If you are into bicycling, you may be adventurous enough to take a nice long expedition around Lake Winnisquam. It's a serious ride, 23 miles, with a couple of formidable hills, yet conditions could hardly be better on the west side of Winnisquam. Traffic is extremely light and Lower Bay Road is freshly paved. And, of course, the quiet rural beauty of New Hampshire is on display at its best.
To a serious road bike rider, which I’m not, this trip is a lark. Retired and pushing 70, I have made the loop on my old 10-speed lots of times and, of course, it is always a real effort going up steep hills without getting off and walking or having your heart explode. One should understand one's own physical condition and not do anything stupid. However, you may be ready to push yourself even if you have never taken a long bicycle ride before. It‘s really not that tough. Many years ago I dragged my grade-school-aged son and a handful of his friends around Winnisquam. Everyone made it, though we did walk up some hills. They just had regular kid's bikes, too, not friction-free street bikes.
A decent skinny-tire street bike is a must. Cushy big-tire bikes require too much effort just to keep rolling, even if they may have extremely low range gears. A good street bike with the tires pumped up to the max almost feels like perpetual motion, effortless. It’s all the same going up a steep hill, though. One needs a very low first gear ratio if you’re not going to walk up the hills.
Clockwise seems to be the less tedious route when tackling Balchelder Hill, the major obstacle on this loop. Going uphill is the name of the game when bicycling. Logically, half of the trip is downhill and just coasting.
The WOW trail out of town is nice, but there is no sense wasting your energy going up and down and around when you are actually trying to get somewhere, so heading straight up the hill, on the sidewalk, to the Belknap Mall is better. From there it’s all coasting, downhill all the way to Mosquito Bridge. The shoulder is good even if the traffic is bad, yet it is soon over with, and you cross the bridge and take a right. That's when the good part begins.
Traffic drops off to almost nothing,. Lower Bay Road is soon on the right and is freshly paved for miles. This section, right next to the lake, is absolutely beautiful. The pavement is so smooth and quiet, and the road goes on and on with only short, gradual rises and falls, until after so many miles it begins to steadily run uphill, but not steeply and not for too long. Black Brook Road will be another sharp right and continues for more miles of some of the most serene back-road bike-riding anywhere. The little ups and downs are of no consequence.
A serious incline
Eventually, however, Batchelder Hill Road looms on the left. It's time to drop it into low range, first gear and buck up. Cranking up a long steep incline is tough. Lots of things happen. You can get a rhythm going with your breathing and your strokes if you are in shape, or you may just have to get off and rest or walk. I have attempted some hills where I had to get off and rest my forehead on the saddle while sweat poured off of my face. There is no need to kill yourself, and do bring plenty of water.
Batchelder Hill road is a serious incline. It seems like you are reaching the top and then, after a short reprieve, you see that it just keeps going uphill. But then the crest is reached and it's almost all downhill from there on. The pavement is no longer fresh and you better have your thumbs around the handlebars so you don’t loose your grip on a high speed divot. At a downhill hairpin turn, Balchelder Hill Road turns right to Camp Waldron Road and then becomes Chemung Road, which runs downhill for miles, sometimes with a small rise here and there.
It is excellent fun until Meredith Center Road, which has a lot of fast traffic and a narrow shoulder to the right of the white line. It pretty much sucks for bicycling. However, about a half mile past Meredith Center, Collins Brook Road presents itself to the right, just in time, before Meredith Center Road begins a very long steep uphill.
This gets you away from the traffic and back on a quiet lake access road, a nice peaceful stretch of downhill coasting to lake level that eventually turns left onto Daisy Gardner Road, well past the worst hills on Meredith Center road. There is a small stretch of dirt road, no big deal. After more miles of pleasant, quiet, basically level riding, the inevitable uphill battle of Daisy Gardner Road begins.This is not as long a trudge as Batchelder Hill Road, but it is just as steep and marching uphill in first gear is always tough, especially after already putting almost 20 miles under one's belt. Drink lots of water.
Back on Meredith Center Road the unpleasantness begins again for just one more mile. This is the worst part of the trip, but street bicyclists are brave. The road runs past the dump toward Robbie Mills Field, at the back of the old State School property, then it's downhill all the way to Laconia. There is a shortcut through the old State School, where the abandoned road is rough and there is a gate to go around, but it’s all downhill. Parade Road has a wonderfully wide shoulder. It’s downhill until O’Shea Boulevard and an easy peddle back to downtown Laconia. There is even a designated bike lane on North Main Street. The entire ride takes less than three hours.
Peter Davis lives in Laconia.