Things to do instead of riding your bike on a muddy trail

You guys. We should not be having this conversation again.

Do not ride your bike on muddy trails.

It’s bad. We all know it’s bad. Bike tires create ruts in the soft trail, which stick around all season long. Water runs through the ruts later in the summer, causing further erosion. Other users step around the ruts and the mud they generate, so the trail widens and social trails pop up. It takes resources—time, tools, labor, which land managers often don’t have—to repair these trails. The International Mountain Bike Association says not to do it. Local land managers post signs at trailheads asking us not to do it. Other mountain bikers are mad (super mad) when we do it.

Poster used by the Clinton River Area Mountain Bike Association. Land managers everywhere post signs like this when it’s muddy. Listen to them!
And yet, every time I visit my favorite haunts in the days after a snowstorm, there are fresh tire tracks in the mud. Why? WHY?

This all comes down to my very most basic philosophy, by which I try—and do not always succeed—to live by: Don’t be a jerk.

It’s spring. Officially. We’re all excited to get back on the bikes and grind some serious gears. Because riding bikes is fun. But is your early-season bike ride really more important than everyone else’s enjoyment of the trails all season long?

If you answered yes, please see above re: don’t be a jerk. This is why we can’t have nice things.

Maybe you answered “No, you’re right, I don’t want to be a jerk, but you have to appreciate my enthusiasm, and what else am I supposed to do?!”

In that case, you’re in luck, because I spent my trail run yesterday a) tripping over tire ruts on my favorite trail and b) thinking of things one could do instead of making tire ruts on my favorite trail. Here they are, in no particular order:

  • Ride your bike literally anywhere else: the road, a bike path, or (fatbikers, looking at you) on snow.
  • Ride a stationary bike and stave off boredom by thinking about how glad you are the trails will be in good shape later this season.
  • Get strong for mountain biking season (or, in my case, emerge from winter hibernation cocoon) with some strength training.
  • Geek out over your next trip with bike trail maps, mountain bike forums, recommended rides, your favorite GPS app. Get stoked.
  • Run. Improved cardio makes you better at everything. Pretty sure this is science.
  • Climb. South-facing crags will likely dry out before the trails do. Alternately: hit the gym.
  • Ski. Fact: spring skiing = best skiing.
  • Perfect your homemade energy snack recipe. (Confession: My recipe is: 2 pieces bread, dollop of peanut butter, dollop of jelly. For best taste, leave in backpack for several hours.)
  • To round out the day, drink a delicious Crank Yanker IPA (or other appropriately bike-inspired beer) after your bike ride substitute. It’s the perfect recovery beverage. I believe this is also scientifically proven.

In the internet age, lots of local land managers, mountain bike clubs, and non-profit friends groups maintain pages to update users on trail conditions. Find out if your local favorites have one, check it when the weather’s been iffy, and, above all, remember the Golden Rule of Everything Always:

Don’t be a jerk.

You guys. It’s coming. We just have to be patient. Or, you know, drive to Moab.

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