Many new mountain bike riders aren’t aware that riding in wet, muddy conditions can cause significant damage to a mountain biking trail. On the other hand, there are plenty of seasoned mountain bike riders who argue that rain and mud don’t automatically make for a closed trail. In general, the rule for riding a muddy trail is simple: don’t do it. Natural erosion combined with scores of bike tires tearing up loose singletrack can make for major headaches not only for trail maintenance crews but also for fellow riders clambering over newly dry ruts and exposed roots.
However, general rules are just that: general. There are a number of factors to take into account when deciding when and whether or not your selected mountain biking trail is ready to ride in rainy conditions.
Natural trail terrain
There are mountain biking trails all over the country, and in places like the Pacific Northwest, damp, soggy, and muddy trails are inevitable. There’s no sense in waiting for things to get dusty because for five or six days out of the week, the trail will be wet. This doesn’t mean riding is a rare activity. It just means that sandy, loamy trails ought to be avoided, and naturally hilly, rocky trails with cohesive soils are a better choice. Flat or low-lying trails can suffer from the worst wear and tear, particularly if they’ve been compacted by man or machine.
Soil type is a major factor to consider before riding in the rain, and although some people leave as much as 24 hours per every inch of rain before riding, the fact is that various soils dry out quicker than others, and the 24-hour/inch rule need not always apply. It is true, however, that a drier trail is less susceptible to damage than a wet one.
As much as you want to head out for a ride and soak up the sunshine, you are going to have to show a little restraint.
The trails are the most vulnerable to damage when they are wet and muddy. For that reason, the International Mountain Bike Association has put out a set of guidelines to help preserve our trails. Here is a listing as outlined by IMBA.
- Ride on open trails only – respect trail closures including seasonal or short-term closures.
- Never ride in designated Wilderness areas, which are closed to bikes.
- Don’t skid.
- Don’t ride muddy trails.
- Don’t ride around water bars – erosion is a trail’s worst enemy.
- Stay on existing trails.
- Don’t shortcut switchbacks.
- “Leave No Trace” (energy bar wrappers, punctured tubes, etc.).
Terry Hershey Park (The Anthills) mountain bike trails are built by local volunteers with the help of Greater Houston Off-Road Biking Association. It takes tons of work in order to provide us, the riders, with great trails. To ride during wet or muddy seasons can seriously damage them for the future by causing erosion.
I hope that your next ride is dry and amazing. Be sure to follow these guidelines and ride safe.