Whether you’re planning to ride your bike over the weekend or are serious about training for a week on some of the best trails in the US, Thunder Mountain Bike Park is a dream destination for many and it might be the perfect one for you too. It has the trails, it has the training programs, and it also has the services that make it a place where veteran mountain bikers, beginners, and outdoor enthusiasts meet to have a great time.
What is it?
Thunder Mountain Bike Park is a park that’s made for downhill mountain bike riding. It is located in Charlemont, Massachusetts. It is filled with loads of purpose-built trails for all levels, from green trails that are the perfect introduction to beginners to jump trails where only seasoned downhill riders can adventure.
Riders can get lifts up so that they can choose their preferred trail and ride it down as fast as they can and then start over again. This park is mainly suited for downhill riding and riders, but some trails might also be suitable for other styles of riding.
When is it open?
Normally, the early season starts at the end of May. The summer high season starts in June and ends in September, fall season starts in September, while the late season starts at the beginning of November and ends on the 10th or later depending on the weather.
Open hours are usually from 9 am to 5 pm during the weekends and from 10 am to 5 or 6 pm during the week. Bear in mind that except for summer high season when the trails are open all week, during the off-season you only get to ride during the weekend and on Friday and perhaps also on Monday.
The people at Thunder Mountain Bike Park strongly recommend a few things to ensure that everyone stays safe and enjoys the fun. You should always ride responsibly, which is a no-brainer considering the jaw-dropping descents on some trails. You should always try to stay in control of your bike while also knowing your limits. These two actually go hand in hand.
Inspecting and maintaining your equipment is a must. More on equipment a bit later. You should apparently also be “lift-smart”. That’s a good tip unless you want to climb on your own and lose hours of fun while doing so. You should also inspect the trails and all their features before you fully commit to riding them at full speed.
All signs and warnings should be obeyed, and you should do everything in your power to stay visible. Looking out for yourself and especially for others is what’s needed, and you should also cooperate with others to ensure you all stay safe but also have loads and loads of fun.
There are 5 categories of trails that you can try there. The green dot is for beginners. These trails offer gentle riding and they usually have obstacles such as tree roots, gravel, potholes, rocks, but nothing that should pose a problem to someone who has ridden a bicycle before, preferably also on off-road terrain.
The blue square is for intermediate trails. These trails usually provide quite challenging rides with difficult obstacles and steep slopes so you should be a competent mountain biker before attempting these. The trails may also feature narrow obstacles and all sorts of man-made features such as ramps. Expect to encounter rocks, jumps, etc.
The single black diamond/rhombus signals advanced trails. These are suitable for seasoned riders with advanced riding skills. The trails feature long and steep descents, loose surfaces, a mix of natural and man-made obstacles, elevated features, etc.
The two black diamonds/rhombi signal expert-only trails. Just as the name suggests, you should have highly advanced riding skills to be able to ride these trails. Expect highly difficult riding with large man-made obstacles, elevated narrow trails, high ramps, large drops, rock faces, etc.
The last category is the Pro Line, which is signaled by an orange triangle inside a circle, with the words “Pro Line” written inside. This is not for the faint-hearted, and all these trails should only be ridden by people who really know what they’re doing. These trails have the highest level of difficulty in the organizer’s rating system and for good reasons. Expect mandatory jumps, gaps, huge drops, and all sorts of crazy obstacles.
What bike should you bring?
Full-suspension bikes are recommended here. Except for the first level of trails, a hardtail bike probably won’t do much good, so you should have a full-suspension bike with a rear shock with at least 4 inches of travel. The front fork should have a decent travel if you want to be able to ride many trails and have fun while doing so.
The wheel diameter should be a minimum of 26 inches, although you’ll probably be in the minority if you come with a 26-inch bike. A 27.5-inch bike is probably a much better choice as it will give you the right mix of speed and control. You could also go for a 29er in case you feel confident in your abilities or are just a big guy/girl.
As for the brakes, don’t expect to ride these trails and do it safely using V-brakes or the old pull brakes. The minimum should be mechanical disc brakes that should be properly inspected and in full working order. Hydraulic disc brakes would be a much better choice, especially if you’re planning to ride the more difficult trails and don’t want to kill your fingers during the first run.
The seat should be put in the lowest position, for a proper position while riding.
If you want to be able to get the full experience and enjoy your rides to the maximum, you should bring a real enduro or downhill mountain bike with hydraulic disc brakes with large rotors and big suspensions with lots of travel.
In case you don’t have an adequate bike or would like to get a real downhill bike, you could rent one from the resort. You can get Santa Cruz V10s, Specialized Demos, SB150s, but don’t expect these to be cheap. The good part is that they all come with insurance so at least you’ll be covered for any type of damage.
What equipment should you bring?
In order to have fun and ensure that you stay safe, you’ll also need some protective equipment. A full-face helmet might not be mandatory but highly recommended. Without your face fully covered and a long chin bar, you run the risk of getting facial fractures, broken teeth, and a lot of other ugly cuts and bruises that could be avoided with the right helmet.
You should also bring one or two pairs of decent gloves. Not the types that you wear on a road bike, but the thicker ones with reinforcements against cuts and scrapes. And the gloves should be full-length and not fingerless. Falling is a part of mountain biking and downhill biking, in particular, so the question isn’t whether you’ll fall, but when and how often.
A good pair of gloves could save your palms and fingers from nasty accidents and allow you to get up and start all over again immediately.
What you might also want to bring with you is some protective body armor. A chest protector/back protector might be needed, as well as shin guards, elbow and knee guards, etc.
An adequate pair of mountain biking goggles would also be highly recommended. Besides keeping your eyes protected from dust and cold air that could have them fill with tears quite fast, they would also keep away tree branches, sharp stones, and all sorts of debris or insects that could cause injury or at the very least, inconveniences which could at times spoil the fun.
If you haven’t ridden a bike off-road or you don’t trust your abilities yet, you can take one of the many personalized lessons offered by the park. You can get the 101 Learn to Ride Package that’s fit for beginners, where you learn the basic skills needed to negotiate the trails.
There are also group bike lessons that are suited for beginner and intermediate riders and they come at a decent price. If you have the money to spend and want to improve fast, you can also take private bike lessons where you’ll have your own instructor to teach you the ins and outs of downhill biking and help you progress faster.