Feature: Protect Your Beloved Trails

Tips on responsible trail riding


As mountain bikers, we sometimes get a bum rap. On trails we share with pedestrians and equestrians, we are usually traveling at the highest rate of speed. This is often, and inaccurately, translated into the belief that mountain bikers are harder on trails and the environment than other users. To preserve access, it is important to maintain good practices on the trails. Advocacy groups such as the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), Concerned Off-Road Bicyclists Association (CORBA) and their affiliate clubs provide guidelines and tips on how to be good stewards of the trails. By riding responsibly, riders can help ensure that trails will remain open and the sport will continue to grow.


In most cases, a well-made trail’s initial construction affects the environment more than any trail user ever will. But over the life of a trail, the properties of the dirt will change due to usage and weather. When rolling over the soil, we create what is called compaction. This condenses the soil, making it more difficult for water to permeate through it. If a trail is more developed or has been constructed with machinery rather than shovels, compaction will be less of an issue, as the weight of a rider, hiker or even equestrian will have a limited effect on the trail. If a trail is new or especially soft, compaction can cause the trail to form a concave shape, making it hard for water to drain properly, which will lead to erosion and deterioration of the trail.

Displacement occurs when dirt or other materials are pushed to the side of the trail. This usually happens when bikers corner hard or skid. As with compaction, this can push dirt up on the sides, creating a perfect trap for water. Trails that are compacted


Using a trail when it is saturated accelerates the wear and tear on the soil dramatically. With much of the country’s trails recovering from winter, the question of when it is okay to ride after rain or snow is a grey area. There are many factors that determine when a trail is dry enough to ride. Things to take into consideration are how much rain or snow the trail received, how the weather has been since, what the soil is composed of, and how much sunlight the trail sees. Soil that is mostly clay will take much longer to dry than soil that is mostly sand and rock. In most areas, local riders will have a good idea of which trails dry out the quickest; a visit to the local bike shop or local riding club’s web site can steer you in the right direction.

As a rule of thumb, if you head out on a trail and find that you are leaving deep tread marks or ruts, it is too wet to ride. A small rut in a trail may not seem like a big deal, but unless the trail is repaired, over time, water running through that rut will cause it to widen. Even after the soil on the trail appears to be in good shape, there are often low spots where water collects. In these instances, it is best to ride straight through. This seems counter- intuitive, but if you think back to a trail where you have seen this before, you’ve seen evidence that the people had decided to ride around, causing the trail to become much wider than initially intended, increasing erosion and the effect on the surrounding environment.


Even on days when the trails are in great condition, there are still things we can do to maintain the integrity of the trails. Learning to control your braking goes a long way towards helping maintain the trails by decreasing displacement and erosion. It is very important to avoid skidding. Another thing that can anger land managers is the creation of rogue trails. Whether it’s a short cut to the parking lot, a faster line that avoids a technical section, or a steeper down- hill off the side of a trail for an added challenge, just like riding around a puddle of water, this increases the amount of damage done to the surrounding area. When land managers plan for a trail system, it is a delicate process meant to minimize the effect on nature. By disregarding this process, riders run the risk of cutting off access to trails.

Even when good habits are practiced, some trails will need periodic maintenance. Many mountain bike clubs, especially those affiliated with IMBA or CORBA, organize trail work days. We strongly support participation in a trail maintenance day. It is crucial that we give back to the trails that provide us countless hours of fun.

Reprinted from our March 2012 issue. Like us on Facebook





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