Muddy Trails: Loved to Death

Loving our muddy trails to death?

I’ve been meaning to write something about choosing suitable trails for the time of year for a while now. It’s always an important issue, but it started to bug me after seeing an instagrammer with about a bazillion followers come all the way to Sheff to ride a trail that is advertised as a “only ride when it has dried out” in the middle of one of our wettest winters, essentially advertising and condoning the riding of it in completely unsuitable conditions. The thing that gave me the nudge was seeing a post on (all hail) Ride Sheffield’s facebook forum that says we are loving the trails “to death”.

Are we loving our trails to death?

A controversial question and one that I agree with – to an extent. Certain trails invariably suffer when the weather is bad, when ridden in unsuitable weather they end up getting wider and causing more (either directly or indirectly) erosion. Which means that the beautiful, winding trail that once had so much character is indeed dead. What is the point of riding a trail if you are spoiling it for everyone else, indeed, even yourself in future?

Despite this, the love of all things MTB can generate some pretty damn good trails in a sustainable way. Just look at Parkwood, Lady Cannings and Grenoside Woods trails. Built by the people, for the people and, perhaps most importantly, maintained by the people. These trails are specifically designed to be the go-to venues when our sensitive trails need some much needed time out. Winter time is when the trail centres reign, save the vistas of the Peak for the summer when they’re not obscured with grey clouds and mizzle.

Should our social media “heroes” take more responsibility of what they post? 

Riding a summer-only trail in abysmal conditions is one thing, but bragging about it to your 30 thousand followers is another. I have no qualms in condemning this, especially when said trails can be identified as no-go zones after 30 seconds on google. And I am presuming google is where you researched said trail, so the validity of excuses in ignorance are waning by the second.

I think Instagram is a great way for mountain bikers to connect and chronicle their adventures (and us female mountain bikers are a rare breed of rare breeds in the cycling world). It is easy enough to promote good trail practice and condemn the bad. Stop thinking about how many “likes” you are going to get, think of the bigger picture and take responsibility for the relative position of power you have found yourself in.

Keeper of the Peak is a wonderful example of MTB social media done right (he’s on twitter for those of you that don’t know), but is he not reaching his intended audience? Is it time for him to expand to Instagram? If you knew that a trail was suffering, you wouldn’t ride it, would you?

How can we love our trails? 

First off, if there is an advocacy group in the local area pleading for you to not ride certain trails at certain times of year, listen to them. They maintain these trails, they live there and know what they’re talking about. These areas may be sensitive, politically, to the local MTB scene. Don’t fudge things up for the locals. If you want to go ride somewhere, the locals are generally good people. We’ll show you around, tell you where the good stuff is and what to avoid when the weather is bad. All we ask is that you take heed.

Secondly. Don’t ride when it is wet*. I’m not saying we take things to the extreme that MTBers in NZ do, closing the trails when it starts spitting and shunning the villains who then still ride – as otherwise we’d never get out to ride. This is Britain. NZ has the luxury of a near eternal summer, whereas our main weapon against the deluge is the all-weather trail; the trail centres and the natural rock-fests that are littered around the region. *In the UK a wet trail is one that is saturated with water. I understand that sometimes we go out and its worse than anticipated, but we’ve got this arsenal of alternatives to protect our trails that are susceptible to the wet. Use them.

I’m not impartial to a bit of a slip’n’slide in the mud, but I do make a concerted effort to not ride trails that are on the winter black list and ride trails that I know will recover (low traffic or that I’m maintaining) or that the weather has a negligible impact upon. If I’ve ridden a section of trail and think, that was worse than expected, I should give it a rest, then I will not return till it has experienced a few weeks (or more) of pleasant weather.

Finally, go on dig days. If everyone who rode MTB did one dig day every year, our trails would be in tip-top condition.  It is one of those things we know we should do, but how many of us actually put a bit back in? Dig days are actually great fun, a decent workout and can link you up with fresh riding buddies. It also gives folk a bit more understanding as to the how/what/why of wet trails.

When the weather is shit, the trail centre is king.


Written by Abi Legge, co authored by Nush Lee

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