Riding in the rain & mud, different transatlantic perspectives.

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  • Riding in the rain & mud, different transatlantic perspectives.
  • In the UK it seems because of our climate and geography, if we didn’t ride in the wet and mud we’d hardly ride at all for at least 6 or 7 months of the year, and often for most of it! Getting out and covered in mud from head to foot is part of the fun of riding at this time of year and I’m as “guilty” as anyone, I love it. Theres a whole industry catering to dealing with it in the form of mudguards, waterproof gear, portable bike washers etc and it seems to be very much accepted, indeed encouraged by bike mag articles etc as a way of improving skills and maintaining bike fitness over the winter.

    This is the polar opposite to places like a lot of the US where riding wet trails is seen as highly antisocial, if not actually banned by local authorities. You often see comments online on pics and videos of Brits riding in the mud from horrified yanks finger wagging or questioning the ethics of it. It seems to be a very prevalent viewpoint there and is obviously part of perceived wisdom amongst most mountain bikers in those areas. Now of course this is easier to deal with if the local climate has defined a rainy season rather than year round drizzle we have, but do they have it right and we have it wrong?

    Obviously the geology of some trails handle it better than others. There are trails locally I will avoid in the winter, but if I’m honest it’s more because they are virtually uurideable rather than due to concerns about erosion. Other, more rocky trails and of course surfaced trail centres seem fine. But should we be more concerned about damage to natural trails than we are?

    Just an idle musing and interested in others views on this.

    scotroutes
    Member

    should we be more concerned about damage to natural trails than we are?

    Yes, but that boat has long since sailed.

    Yes, but that boat has long since sailed

    As in too much damage already done, or too difficult to change attitudes?

    chvck
    Member

    I’m unsure what the answer actually is but we have a bit of a crosser problem in my local area. When you see the damage that crossers do to the local trails it all seems a bit irrelevant. Obviously that doesn’t apply to areas where this isn’t an issue…

    scotroutes
    Member

    As in too much damage already done, or too difficult to change attitudes?

    A bit of both.

    Folk complain that we have to ride in mud for much of the year, yet exacerbate the problem by riding the tracks all year. Some tracks can stand it, many suffer badly and would be best if avoided for a while.

    Meanwhile, pressure of numbers (and limited access in some areas) means its hard to put the genie back in the bottle.

    I’m  lucky. I have lots of tracks to choose from and can avoid ones that suffer most. Not so for many folk.

    Premier Icon jimdubleyou
    Subscriber

    Obviously the geology of some trails handle it better than others. There are trails locally I will avoid in the winter, but if I’m honest it’s more because they are virtually uurideable rather than due to concerns about erosion.

    Similar to me.

    On the occasions where I end up on trails that I think, “well that’s that for the winter” it’s invariably been chewed up by horse footprints already…

    Premier Icon chakaping
    Subscriber

    What’s a “natural trail” anyway? And how do we define damage?

    The only proper trashing of trails I see is down south when horses churn up the B/Ws in the winter or when forestry vehicles decide to make use of the trail network as they go about their business.

    MTBers tend to veer to the firmer trails when it gets really sloppy anyway.

    hooli
    Member

    Depends a bit where you live. Around my way, the natural trails are used by walkers, horses, farmers and pretty much everbody in-between. When it gets wet, the trails get trashed and this wouldn’t change if people didn’t cycle on them.

    Come spring, it all dries out and is bumpy and uneven for a few weeks before getting back to normal.

    trailsy
    Member

    Friend of mine in Australia explained for where he lived at least, the ground was clay based. The deep ruts that would form from riding in the wet became permanent in the dry, so it was a big no no. Not aware of that phenomenon being particularly prevalent in the UK.

    @chakaping not an official definition but by natural trail I mean any trail that doesn’t have some kind of maintained man made surface, like you get at some trail centres. I think you are right, in that bicycles do a lot lot less damage than horses, 4wds, motorcycles etc. But I do see evidence of heavily used trails by me being eroded by bikes.

    Premier Icon tomhoward
    Subscriber

    Some American friends of friends were mad keen to come over here for a riding holiday, so it was suggested they come over in summer to make the best of the riding. ‘Oh no, we want to come in February, when it’s definitely going to be wet and muddy…’

    airvent
    Member

    I think one if the differences is the trail building community is more of a ‘thing’ over there. They spend lots of time and money building what we would call “natural” trails so to have these damaged by riding in the wet is wasting all that effort. Here, there is much less of that kind of trail and they tend to get used by horse riders and walkers anyway which either churn it up or remove features they dont like anyway.

    Most “dig days” here seem to be based around surfaced trail centre tracks which aren’t affected by weather.

    reeksy
    Member

    I’m in Oz and they hate people riding in the wet. Some of the sandy stuff soaks it up and is good to go again after a few days, but some of it is a disaster. And yes, the few places i ride where horses go get absolutely trashed. 4x4s destroy wider tracks even more and to a lesser degree motorbikes.

