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The networking is what makes mountain biking work

  • It's another busy evening at the Landmark-Boston Lot mountain bike trailhead in Lebanon, where instructors, riders and local bike shop pros unite in pursuit of a shared interest. (Courtesy photograph)



Special to the Valley News
Saturday, June 22, 2019

Tucked in on Mascoma Street, behind what looks like a construction site, the parking lot for the Nature Walk Trailhead in Landmark (usually referred to as Boston Lot) is full for 5:30 p.m. on a Wednesday. Cars and pickups with bike racks use nearly every available space. Groups of riders are preparing to head out for adventure.

The local bike shop van is here, too, signaling the weekly ride has been rescheduled due to tomorrow’s weather predictions. A group of seasoned female riders meet and greet to prepare for mentoring and riding with girls in grades 5-8 all summer. Ropes and cones line the only available space as another group gathers in a circle for a skills clinic. Handfuls of other riders come and go, each with their own purpose, drawn together — here — to ride around in the woods on two wheels.

The trails at Landmark-Boston Lot are maintained year-round entirely by volunteers, like most other trail networks. The volunteers live in the community and support the local economy. The local economy supports the bike shop. The bike shop provides equipment, information, opportunities and education. Opportunities and education get more people on bikes in the woods. And people on bikes build and maintain the trails. It’s the circle of life.

Jason Ouelette, owner of Mason Racing in Lebanon, volunteers his time on the Upper Valley Mountain Bike Association board of directors. His interest in community is wide-ranging, extending to local high schools, supporting women-specific clinics and maintaining the trails year round.

“Everyone that works at the shop puts in countless hours in trail maintenance, both at work days and other times,” he said. “I really think that we’re extremely lucky to have such a great mountain bike community and such great trails right in our back yard.”

Lebanon’s James Offensend, a long-time and avid mountain biker, believes active and welcoming bike shops are a key ingredient to the growth of community and the sport.

“The most successful trail networks have a strong bike shop presence,” he noted. “The bike shop is the hub for group rides and trail conditions. It is the place people want to go to talk bikes. They lead rides, promote and maintain local trails and support club events. Bike shops are the brick-and-mortar information center for the local biking community.”

Rob Walker, co-manager of Claremont Cycle Depot, is active in his local Parks and Recreation board. Rob’s decades of outreach include leading weekly shop rides, annual consignment sales, youth coaching and original content clinics like Yoga for Cyclists and Trailside 911.

“A bike shop, in my mind, is a bit different than other business models, where commerce is put before connection,” he said. “Bike shops that matter to me make a differences beyond sales. Behind the shop walls, the checkout counter and the repair stand are people who love more than just a paycheck or the act of cycling, but the effects a bicycle has on themselves and others around them. We want the feeling to spread, the tribe to grow.”

Colin Eggleton, owner of Windsor’s Paradise Sports, is seeing success and expansion of community with this same model. As president of his local bike chapter, Sport Trails of the Ascutney Basin (STAB), Colin regularly hosts shop rides, volunteers for events and supports Ascutney Trails, the Brownsville, Vt., trail network.

“One of my favorite aspects of owning a shop is getting people on and psyched about riding bikes,” he said. “Having the shop in the Ascutney Outdoors Center gives me the opportunity to speak with folks heading out for their rides, suggest loops, talk about the history of the mountain and what’s happening here now. Educating people — about equipment, the area and the trails. I love talking to people about bikes, and I think it is important for people to understand trail etiquette so we are able to continue to build relationships with land owners and enjoy the wonderful resources we have.”

While the bike shop is an essential ingredient, this vibrant ecosystem thrives because of the unique and interdependent relationships. The mutuality between these groups is based on community, the land and the love of all things mountain biking; these are the essential ingredients that make this network and others like it a success.

Leah Gartner is a member of the Upper Valley Mountain Bike Association and a certified mountain bike instructor.