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Wet Weather Riding

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  • Wet Weather Riding

    . The BMMC invests huge amounts of labour, funds and planning to keep the trails open, reckless trail use inflicts unnecessary damage to the trails. Our MTB friends at TORCA produced this wet weather riding guide give it a read

    Riding in the Wet ??? A message from TORCA Trail Director
    February 28, 2015 at 8:58 pm
    We are fortunate living where we do; mild winters and a lot of different riding destinations to choose from, which means riding is a round the year possibility. This benefit does come with a couple of drawbacks, firstly, and most prominently, it rains here! A lot! Recently, we've seen record rainfalls, and the heavy rain events have been frequent enough that adequate drainage has not occurred, leaving the ground totally saturated, the lack of snow also means that trails don't get a rest period, so they are seeing heavier than normal traffic for this time of year because people aren't able to ski, two events that can be problematic.
    With modern trail building practices that follow the IMBA and Whistler trail standards, the trails are able to withstand bad weather and heavy traffic better than ever, but building to these standards is incredibly labour intensive, not always the most ideal solution for a particular area, in turn, this means that the trail will not necessarily be able to handle high traffic or wet weather, so it's good to know how to identify trails that will handle the rain, and also to understand what trails are best left for drier days. It's really difficult to tell someone not to do something, and the aim of this article is to educate so that you can make an informed decision on when and what to ride.
    Before You Ride:
    Think about what trails you are going to ride:
    -Soil Type: Are they typically muddy?
    -Trail Grade: How steep are they?
    -Special Restrictions: Are there any special restrictions put on by the builder or trail group?
    -Plan Your Ride: Do you have a backup plan in case conditions are worse than anticipated?
    Soil Type:
    The type of soil on the trail bed contributes to how well the trail will drain. In it's natural state, the forest floor is made up of sticks, pine needles, leaves and other organic debris that is in various stages of decomposition. This material is known as duff, and if you pick it up, it's loose, doesn't pack, can hold a lot of water like a sponge, and when worked will break down into a black, sloppy muck that takes a long time to dry out. It's the trail surface that is typical for 'loamers', the primitive trails that when dry are the dirt equivalent to skiing on a powder day, but in the wet, they are greasy, fragile and waterlogged. If you finish a ride and are covered in mud, then that mud has come from the trail, and it's not going to be replaced without intervention, it's a good marker for erosion!
    The gold soil that has become ubiquitous with modern trail building is the local mineral soil. It's a mixture of fine gravel, sand, silt and a small amount of clay with minimal organic matter. It is technically called loam (which is often confused with duff as mentioned above). When it's worked, it will compact down, and the clay and silt will bond everything together forming a hardened layer that can shed water and is very resistant to wear from foot and wheel traffic. Building trail with this is labour intensive, generally consisting of removing the duff, back filling with rock, and crowning with soil to form the trail surface.
    Rock is fantastic, it doesn?'t really wear (although it can get polished), it doesn't change, it can handle any amount of weather, but it can also channel water onto the rock-trail boundary, and the end of rock sections will often be rutted because of braking and water erosion.
    After a heavy rainfall, it takes time for the trails to dry out to a rideable level. With armoured mineral soil trails, they can sometimes be good through the rain event or up to two or three days after. Organic surfaced trails can take weeks to dry out properly depending on the slope of the hill, sunlight and other factors.
    Trail Grade:
    Water on a trail is generally bad, but it becomes an erosive force when it's moving, and as it's speed picks up, so does it's potential for damage. A well built, well maintained trail will have out-slopes on the trail bed to sheet water off to the side without it picking up much momentum, as a backup, there will also be grade reversals, small speed bumps or changes in grade from downhill to uphill that force the water off the trail before it can turn into a creek.
    Standing water is generally not an issue unless the ground is totally saturated, at which point it will soften and riding through will create channels that could either promote water flow/channeling, or more common, people will choose to ride around the puddle because they don't want to get wet, which turns that lovely narrow single track into a wide swamp.
    If a trail is very steep, the water will pick up momentum quickly, meaning that it's more likely to channel and erode if the water isn't managed properly. Not a problem if the trail is down to hardpan, but also, not the most desirable trail surface to ride on. Channeled water is also unpredictable, so the trail surface, when eroded, could be hazardous.
    Special Restrictions:
    Sometimes, because of conditions, fresh work that needs to bed in and set, or a variety of other reasons, a trail may be temporarily closed. Check with the local builder or organisation to find out if there is any current issues before starting your ride. If you come across something like this mid-ride, please respect the closure, even if it does mean you don't get the ride you like. Letting trails rest now means that they will be better in the future!
    Plan Your Ride:
    Before you start your ride, know where you are going, plan some contingencies in case conditions turn bad and your destination is now not suitable for the conditions. If it is wet, tread lightly, don't ride full speed and skid everywhere, as conditions will be a bit more fragile as well as unpredictable.
    Have Fun!
    Every day of riding this time of year is a bonus day, since we haven't really had a traditional winter. If you treat every ride like this following the guide above, then you will be able to have a fantastic ride and save the trails for prime spring conditions!
    If it's really wet, consider going for a hike (although the same problems still exist), or contact your local organisation or builders to see if they need help, digging in the rain is really satisfying.
    Last edited by rgmr250; November 29th, 2017, 11:20 PM.

