Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Save The Tread?

I've been seeing this "Save the Tread" banner on Facebook posted by local trail groups, bike shops, and mountain bikers:

At first it sounds like a good idea.  The trails are wet and muddy in the springtime and hiking and biking them makes a mess.  So I should avoid the trails for the next month, right?  It's not quite that simple.

Good trails are constructed in a way to shed water.  Other trails are created without such thought and it's left to chance whether they will have chronic mud problems.

In the spring thaw, even the good trails will have slow-draining frozen earth and ice dams that prevent them from drying quickly.  Given a few warm weeks, these good trails will generally dry up.  Using them before they're dry would be a shame because any extra trail work it causes could have been avoided with just a little more patience.  So staying off these good trails during the spring thaw and after heavy rain makes sense.

On the other hand, some trails are chronically muddy.  Usually the problem is the trail has no elevation change or camber to allow water to shed and often have loamy soil that holds water.  With no solutions to the water problem and nobody actually trying to fix them, these trails are chronically muddy.  If you had patience to wait for a month or so, these muddy sections might dry out, though I've seen some sections stay muddy for the entire spring and people are not going to wait a month for the trails to dry out.  Plus the areas closest to the trail-head are more likely to get some maintenance and be dry, which invites trail users to use them.  When trail users move further in, they encounter muddy sections but push forward, walking through or around the edges, hoping for better conditions ahead, but leaving boot-prints and ruts.  So staying off these poorly constructed trails is futile because too many people don't.  You can't hold back the masses for the entire spring.  So should those of us who really think about the maintenance of the trails stay off?  I don't think so.  Nobody can tell the difference between a wrecked trail that's had 900 users pass by versus 1000, and we want to go out and play in the mud too!

Look at the poster again:

I feel rather certain that muddy area is chronically muddy.  There is no elevation change, no camber, and, although I'm no botanist, the vegetation in the muddy picture just looks like the type that I see local chronically muddy areas.  It's practically a rice paddy.  With spring rains, that mud pit is gonna be big, fat and happy for a long time.  The smaller inset image is a completely different trail.  It's beautiful because it was built to stay dry.  It probably only takes a few hours to completely dry after a rain

So if you're going to use the bad trails in the spring, it's important to know which trails are the good ones and which are the bad ones.  It's easiest to classify entire parks, through even parks with mostly good trails sometimes have a few trails or sections that tend to stay wet longer.

In my opinion, the well constructed, well maintained parks in the area are:  Bay Park West, Tryon, Dryer, and Ontario County Park.  Let these dry out before using them.

Pretty much all trails in Webster are chronically muddy including Whiting, Webster Park, the Hojack, Chiyoda, and the Big Field.  I'd suggest allowing Whiting to dry out, but nobody does and it gets wrecked every spring anyway, so go have fun.

After they're destroyed, one thing that does help these trails heal is using them heavily when they are getting close to dry.  The cratered dirt is easily flattened when it's still soft.  If it dries before people flatten it the trails stay riddled with bumps for most of the summer.

So there you go.  Don't feel bad about riding chronically muddy trails!  If you don't, someone else will!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Robi Comes To Town

Robi visited from Albany and he, Dustin and I rode at Webster Park.  We're not quite thawed out around town yet and, as expected, the trails are significantly worse.  Trampled snow in the shade takes longer to melt.  Every part of the trail was cratered with frozen boot-prints and many parts that got sun were solid ice.  It reminded us of a similar ride we did over a year ago when Robi visited... bad conditions.  Next time he visits we better have dry trails!

The rough conditions made riding at least twice the normal effort.  Robi and I both have fat tire munis that helped a lot.  Dustin made the best of it with his standard muni tire and was never too far behind.  Dismounts and hiking were frequent for us all.  Sometimes we'd hit a section of dirt or smoother harder snow and we got a glimpse of the good old days when trails were smooth and dry.
Robi's right foot misses his pedal
 The primary reason Robi was in town was to get the start of some tattoo work done.  Check it out!  Muni themed and quite awesome!  There's a local tattoo artist who is worth the drive.  The plan is for him to come back for more tattoo work, so hopefully we'll ride again soon!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Mac5 Winter Fat Tire Festival

Today I raced at the Mac5 Winter Fat Tire Festival in the Open race.  After my test lap yesterday, I could only hope the trail would be more solid and more rideable.

The Open race was the second race, so I showed up after the first race was just about over.  I was pleasantly surprised by a painting in the snow of a guy on a uni.  Ha ha... hey that's me!  How much more welcoming could they be?  It looks like he's wheel-walking. Nice!

The word around the starting line was that the trail was getting rather chewed up as more riders rode it.  Ugh.  My hope was that the fat tires of the first race would have solidified it more, but the opposite had happened.  Oh well.  I was paid and ready to go, so it was what it was.

Somehow I misplaced my sunglasses before the start but decided I could ride without them and the race was soon underway.  Like in my test ride, some parts were rideable and some were nearly impossible.  All of it was difficult.  When I did get a good section of riding, it wouldn't be long before some deep soft snow or a rut the width of my tire would trip me up.  The extra effort to get through the snow meant my heart rate was near its limit and when the going got even tougher, the odds of riding were against me.  I walked a lot.  Maybe even as much as 50%?  I'd feel bad about that but at any point during the race I could look around and see many bikers walking too.  Mounting was harder too.

The snow was too soft in places, too rutted, and riders walking on the trail just compounded the problem.  The trail grooming for this kind of race hasn't quite been perfected yet.  Still, it was certainly a good time and I appreciate the huge effort that Trail Methods and others put into it!

Thanks to GregFrancis.com and RonHerkensJr.com for taking photos during the race.

I was glad to have some good riding near the start and finish so people could see I wasn't just pushing my uni around the course.  Unfortunately since the trail was actually worse than yesterday, my lap time was slower and I could only fit two in.  But I got out, got a good workout, saw some mountain bike friends, impressed some people, and got a consolation prize of a balaclava which I'm sure I'll use.  My missing sunglasses never turned up.  Bummer.

I think this kind of winter race is a lot of work for organizers and riders, but it's a lot of fun too.  If the trail grooming could be improved we'd add even more to the fun.
Thanks again to Trail Methods and Mac5 Bikes for putting this together.