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Riding the Hampster Tail | The Stupid Things Old Guys Do
7/25/2021

I confess that I am one of those stupid old guys (60 plus) that thinks riding off-road is a good idea. I have no delusion that I am a great rider or that my aging bones are in the shape to sustain the rigors of off-road riding. But even so, it is still fun and challenging, even at my advanced age.

My goals and that of my riding partners is to ride as many of the Back Country Discovery Routes as possible. In fact, this August we are planning on tackling the bulk of the Northeast BDR, which is rated one of the hardest of the 10 BDR routes.

To get in shape for this adventure, we decided to ride what is known as the "Hampster Trail." This nearly 400-mile track runs the length of New Hampshire from south to north and is advertised as being "big bike friendly."

I downloaded the GPS tracks, using version 8 as suggested in the ADV forums, and divided it into three sections. The first, running from Hollis New Hampshire to Little New Hampshire, a distance just under 200-miles; plus, the 67 miles we needed to ride from my home near Foxboro, MA.

I was riding my 2020 Yamaha WR250R while my companions were mounted on a 2018 Yamaha XT250, a 2020 Husqvarna 701 LR and a 2018 BMW GS 1200. We met in Hollis and hit the road headed to Littleton for the evening.

This first section turned out to be a very relaxing ride on mostly backroad or hard packed dirt. I would estimate that the route was approximately 60% dirt and 40% tarmac. Except for one short but rugged section, this was a very mild and enjoyable ride, easily taken by large bikes or riders of limited off-road experience.

For the evening we stayed at the Hampton Inn in Littleton and walked to the Appleby’s for dinner, which was situated right next door to the hotel. At this stop we picked up another rider on a Yamaha Super Tenere who was riding Hampster on this own. Of course, we invited him to come along as we continued our journey northward.

The flowing day we started on section two, which ran from Littleton to Errol, NH at the junction of routes 16 and 26. At this location is the LL Cote Décor and Outlet Store as well as an Irving Oil station, so it proved to be the perfect place for a break.

The second section was a mixture of the same easy two-lane dirt roads we had encountered the previous day, with a few more difficult sections thrown in. These rougher sections were found in an off-road vehicle area between Dummer and Errol New Hampshire, where the track took us into an OHRV (Off Highway Recreational Vehicle) area.

In our pre-trip research, everyone on the various forums we visited said the Hampster Trail was completely legal to ride, however as we got into this OHRV section we noticed signs that indicated "trail bikes" were not allowed.

This is where we got a bit confused. In New Hampshire a Trail Bike is defined as "Any motor-driven wheeled vehicle on which there is a saddle or seat for the operator and/or passenger designed to travel off maintained roads."

It seems obvious that our bikes, meet the criteria for a "Trail Bike," however, me and my companions were on "dual sport" or "adventure" bikes, so they were legally registered to ride on the street, just as any car truck.

An OHRV is defined as "Any mechanically propelled vehicle used off a public way for recreational or pleasure purposes and dependent on the ground or other surface for travel. All legally registered motorized vehicles used off the highway for these purposes shall be deemed as an OHRV."

Being that our bikes are legally registered to ride on the street, it is also clear that they also meet the criteria as OHRV’s.

As we got deeper into the off-road area, we started to see signs indicating that "Trail Bikes" were not allowed, but did that include us? What were our dual sport or adventures bike defined as?

More on this at the end of this blog.

The trails were still wide but became sandier and rockier as we got deeper into the OHRV area. There was one rocky hill that required a bit more skill and even though we made it up, three of us dropped our bikes along the way. No one was injured, and we just picked ourselves up and continued.

Having made our way through the second section to Errol, we decided to continue north and again quickly ran into another OHRV section. These roads became steadily narrower, sandier, and rutty. While not real problem for the small bikes, the larger bikes started to have some difficulty in the rutty ground; their rear tires getting caught in the trenches let by the ATVs.

After traversing about 20 miles of this terrain, we ultimately decided to stop and turn around before things got too tight for the big bikes. The main issue was that we just did not know what was waiting us up the road. We did not want to get into a situation where would become increasingly difficult to turn ourselves around. In addition, we ran across a couple piles of bear skat and thus thought reversing our course might be a good idea.

By the time we turned the bikes to re-ride the 20 miles bike to the main highway, the trail had turned into a two-track road with six-inch-deep ruts on either side. Unfortunately, none of us thought to take pictures of this section as we were too busy get the bikes turned around.

While all of us would have like to have completed the trail, it was unanimous that reversing our track was a good idea as it turned out to be another 200 plus mile day to get back to our hotel in Littleton. There are not a lot of choices in the northern sections of the route, so we decided to return to the Hampton Inn.

Overall, riding the Hampster Trail was a great experience with a few challenges, just to make it interesting. I highly recommend the lower section from Hollis to Littleton. It is a beautiful ride and as advertised, easy for larger bikes and inexperienced riders. The northern sections, however, do require a bit more skill in a few places.

The main problem with the northern section is that it is still unclear from reading the forum posts or watching YouTube videos, if dual sport or adventure bikes are allowed on the trails. To answer this question, I re-read the regulations and looked at the OHM (Off Highway Motorcycles) section of the New Hampshire, Off-Road Course Study Guide.

In this guide, it defines OHMs as the following:

  • Motocross: These motorcycles are designed for racing over jumps and are not legal for the street.
  • Enduro: These long-distance competition motorcycles meet minimum standards to be “street legal,” as well as Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards.
  • Dual-Purpose: Designed for paved-road and off-road use, these motorcycles are fully street legal.
    • Lights and turn signals are approved for highway use.
    • Tires are approved by the Department of Transportation (DOT).
    • Spark arrestors are approved by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS).
    • Noise - and emission-control devices conform to EPA standards.

Adventure bikes are not specifically mentioned; however, I believe any dual sport motorcycle, regardless of size, would be considered a “Trail Bike,” and thus are NOT allowed on many of the tracks included in the northern sections of the Hampster Trail.

Again, I caution anyone wanting to tackle this ride not to rely on forum posts or YouTube videos (including this one). It is abundantly clear that most of the people posting have not ridden the northern sections. In their defense, many of these roads were closed due to bridge reconstruction. They are now open; thus, we were able to travel deeper into the OHRV sections.

Information for those wanting to do this ride:

Hampster Trail Version 8 Tracks:

https://advrider.com/f/threads/hampster-ride-dirt-route-the-length-of-new-hampshire.981534/

In New Hampshire you are required to register your bike as an OHRV. This must be done in person at one of several registration agents. You can find at the link below:

https://www.wildlife.state.nh.us/ohrv/registration.html

Below is a link to the registration application, on which you can see the associated fees.

https://www.wildlife.state.nh.us/ohrv/documents/ohrv-app.pdf

A temporary “non-resident” permit is also available at the following agents (Fee $41 for 10 days):

https://www.wildlife.state.nh.us/ohrv/agents-temp-nr.html

Fines for getting caught riding in posted areas are $248, so it can be expensive.

Do not believe me or the forum posters, call the New Hampshire Fish and Game at 603-271-3127 before you decide to head into these areas.

Ride safe my friends!
--Craig Ripley

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