Mud Riding Survival Guide
The winter months can be hard on mountain bikers, as many are forced to trade in their trusty steeds for a pair of snow skis; however, when springtime rolls around, riders can rejoice when they hear the trails calling. Although trail conditions begin to improve in the spring, it doesn’t quite mean the trails are ready for riding. Mud can be a cruel enemy to mountain bikers and other trail users. Riding a horse, hiking or biking on a muddy trail can cause tremendous damage that creates hours of hard work for trail crews. Knowing when you should or shouldn’t ride a trail is an important responsibility. We’d sure hate to lose our favorite trails due to a few bad eggs. Here are our tips on how to become a responsible trail user who knows the answer to the oh-so-important question of when to ride and when not to ride.
WHEN NOT TO RIDE
—The trails are closed by local authorities
—Mud is building up on your tires like a snowball rolling down a hill
—You’re leaving a visible and deep rut while pedaling down the trail
—Water is flowing down the trails
—You’re not willing or able to take the time to clean your bike immediately afterwards
—You don’t have fenders or proper eye protection
WHEN TO RIDE
—If you can ride across your lawn without sinking in
—Your tires leave minimal marks or tracks.
—The trails are hardpacked and have good drainage
—Standing water can be avoided.
—Mud does not adhere to your shoes, bike, etc.
—It’s a race day (but please stay on course)
Riders simply have to face the fact that they can’t hit the trails on certain days. When these gloomy and depressing days come, it’s best to have a plan B. For the cross-country crowd, hopping on an indoor trainer or heading to a spin class at a local gym can be a great way to get back in shape for the spring season. Trail riders less worried about racing might find this to be a great time to brush up on skills, whether it be learning how to do a wheelie longer than their riding buddies or simply how to have better bike and body control. It might also be a great day to head to a paved bike path with the family. Other riders might find these days perfect for catching up on bike maintenance. As springtime rolls around and you’re dusting off your bike, it can be a great time to check your suspension components, bleed your brakes and replace pads. You may also want to purchase new tires capable of shedding mud or replenish your tire’s tubeless sealant.
On the days when you have the green-light to hit a muddy trail, you should always come prepared. Bike fenders, protective eyewear, mud-specific tires, local trail knowledge and proper riding techniques can help you in the mud without damaging the trails or experiencing a nasty crash. On muddy and wet days, dirt can get flung up into the air in large chunks that can easily get into your eyes. A good fender is required equipment, especially on the front tire. Our favorite fenders are MarshGuards, SKS fenders or homemade inner tube fenders. Wearing goggles or glasses that offer ample protection is also important. Cleaning your eyewear throughout the ride with a microfiber cloth or using motocross-style tear-offs on your goggles will ensure you have clear vision and are able to safely navigate the trails.
Tire choice can make or break a ride in the mud. We recommend using a tire, such as the Maxxis Forekaster, Specialized Storm Control or another mud-specific tire. Try running slightly lower tire pressures and avoid riding over slippery rocks and roots. Some rocky trails, however, offer great traction in wet conditions, so local trail knowledge is a rider’s best friend here. If you’re having trouble finding a tire that works well or an ideal wet-weather riding destination in your area, tap into the knowledge of local bike shops and local trail users. These riders may also have great information about trails in the area that have the best drainage or are hard-packed enough to be ridden on a rainy day without destroying the trails.
Riding in muddy conditions can be a fun experience, but riders should be cautious, as they are generally more likely to crash. When faced with a muddy trail, it’s important to keep a steady speed. Shifting to a harder gear can be helpful since the mud is likely to slow you down. And once the bike has slowed to the point where you are just spinning your pedals, the bike will sink in and you will be forced to put your foot down. Cornering is also greatly affected by mud. Riders should be careful not to lean their bikes over as hard as they normally do, since their tires may not hook up as well. Stay loose. Choose your lines carefully and have fun.
Now that you’ve successfully managed to fill every crack and crevice of your bike with mud, it’s time to make it shine again. It’s much easier to remove mud from your bike before it dries, so fight the urge to run inside and swallow that burrito you just picked up on the way home. An important bike-cleaning rule is to never use a high-pressure hose on a bike—no matter how dirty it is. A garden hose with the nozzle on the shower setting or with the nozzle removed will work just fine. Spray your bike down to get as much mud off as possible. Next, apply the bike cleaner or soap of your choosing. We like a combination of products from Muc-Off, Maxima Oils, White Lightning and WD40. Thoroughly scrub your bike with soap to soften up the rest of the mud, and then rinse off your bike for the second time. Avoid scratching suspension parts or spraying water directly at bearings. Now, dry your bike and apply some chain lube. Hang it back up and know your bike is ready to rip the next time you can’t wait to hit the trails.
Mountain Bike Action is a monthly magazine devoted to all things mountain biking (yes, that’s 12 times a year because we never take a month off of mountain biking). It has been around since 1986 and we’re still having fun.