat, humidity and insect activity.

        “But I still do see plenty of new faces out in the woods these days. It’s been great!” Davern notes.

        Though not new to the cycling scene, Emily Mousette, a Marlborough mom of two small children, David and Lucy, has definitely taken advantage of riding as a social play solution.

        “Biking was amazing for still letting the kids see each other but stay apart,” she explains.

        Several family friends have taken up the activity since March, and she’s helped them navigate the ins and outs of riding with children.

        “We have been able to have friends try out some of our kids’ equipment, like our bike trailer and … make their own purchases based on that trial,” Mousette describes.

        With the great weather and extensive trail options, she doesn’t see how parents can go wrong. She says: “Days we go for bike rides definitely help in easy, early bedtimes!”

        Her family’s most well-traveled route is the Cheshire Recreational Rail Trail. She and the kids have ridden all the way from the Eastern Avenue parking area off Marlborough Street in Keene to Stonewall Farm and back.

        “Stonewall has the benefit of gelato at the farm store, which makes it a good halfway point,” she says.              

To mix it up, they also hit the Ashuelot River Recreational Rail Trail, even exploring the covered bridges in Swanzey. On the Monadnock trail system, they’ve ridden from Jaffrey all the way to Rindge and plan to reach Winchendon by the end of summer.

        When it doesn’t seem like the right day for a long-distance ride, her kiddos enjoy the new bike park at Adams Playground in Peterborough. Mousette says it’s “definitely David’s new favorite place.” On weekday mornings, they often have it all to themselves.

        “It seems to have a wide age range — Lucy is able to do some of the smaller bumps on her Strider balance bike. We’ve also seen adults traverse the park with their middle-school-age kids,” she says.

COOL BIKE PARK COMES TO TOWN

Like many families in the region, Mousette is excited to check out the brand-new bike park at Wheelock Park in Keene.

        Evan Henkel, a local cycling enthusiast and bicycle repair professional, got his hands in the dirt alongside his preschool-aged son, Zavier, to help with the project’s construction. Henkel is a sponsoring member of BK NEMBA, the organization behind the new riding space.

        “The Keene Bike Park is far and away one of the coolest opportunities for a cyclist in any town I’ve lived; that includes Portland, Bend (Oregon), and Kansas City, Missouri. We have a truly special place,” Henkel says; he credits NEMBA with prioritizing opportunities to ride, noting, “Access wouldn’t be close to what it is today without all the hard work from so many.”

        Henkel, who has had a love affair with bikes since the age of 15, describes the sport as “my freedom, my sanity and my exercise.”

        He has spent a lifetime developing his skill-set both on the trails and in the shop and recently opened Live Free and Ride Bikes, a bicycle repair service based in Keene.

        “I offer everything from a quick tube change, bolt tightening and tune-ups, to customized bike fittings and full rebuilds,” he says.

        For him, finding the perfect bike for each person is key. It all depends on how you use it. Is it your main vehicle, or are you riding for recreation once a month?

        “If you don’t enjoy looking at your bike, you won’t ride it,” he notes.

        Henkel’s goal is to not only help riders find the right fit but also to educate them on basic care. He recommends at least an annual tune-up and reminds cyclists to check their tire pressure before every ride.

        “My passion is something I want to share with others, and it’s just icing that I get to make a living doing so,” he says.

        On the personal side of things, he and his family have been doing quite a bit of riding themselves this season. Though the pandemic has impacted their daily life, he’s viewed it as a chance to reflect inward on the people he cares about, his home, and the natural world around him, including the region’s incredible riding trails.

        He’s excited that others are doing the same.

        “The entire biking industry has felt this surge, and I am super stoked to see so many people getting on bikes,” he says.

        His family relies on local rail trails for doing normal tasks without a vehicle.

        “For road riding, where we live out in Westmoreland provides hundreds of miles of backroads that are absolutely stunning and challenging,” he says.

        When it comes to mountain biking faves, Stonewall Farm and the Food Network Biking Trail in Keene top his list. Though it’s a bit of a haul, the Kingdom Trail network in Lyndonville, Vermont, is another special place he likes to visit on two wheels.

For avid riders like Henkel, New Hampshire and the surrounding states offer up a serious menu of options. Davern says people are drawn to New England for its challenging, technical riding.

        “Trails tend to be steep, rocky, and rooty, and Keene is no exception,” he says.

        The skill required brings with it a great feeling of satisfaction and pride. In fact, Davern says trails like those in Keene’s Drummer Hill area are even used as a training ground for high-level mountain bike racers.

        He notes, “If you can ride the trails in New England, you can ride anywhere!”

Caroline Tremblay writes from Richmond, New Hampshire.