Thursday, February 3, 2011

More Mud: COTA weighs in on a mushy subject

Where to ride your mountain bike in the winter.

Posted By on Thu, Feb 3, 2011 at 8:29 PM

click to enlarge mudbike.jpg
Last weekend a lot of Bend mountain bike riders heeded the call of the Bent blog and headed to Peterson Ridge where they were greeted with some incredible mud-free riding. Except for a few short, and not that muddy, spots the trails were firm and fast.

The recent spate of muddy trails has yet again raised the question of when and when not to ride a trail that’s muddy and what riders can all do to make sure trails don’t get damaged too badly.

COTA trail maintenance and construction mavan Chris Kratsch weights in the subject below.

“The first thought most people have is ‘Mud in Central Oregon.’ While it true we live in a desert and for most of the year our trails are bone dry and if we do receive rain in the summertime it only improves trail conditions.  However, in the winter and spring that situation is different, as our soils become saturated and frozen. Along comes a warm front or the spring thaw and we’re all psyched to head out to ride our bikes or go for a run. The trouble is as the top layers of trail start to thaw out it becomes muddy as there is nowhere for the water to go but to the surface. While other parts of our state laugh at what we call mud, the fact is the same issues arise on both sides of the Cascades. For some trails mud riding is acceptable for others it is not because of their sensitivity to lasting damage.

In Central Oregon the trails west of Bend, such as the River Trail, Phil’s area, Shevlin Park and Peterson Ridge are those sensitive trails. Due to the thaw cycle they can be very soft in places and when we use them we leave behind tire ruts and post-holes. Those trails are particularly sensitive because they are composed of a high ash content soil, when it dries it leaves ruts that harden like concrete. Those hardened ruts tend to break down as the trail dries out as we head into summer and this is where corners blow out, the trail gets widened and swales are created which hold more mud the ensuing winter.

So what, everyone else is riding muddy trails?  While true the first tracks are most damaging, those that follow do make a significant impact. Why is that?  Often riders, hikers and runners when they encounter a muddy rutted section of trail go around it thereby widening or changing the course of the existing trails. We are not only lucky, but have worked very hard to have such a large network of great flowing trails, but widening and rerouting those trails takes away from all of our experience of enjoying single track trails.

So what can and should you do?


  • Recognize that if you are sinking into the trails you are impacting the trails negatively!
  • Go early in the day BEFORE the trail thaws.
  • If you want to go later in the day, on the Westside – use the extensive network of roads and stay off the trails.
  • If you find yourself on a trail that has only a patch or two of soft goo, go straight through it to avoid widening the trail.  If you hit a couple patches, turn around and head back to the trailhead and explore the dirt roads.
  • Our winter riding areas in Central Oregon are the places to go and while there are impacts to those trails the results are different for two reasons: soil type is composed mostly of sand and we tend to only use those areas in the winter.  While the riding experience is always better if you get on those trails before they thaw as well, it is generally acceptable to ride them when muddy instead of our Westside trails.

Winter and early season riding areas include:

  • The Maston – Offers great, relatively flat and fast trails that are the first in Central Oregon to dry out. Great for early season fitness.  If you need more climbing or descending Cline Buttes is just across the highway.
  • Horse Butte – The Coyote Loop trails SE of town offer amazing views and fun trails.  If the snow permits the trails toward Swamp Wells offer additional mileage.
  • Horse Ridge – The place to go for challenging winter riding.  Expect to find plenty of lava rock.
  • Smith Rocks/Grey Butte trails offer big climbs and even bigger views. Just be sure it’s dry, because the Bentonite clay of the area turns to peanut butter when wet.”

Resources for winter trails:

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