    I do think people are more clued up to the impacts of erosion on the environment, though.

    … but the rain here in the subtropics is something else. When it rains it freaking hammers. In summer we often 100+mm in a day and i’ve seen over 300mm before. The hill above where I live held the Australian record for most rain in a 24 hour period until a few years ago. 900mm.

    Premier Icon tomd
    Subscriber

    Seasonal and/or reliable weather is a factor. If you knew that it was going to be dry or dry and sunny for 250 days a year would suffer through the odd wet spell? If you had good winter sports would bother with mountain biking in the winter?

    I personnaly avoid really soft trails in winter, because I’m a pretty shit rider and crash lots. And it seems to cause more damage than necessary. Lots of folk around my way don’t, they love the steep stuff in the mud. It does damage individual trails, but in the overall scheme of erosion I can’t get that excited.

    Thinking of a popular local hill to me, folk get worked up about erosion on the bridleway that crosses over. Yes it is a bit messed up, bikes contribute to that but it is repairable. But – half the actuall hill was mined away in times gone by. Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of rock. It’s like worrying about tyre wear on a car that’s done 300k miles, is covered in rust and doesn’t have a smooth panel left.

    Onzadog
    Member

    How you ride it makes a difference as well. I’ve seen some bridleways in the Peak quadruple in width as people ride in the winter but don’t want to get wet and muddy do try and ride around.

    Premier Icon FB-ATB
    Subscriber

    When I spent some time working in California I went out riding with colleagues. The canyon we were riding in was so dry and firm it was more like road riding. I struggled to keep up with them.

    Managed to return the favour when one of them was over here and they had to experience mud and lagged behind.

    As a poster said above, there seemed to be more of a community spirit there to work on the trails, even natural ones out in the wilds. My colleague said that once a month he’d do some trail maintenance/ area clean up instead of riding whereas here we tend to ride the bridle paths week in week out.

    This seems to be the best explaination for the different outlooks to me:

    tomd

    Subscriber

    Seasonal and/or reliable weather is a factor. If you knew that it was going to be dry or dry and sunny for 250 days a year would suffer through the odd wet spell? 

    Premier Icon thisisnotaspoon
    Subscriber

    I think one if the differences is the trail building community is more of a ‘thing’ over there. They spend lots of time and money building what we would call “natural” trails so to have these damaged by riding in the wet is wasting all that effort. Here, there is much less of that kind of trail and they tend to get used by horse riders and walkers anyway which either churn it up or remove features they dont like anyway.

    Most “dig days” here seem to be based around surfaced trail centre tracks which aren’t affected by weather.

    A certain element of this,

    America is huge, absolutely massive compared to the UK, yet only 5x the population. A few miles in from either coast and it begins to make Scotland look densely populated. And a lot was only settled* ~200 years ago. So whereas we have a RoW network based on 2000+ years of settled communities and Roman Road building, they start with nothing.

    So if you want to build a long distance trail you have to physically go out there with a rake to clear it and a can of paint to mark it on rocks/trees, some were built as depression era projects as part of the New Deal and similar policies.

    It’s also more restrictive, landowners have more rights and mountain biking in regional/state/national parks is allowed more by exception. More along the lines of a giant trail center with natural-ish trails. Compared to say the Lake district or Wales where you can pretty much ride anything and the worst you’ll have to deal with is someone in red socks.

    *yes there were people there before that. But between War, smallpox, nomadic lifestyles that didn’t rely on fixed trade routes and it only taking a few years of disuse to lose a trail anyway they can be mostly discounted from this context.

    JonEdwards
    Member

    In England there’s (since the ’50s) a legal right to use public rights of way, so outdoors people of all types generally have, without too much thought about it. In recent years “adventure activities” have become a mainstream thing and so there’s 10’s of 000s of people hitting the honey pots, all of whom do damage, but because we have a “right” to be there, no one ever considers the maintenance cost of their activity. Its far from just a bike thing – look at the impact on Kinder, or the higher bits of the Lakes

    My take is that if you’re going to use the RoW network, you need to put some maintenance time back into it – could be part of an organised “above board” group like Ride Sheffield or a local wildlife trust; or it could just be going out and draining puddles and trying to stop your favourite bit of singletrack turning into a fireroad.

    Then there’s choosing appropriate times to ride trails – there’s plenty of “legal” routes near me that are utter shitfests in winter – I won’t go near them. In summer, when my impact is minimal, I’ll go wherever I feel I can get away with.