  • #2
    I thought I'd try and supply a little back ground with respect to the wet weather riding guide and why it's so relevant today. In my nearly thirty years of riding and pitching in with trail work at Blue Mountain a lot has changed. in 1989 when I first rode the trails at Blue Mountain there was a small hardcore group of riders that frequented the area. The bikes of the era and the difficulty of the trails basically precluded novice riders from accessing the trails. As the machines improved, tire technology advanced, rekluse auto clutches came along and the population of the region increased so did the pressures on the trail network. Today the number of riders enjoying the trails has increased dramatically a good thing in itself. So long as a corresponding increase in trail maintenance can be achieved to off-set the extra wear and tear. Another change is the rise in the popularity of "Hard Enduro", many newcomers to the sport feel seeking out the most difficult terrain and riding to one's absolute limits is the way to go. This mind set sometimes leads to riders causing even more negative impact to the trail network. What is seen all too often is riders off their bikes pushing and spinning up trails that are outside of there abilities. Trail braiding or bushwacking around difficult obstacles is at an all time high. So how does this bushwacking cause a negative impact? These multiple braided lines loosen and inject more loose rocks into the trails. Multiple deep ruts extending off the sides of trail (braids) direct even more water onto trail's that are already vulnerable in the rainy season. The extra loose rocks impede a bikes forward momentum again increasing tire spin and erosion. The end result is the necessity to remove the loose rock and add extra drain features both very hard to do. The volunteers are already taxed to their limits trying to manage a never ending task. The number of volunteers is basically to low to allow for achieving a standard of trail that is sustainable. Riding technical terrain in mountainous rain forest is an absolute blast but can only really continue with a attitude of respect from trail users. The situation at McNutt is not unique, in Squamish at Vedder Ridge and Chipmonk Creek the pattern repeats itself. The good thing is we have a sufficient number of potential workers if more riders pitched in. If the trail users volunteered one days work for every ten days of riding there could be a dramatic shift towards sustainability. I'm sorry to say there are to many free-loaders in our sport, it's all about keeping the train on the tracks. If you desire to ride in the coastal mountain rain forests into the foreseeable future you may want to consider the best ways to achieve this goal.


    • #3
      Great information Doug, especially the part about contacting BMMC to see if the trail crew needs help. A few of us are out there on a regular basis, likely because we have rocks in our heads, but also because we are trying to raise the standard of sustainable trails at Blue. If anyone that cant attend the regular work parties wants to help out, contact me. It takes an army, and if everyone kicks in a day every month or two, we can continue to improve our world class trail network.


      • #4
        Above is some great info to read through now that we're again going through some seriously wet weather in Maple Ridge.