Unlike our road riding counterparts, each Spring as the days grow longer and the warmer weather has us itching to get out and ride we mountain bikers are faced with one nagging problem – soft surfaces. Mud, slop, slush, call it what you will but riding in soft trail conditions all result in the same unfortunate end, ruts. Problem is, these ruts do not, contrary to what some believe, simply disappear. No, they need to be painstakingly leveled out and massaged back into the trail tread by the loving hands of volunteers.
Wait, what? Volunteers? Yes, volunteers – you see, here in The 6ix our trails are maintained by a dedicated group of Black Ops volunteers. Or, as others often refer to them, rogues. Of the more than 200km of single track that snake through our Ravines only 8km are maintained by what can be deemed a legally organized entity, the City along with the Crothers Woods Trail Stewardship Team. The other 100s of kilometers are watched over and maintained by a fairly small group of dedicated users, mostly, from our experience, riders. You may know them as the trail fairies. Even sanctioned clubs, with management and legitimate build days at their disposal, struggle to maintain trails. imagine the strain posed on rogue builders. Add to that the introduction and growing popularity of Starva and Trailforks and we have an unsustainable model for unsanctioned trails which are already overused and under-maintained. We simply cannot match the rate of education and involvement with the massive increased use these apps accelerate.
Which begs the questions, why would other riders head out and destroy the hard work done by others in their own community? I can understand, but don’t agree, if other trail users choose to use the trails when soft, but fellow mountain bikers? Is it that they are ill informed about appropriate use? Or is it that they are that self centered that they think their ride time is more important than the rest of ours? The trail conditions are posted daily, riders know and see this yet I can reference lots of Strava and Trailforks data that shows a willing dismissal of the posted conditions. Let’s go with the fact that they are ill informed and try to keep this civil, shall we?
Education is a powerful tool. Below we have set out a few points in an effort to better educate the trail using community. For many this is old news, we appreciate your time, for others this may be new. Either way, take a few minutes to brush up on some facts about why riding in suboptimal conditions is to be avoided.
- Wet Trail = Ruts. When ruts dry up or freeze they become dangerous and require fixing – we, the community, are the ones fixing these ruts (not the CoT, nor likely any other user group) this takes away from building new trails or adding features to existing trails. If you love the trails you ride, which we all know you do, then love them enough to stay off when wet. A few minutes of riding on trails that are too soft can lead to literally hours of required maintenance to fix the damage done. Ask yourself, is it really worth it? The reality however is that volunteers, who are undertaking unsanctioned maintenance, cannot repair damage caused to an entire trail network comprising of 200km of trails. So when the trails are good, all those who waited get to ride the ruts left by the impatient ones.
- Riding in the wet widens the trail. Ultimately one of the biggest downers for us is when we see prime single track blown out and turned into double track because people try and skirt the edges of wet, rutted sections of trail. It goes without saying that if people avoided wet trails in the first place or don’t want to get their precious carbonium bike dirty (see point 4 below) we wouldn’t have this problem. However, in the event that you are out riding and come upon a section that is still wet, perhaps do to some drainage issues – ride (walk) through it, not around it. By staying on the trail and riding (walking) through the mud/ water/ ruts rather than around it you are, ‘Keeping singletrack Single’ to quote a well used phrase from MTB Mecca Fruita, CO. Let’s face it, wicked single track is a huge draw for our passion of choice – let’s work to make sure it stays that way.
- Potential for User Conflict – let’s face it, we are easy targets and already ride around with targets on our backs in many cases. It doesn’t take a CSI Detective to determine that a bike has left the ruts on the trail. This is just plain bad optics. Sure, the trail may be pock marked with footprints from hikers, dog walkers and trail runners but hey, look at those tire tracks! User conflict by irresponsible users can lead to trail closures, simple as that.
- It wrecks your bike – Even if you have no regard for the blood, sweat and tears of volunteers and builders you surely care about your pride and joy. Riding in muddy conditions wreaks havoc on suspension parts and drivetrains. You know that slop you have been grinding away in for that last hour and a half while riding – think of it as fine grit sand paper rubbing against your paint, fancy stanchion coating and essentially any moving part on your bike. Right, that’s what we thought.