    The exception to that^^ is Forestry Commission or similar commercial woodland, which will be getting smashed to bits by the felling in 1, 5, 10 years. There anything goes, and is where you’ll find me on the really miserable days, filling my desire for steep and slimy. That said – its’ generally pretty steep ground, so drains pretty well.

    Premier Icon reluctantjumper
    Subscriber

    Always strikes me a weird that the US claims to be the Land Of The Free yet places so many restrictions on what you can do there. Add in that their National Parks seem to be treated as heavily designed and manicured golf courses, with everything undisturbed and picture-perfect, and it’s a tough one to get my brain around.

    Whenever this subject comes up it always reminds me of a study done years ago that set out to see which users of the Brecon Beacons National Park caused the most trail erosion. As you can imagine the Red Socks were wetting themselves in anticipation of getting all of the bikes banned from ‘their’ bridleways. Sadly for them the results came out as (roughly as it’s from memory):

    Dry, hardpack conditions:

    Soil surface: Walkers created the most erosion as they have a tendency to put their feet in the same place, creating holes and steps. Horses second for similar reasons. Bikes the least as they tend to skip over holes and have a steamroller effect.

    Stone Surface: Horses the most as they break up larger stones. Bikes second for the same reason. Walkers the least.

    Normal, moist conditions:

    Soil Surface: Horses the most as their hooves sink and churn up the soil. Walkers second, partly for the same reason but also due to them going round the edge of puddles and widening the trail. Bikes least but not far behind walkers.

    Stone Surface: Horses the most as they break up larger stones. Bikes second for the same reason. Walkers the least.

    Wet conditions:

    Soil surface: Horses the most as they sink into the surface and create deep holes that water settles into. Walkers second for similar reasons but to a lesser degree. Bikes the least but they tend to create troughs that can cause water run-off erosion.

    Stone Surface: Horses the most as they break up larger stones. Bikes second for the same reason. Walkers the least except where puddles have formed and they go round the edge of them and widen the trail.

    It was done by the students from a university who were on placement with the National Park back in 2002-3 and was part of the drive to get people back out after the Foot-And-Mouth outbreak. Their conclusion was that no individual group created more erosion than any other overall when the Park was looked at as a whole as most users would select a route suitable to the prevailing weather conditions. The bombshell at the end was that walkers were wearing trails out 2-3 times faster than everyone else due to the fact there’s more of them and they tend to only use a small selection of routes, Pen Y Fan being the example used! There were percentages on the wear but I’ve long lost my handout I got from the local hiking shop and this was well before everything was published online so can’t find a copy of it. I’m guessing the Red Socks hushed things up when they found out they didn’t look great from it too.

    The takeaway from it for the National Park was that they produced a guide and waymarked MTB trails all over the Park and still do. The horseriders got similar plus a few of the local riding schools got suitable routes for all-weather use too. Walkers got nothing. Various other studies have been done around the country and have come to similar conclusions too.

    Premier Icon Dickyboy
    Subscriber

    How you ride it makes a difference as well. I’ve seen some bridleways in the Peak quadruple in width as people ride in the winter but don’t want to get wet and muddy do try and ride around.

    This +1 makes my heart sink every time I see a route around appear, but trying to explain to people brings blank looks 😕

    Premier Icon nickc
    Subscriber

    America is huge

    This. Driving the 350 odd miles from Denver to Moab (humble-brag) I went through maybe a couple of large-ish towns but the vast majority of it is totally empty. Any “damage” that mtbers are doing is utterly meaningless in the grand scheme of things.

    Plus they have a continental climate, as tomd points out, if you’re only going to miss a few days each year to wet conditions, the it changes your outlook on what’s acceptable to ride.

    Any “damage” that mtbers are doing is utterly meaningless in the grand scheme of things

    And yet, they seem far more concerned about it than we do?

    Premier Icon thisisnotaspoon
    Subscriber

    And yet, they seem far more concerned about it than we do?

    It depends where you are.

    They have stricter protections of private property than we do, so you don’t get a bridleway through a farm for example. Hence why recreation tends to be limited to what we’d think of as national parks.

    But they have a myriad of designations for parks/areas owned by the state or federal government. Some of these are designated wilderness, where pretty much anything is banned. At the other end you’ve got places where anything goes, you want to build a monster truck and drive it up a dune/cliff, crack on. You’re Josh Bender and want to dig a jump line off that cliff and start an entire mountaibiking discipline, you go for it. Can you imagine trying to hold the Red Bull Rampage in the Caingorms? Sorry you can’t build your 40ft gap jump there, there’s a flower and a family of newts, so much for Scottish open access…………

    monty777
    Member

    I think it all depends on your particular passion and therefore point of view.
    Example: I ride road bikes, mountain bikes, and road and off road motorcycles, and I also like walking-so I pretty much have a foot in all camps apart from the off road 4×4 brigade. I was talking with a friend of mine who also rides road, MTB, and used to ride motorcycle trials, and he is also a keen rambler. His viewpoint was that motorcycles and 4×4’s should be banned from using any of the Byways that they are still allowed on as ‘they churn them up’. When I ventured the opinion that walkers do as much damage, and mentioned the trails in the Peak District which had had to be paved to prevent further erosion he got very defensive and flatly refused to accept that walkers could cause any damage. I did point out to him that there was a ratio of probably greater than 100:1 between footpaths and bridleways to Byways but no difference-we agreed to differ.

