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Respect the Trail: How Riding in Sloppy Wet Conditions Impacts the Community

November 04, 2021

We get it; tacky, amazing hero-dirt comes around once in a blue moon it feels while living in sunny California. 

But we’d like to illuminate the difference between fresh, grippy loam a couple of days after a rainfall and sloppy, soupy, slippery mud… 

When you ride trails in the latter's condition, you ultimately do yourself, your bike, and the community a disservice. 

So What Are the Rules For Riding During the Wet Season? 

Honestly, there aren’t hard and fast “rules” for riding during the rainy months for the year, but certainly there are guidelines that need to be known and respected so we have our mountain bike trails in the best shape possible for most of the year.

Here in our area (Santa Cruz and Monterey counties), riding shortly after a heavy rain often leads to rutted out trails and erosion. It’s key to consider giving the trails a couple of days to dry a bit to reduce impacting the trails. Erosion, in particular, is a concern as it causes damage to our forests’ ecosystem.

Often, you’ll see “trail closed” signs placed by volunteers when trails are simply too wet to ride. Please respect the closures. Doing so helps relations between mountain bikers and land managers.

Plus, waiting a couple of days for the trails to dry (but not dry out) will lead to riding in the most prime dirt. The type of dirt that still has moisture, chocolate-brown, and feels tacky and grippy: the hero dirt! Some of your best rides await a couple days after a solid rain!

Riding in a heavy down pour, or riding when the trails are sloppy wet is not as fun as it sounds.

And it does some things you won’t be stoked about later:

- Your bike is trashed with mud. 

- Your trails will dry rutted, eroded, and blown out. 

- You could slip more easily and raise the risk of injury.

- You contributed to negatively impacting the ecosystem you’re riding in. 

Not only is cleaning a mountain bike a pain after it’s caked with mud, but there’s now muck and debris in your components and suspension. Mud buildup can lead to damaging parts of your bike, including the common bent derailleur. Save your ride for a drier day and save yourself a few bike part replacements. 

Factors to Consider

Knowing when it’s a good time to ride during the wet season requires some thought, but we’ll give you some guidance on what to consider before you head out to ride:

- Has it already been raining heavily? Or were the trails very dry before a recent rainfall?

- What type of dirt is at the trail system I plan to ride. Some soils drain faster than others. 

- Trail Closures. Likely after a heavy rain, trail volunteers place signage indicating a trail is too wet to ride. Please respect closures for the reasons listed in this post, as well as understanding that respecting closures helps the relationship between mountain bikers and land managers. 

What To Do While Waiting for Trails to Dry Out

Waiting a few days for our trails to get into a hero dirt phase can feel reminiscent of waiting for Christmas morning to open our highly anticipated presents. Riding in tacky, amazingly grippy, dirt brings joy at a level very similar to those Christmas mornings.

But, “patience is a virtue” and why not spend those days in preparation for the most joyous riding of the year? Here are some ideas to kill time and even revel in the wait:

- Work on bike maintenance. Get your shred machine prepped for the weekend! 

- Binge on bike films, watch professional races, and YouTube bike tutorials. 

- Go for a gravel or road bike ride. Change it up and adapt! Pavement dries faster than dirt.

- Route out your mountain bike ride on a map or app like Strava. Hit some personal goals! 

- Ride an all-weather pump track and work on bike handling skills.

Or, drop your bike off at one of our Epicenter Cycling locations for a tune-up. Riders who purchased their bike from us can enjoy free tune-ups for the life of their bike! Having your bike in the in the shop certainly lessens the temptation of riding in sloppy wet conditions. Contact us today!

We get it, we love bikes, we love good dirt, and we want everyone to enjoy trails that are in the best condition possible.