Just Say "No" to Mud

Friday, March 12, 2021

Winter's back has broken, and the temps are rising. Please -- think before you hop on your bike..

Stay off the trails when they're soft and muddy!

It all comes down to this: frozen is good, hardpack is good ... but mud is bad.

This is the month when warm days and freezing nights can wreak havoc on the trails. It's the time when mother nature is in its most delicate state. Please use your head and stay off the trails until the thaw is out of the ground and the trails have dried and hardened. One of the worse things you can do is ride on trails before they ripen.

Trails are dynamic and change with the seasons and weather conditions. While during most of the season, the mineral soils that make up a good, hardened trails are fairly stable, early spring is the most sensitive time, making the trails vulnerable to erosion and long term damage.

Here’s why: Frost (those pesky ice crystals that form in the upper soil cap) cause the soil to move and shift. Even the most hardened of trails loses density as frozen water molecules push and prod the mineral soils. Trails are very susceptible to damage during the freeze/thaw process. As the frost thaws and releases water, the dirt resettles and realigns in a nice muddy mix and the organic matter from last fall's leaf litter blends in with the mineral soil to begin to create a a new generation of trail dirt. This muddy mix eventually re-hardens and makes for a primo path through the woods, but it's critical to let this process happen on its own.

If we ride the trails before this process is complete, the damage to the trails could be permanent. The mineral soils will be churned up, and rain and gravity will wash these soils away, leaving a mess of exposed roots and rocks. When the trails are soft our wheels can leave sunken tracks which can channel into ruts and carry the soils away with the next rain.

Just because you "can" ride, doesn't mean that you "should." If you really love riding, you should stay off trails and go for a road ride until things dry out.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Use your lawn as a trail barometer. Before you think of hitting the trails, take a ride on your lawn. If you can see your tracks sinking in, stay off the trails. They're not yet ripe. If you wouldn’t do multiple laps around your house, you shouldn’t be out on the trails.
  • Use mud season to build fitness by putting in some serious "base miles" on the road. If you don't have a road bike, ride your mountain bike on pavement and you'll feel super-charged when you get back into the woods. Many serious racers train on the road for good reason: the fitness you develop makes your trail riding that much more pleasurable.
  • Ride on rail trails or other hardened bike paths. You'll be away from traffic, get some needed fitness, and feel good about yourself since you're doing the right thing by staying off the trails.
  • Use local knowledge to find areas that are free from mud and frost. Check NEMBA’s Facebook Pages to see where the good riding is… and where it isn't.

As the ground begins to thaw, think about the trails you ride and help to preserve them.

A trail is a terrible thing to waste!