    Premier Icon IdleJon
    Subscriber

    But should we be more concerned about damage to natural trails than we are?

    What damage are we actually doing when mud gets moved from one place to another? It’s not like we are leaving a radioactive trail behind us – stop riding a trail for a very short period and it will get overgrown. (Obviously someone will reply to this showing massive erosion in honeypot trails, but most aren’t like that.)

    Premier Icon epicyclo
    Subscriber

    reeksy
    The hill above where I live held the Australian record for most rain in a 24 hour period until a few years ago. 900mm.

    Tully?

    Trimix
    Member

    Explains why so many US biking products fail in the rain. They are just not designed to keep muddy puddle water out of bearings.

    edlong
    Member

    You often see comments online on pics and videos of Brits riding in the mud from horrified yanks finger wagging or questioning the ethics of it.

    I see Americans passing judgement online all the time about many things of which they have little or no knowledge and understanding. Best ignored imho.

    I see Americans passing judgement online all the time about many things of which they have little or no knowledge and understanding. Best ignored imho.

    True perhaps, but I don’t think the UK twatterati are any better.

    edlong
    Member

    Generally probably not, other than that unique thing (some) Americans have that the whole world should operate exactly how they do it.

    philjunior
    Member

    There are some trails that are best avoided in the wet, usually for being a bog fest rather than trail damage. But in general, UK riding, if you waited for dry trails you might get a week’s riding in a good year.

    I think it genuinely is different when there are trails, particularly sculpted MTB trails, that have been made to be ridden in the dry.

    So both seem sensible in their own context.

    supernova
    Member

    In the US they have huge areas of BLM land especially outside the heavily populated coasts that anyone can use and is seen as belonging to all as their birthright. We definitely don’t get anything like that here in the UK where we’re tolerated at best by NT, FC etc.

    Premier Icon chakaping
    Subscriber

    Sorry you can’t build your 40ft gap jump there, there’s a flower and a family of newts, so much for Scottish open access…………

    Not sure if you’re being deliberately dumb here?

    Most yanks would bite Scotland’s arm off for its access system, I’m sure. Not to mention for the density of the historic trail network.

    Mud riding is a lot of fun, I see far more walkers on my Sunday ride than bikes. Only issue I have is having to clean four bikes after it is so tiring.

    I’ve noticed my favourite steep loam trails around Ladybower and Goyt Valley have seen a lot more traffic than previous years. In conjunction with this horrible soggy winter, they’re in the worst condition I’ve ever seen. Loads of new lines to avoid bogs and deep rutted/blown out sections.

    There going to need a lot of TLC come spring!

    Premier Icon molgrips
    Subscriber

    Any “damage” that mtbers are doing is utterly meaningless in the grand scheme of things.

    Most of the US is privately owned so you’re just banned from it and that’s that. So it concentrates biking in certain areas that get a lot of traffic.

    In the US they have huge areas of BLM land especially outside the heavily populated coasts that anyone can use and is seen as belonging to all as their birthright. We definitely don’t get anything like that here in the UK where we’re tolerated at best by NT, FC etc.

    Only in some places, and plenty of that is actually physically inaccessible. The vast majority of the country has to make do with a few small crowded state parks which can be heavily regulated, and in some areas you have no walking or MTBing opportunities whatsoever.

    Ok so in England and Wales you limited to RoW and open access land but the network is pretty dense. We are much better off than the majority of the US.

    andrewreay
    Member

    Does anyone else ride the Chilterns?

    It’s a bog fest almost all year round.

    In fairness, it does dry out and we get fast trails for a month or two, but I’ve never thought about erosion / damage the rest of the time.

    Am I wrong?

    Premier Icon MoreCashThanDash
    Subscriber

    It’s about common sense really. Round here we are spoilt with bridleways, towpaths and cycle paths, plus some cheeky paths. Surfaces vary from hard-wearing compacted gravel to mud. When it’s wet we ride whatever will do the least damage to the path and our bikes.

    scotroutes
    Member

    Any “damage” that mtbers are doing is utterly meaningless in the grand scheme of things.

    Yes it is, but it can be that the more damage done, the longer it will take for the trail to recover to a state where it is more pleasant to ride. I’m definitely thinking of this in a more selfish/short-term timescale than geological aeons  🙂

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