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Tips for Early Season Riding

Springtime in the Wasatch is finally here. This means longer days, warmer weather, and most importantly back to riding mountain bikes! Many are starting to switch from sliding down snowy trails on skis to ripping down muddy ones on bikes. Unfortunately, melting snow and springtime rain often translates to deteriorating trail conditions. Riding on soft, muddy ground leaves ruts on singletrack and quickly increases erosion. When trails in this condition get ridden too often, they simply don’t last, impacting access for all cyclists. We want to ride just as much as you do, but it’s important to follow proper etiquette to ensure trails don’t close and everyone can use them. Here are some tips for early season riding.

Know the Conditions

Few things are as exciting as waking your bike from hibernation in the garage for that first spring ride, but first consider the condition of the trails you plan on riding. What’s  the weather been like lately? Has it been raining? Sunny for a few days? Answering these questions can be helpful in determining whether or not a trail is ready for use. Some riding apps like Trailforks contain a trail reporting feature, so you can even check conditions before you go. 

muddy trail ruts

Ruts on a muddy trail in the Wasatch. PC: Cycling Utah

See for Yourself

Taking these steps can be useful, but the only way to really know if a trail is ready to ride is to see it for yourself. Keep in mind that some trails naturally drain more quickly than others, and not all trails are created equal. Sculpted, flowy trails on dirt or clay lend themselves to muddier conditions, while technical rocky ones tend to retain less damage when wet. Look for signs of soft muddy ground, deepening tire tracks, and puddles forming at low points, indicators that a trail is not good to ride.
Ride dirt trails not mud trails

A common sign at many trailheads. PC: GORC Trails

Practice Proper Etiquette

Even if the trail looks good and you begin to ride, it is inevitable that there will still be wet spots. So when you come across a mud puddle, ride through it, not around. Riding around a puddle’s edge makes the trail wider, and can damage the vegetation on the side. If you begin riding and you notice that your bike is getting caked in mud, it is probably a good indication that you should not be riding there. Riding your bike on this surface causes deep ruts in the trail that are difficult to reverse. Moreover, the mud that you are collecting usually gets deep in your suspension pivots and gears, often decreasing the performance of your bike and causing damage. 

It’s simple: if your shoes or tires leave a print on a muddy, damp or wet trail, then don’t ride it. Most trails are on public land, meaning they are intended for everyone to enjoy. Building and maintaining them is hard work, often made possible by the work of volunteers. So please be courteous and don’t ruin the trail by riding when it is wet. Doing so can cause closures and heavily damage the trail. If you’re dying to ride, try to choose somewhere that is rockier, or even head down south. Moab is great this time of year!

- Devin Keefe