- We (should) know better. Despite what many may think, riding in the mud isn’t actually fun. There may have been a time when it was considered ‘extreme’ to go out and get as muddy as possible on a ride – that time has gone the way of Anodized Purple bar ends and threaded headsets (easy there Retro bikers – just trying to make a point). As a community we now recognize that damaging trails by riding them when soft and wet does far more harm than any perceived good times. If you want to be a Mud Hero there is a place for that, our trails aren’t that place.
- This doesn’t just apply to dirt. Riding in soft, slushy snow conditions has the same result – ruts. These ruts then freeze and become as dangerous as streetcar tracks are to downtown fixies. Frozen solid ruts can ruin the trails for weeks, or more, if temperatures stay cold and new snow is absent.
How can we avoid this? Simple.
- Check local, daily and seasonal trail conditions before heading out. We have several threads dedicated to providing timely up to date trail conditions for just this reason (make sure to go to last page for each):
Daily trail conditions in the Don
Daily trail conditions in Etobicoke Creek
Spring/Summer trail conditions in Southern Ontario
Fall/Winter trail conditions in Southern Ontario
Due to the fact that many of our trails in the GTA are unsanctioned it means, unlike some other trail systems, we can’t post signage at trailheads to inform users about conditions. This inability to post signs makes it even more important for riders to check the various daily conditions threads. Many of these threads are updated by the builders and maintainers of these very trail systems – listen to them. If they say stay off – please do, because in all likelihood they are going to be the ones fixing your inconsiderate ‘mistake’. Plus, we are all on the same team and need to share these trails. As my coach always said, there is no ‘I’ in team!
- Use your common sense and better judgment. If it looks too wet, it probably is. If you’re leaving ruts or having to stop every couple of feet to clean huge gobs of mud of your bike, head out and call it a day.
- In the shoulder seasons, which tend to be the worst for unpredictable conditions consider the following options:
- a) Ride early, or late. Trails tend to thaw once the sun is up and beating down, even if the temps are below zero. As such, riding early in the morning or later in the day when the sun is lower in the sky and temperatures tend to be colder is a good option.
b) Ride the road, paths, MUPs, really anything other than the trails. As much as it pains me to ride BY my locals trails instead of ON them, when conditions are not ideal I find solace in knowing that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure later in the season.
- Educate others. We are not just talking about riders here either. If you see people using trails when conditions are not right educate them. Now, we are not talking about public shaming or fist shaking, that will get us nowhere. Our suggestion is actually explaining how what they are doing is detrimental to the trails and subsequently all users. On the other hand, should you see a rider with their Strava segment posted up on a day you took a pass on riding due to poor trail conditions or a mud-covered selfie on Facebook calmly and politely steer them in the right direction. You may even want to draw their attention to this very article.
It should also be noted that the plethora of clubs in Ontario could reach more riders, particularly from the GTA, by posting their trail condition here in a central, open and accessible location. Posting to the few hundred members of your club is great to reach the actual members themselves but does nothing to reach the 10k members on the site. Our local trails are clay based and are not rideable when many of the other sand based trails are, or more to the point, believed to be by out of towners. Posting trail updates, builds and closures here is a clubs best way of reaching the largest cross-section of riders in Southern Ontario. Obviously, it goes without saying that it is in the trail management’s best interest to ensure conditions are seen by as many potential riders as possible. While we can hope that people use their common sense and only ride when conditions are deemed ripe it never hurts to actually tell people they can ‘hit it’ or ‘forget it’. If conditions are not readily available to the masses sadly there is room for unsanctioned use and the potential for significant damage to the trails. We all know what happened after a long road trip when the Griswolds arrived only to find Wally World was closed for two weeks.
At the end of the day, to quote the very quotable Red Green, “We’re all in this together.” So let’s all work together to ensure that our trails and the hard work that is put into maintaining them is being respected.
Happy riding from all of us here at RFG.