For those of us that put our bikes away for the winter, when the first sign of Spring arrives we want to get out on the trails. However more often than not the trails are not ready for riding, usually being wet and muddy. Of course to some people that adds to the fun.
While one may be able to argue that riding muddy trails does no damage beyond the trail and does not affect the surrounding plant or animal life there is no doubt that it affects the trails.
These are the comments posted in a public forum by local mountain bikers about rutting caused by riding muddy trails:
"Watch out for the ruts. I got caught in one at speed between the first and second v-trees. Threw my right shoulder smack into a tree. Though I didn't wipe I have a large bruise to show for it. Anywhere it get's muddy in SMH (South March Highlands) is now a rutted mess..."
"I find fixing ruts to be more challenging than riding them. Riding them can get downright annoying when they go on forever. Way more annoying when they suddenly toss you off your line into a tree."
"The main reason to stay off the muddy trails is because of the erosion.. The more the trails erode the less fun they are to ride and the more work required to maintain them. "
And of course it is not just mountain bikers that notice bike ruts in the mud but also other trail users, which does little to raise the image of mountain biking in the community at a time when we need to be making friends, not enemies, and building partnerships with other trail users.
When it comes to the greenbelt trails, biking is barely tolerated, while being officially banned. The following was stated in an e-mail from an NCC representative:
"We know that there is a lot of interest in off-road riding on Greenbelt hiking trails. On the other hand, section (16) of the NCC Traffic & Property Regulations states..."No person shall ride a bicycle on property of the Commission other than a driveway or on a bicycle path set aside by the Commission for the purpose...". While we have not actively tried to enforce this particular regulation, we do not condone the practice. There are long-term impacts on the trails and surrounding area, particularly rutting, trail erosion, trail widening as users veer off the designated route to avoid ruts and muddy surface, and destruction of adjacent vegetation. In the winter, we want to discourage bike riders who may travel across groomed ski tracks."
While this statement does reflect a need for some education of the NCC about the relative effects of hiking and biking on the trails, one cannot dispute the concerns about rutting from riding muddy trails. If we want to convince the NCC, and other trail users, that mountain biking should be encouraged, and not just tolerated, we are going to have to start riding more responsibly.
For me, the most annoying thing about people riding muddy trails in the spring is that the rutting slows down the natural drying process. Wet and muddy trails dry out fairly quickly in the summer when it is hot. However in the spring, when it is cool and the ground is still partly frozen, the drying process takes longer and it is not helped by ruts that hold the water and disrupt the natural drainage patterns. Those of us who avoid riding the mud holes in the spring have to wait longer to ride the trails due to the actions of those who do not have patience to wait a few weeks for the trails to dry, and when the trails do dry out they are often a rutted mess that takes longer to dry each time it rains.
If we keep the trails in good condition they will dry quickly after summer rainfalls.
So what should we do in the meantime. There are a number of options. We do not need to ride in the dirt to ride. Pedaling is pedaling. We can start getting into condition for the technical single track by riding gravel and paved paths like the Trans-Canada Trail.