Riding In The Rain: Yay or Nay?

05 | Feb | '20
Ian Terry

 

As Wet As Rain

How to tell if a trail is too wet to ride.

 

Maybe you’re new here in Washington. Or, perhaps, you’re a seasoned slogger with countless miles of wet weather riding under your belt.

Regardless, the question has likely crossed your mind while driving to a trailhead with your windshield wiper speed maxed out; “Is it too wet to ride?”.

In some states, particularly ones with dry desert climates like parts of Utah or Colorado, riding in the rain is strictly frowned upon and even a ticketable offense. Last spring, tensions spilled over in one Colorado town when a resident voiced their dismay at a trail closure in an expletive-laden note.

Thankfully, we keep our "mud drama" to a minimum on trails here in the Northwest. Our singletrack tends to be much more durable in wet conditions and, for the most part, we can ride in the rain without worry. That said, there are still days when things just get too wet and wild for even the burliest of drains to handle.

Saturated trails with high levels of clay are easily impacted by mountain bike tires, hiking boots, or horse hooves, and are expensive and difficult to fix.

In general, trails east of the Cascades see less overall precipitation than those west of the mountains and tend to be more susceptible to long term damage when soggy but the following tips can be applied to all trails.

As Evergreen’s Trails Director, Mike Westra fields a lot of questions from riders wanting to know the “do’s and don’ts” of riding in the wet. There’s a fine line between a harmless wet weather rip and a ride that causes lasting trail damage. Read on to learn more:

Mike’s Wet Weather Riding Tips:

Tire Trenching: “Is your tire leaving a trench? If it is– and it’s more than a half-inch or so, it’s best to stay off the trail until it dries up. Every trail will have random puddling, blocked drains and wet spots here and there and tires will leave a small mark, but that’s generally OK. It’s when your tire starts to sink in that it becomes a problem.”

Big Puddles: “Is a puddle or muddy spot starting to propagate down the trail? A lot of traffic through a small mud-hole will create a huge mud-hole eventually. It can also drag the mud further down the trail and saturate that– creating more and more mud and mud-holes. If you see this happening, most definitely give that trail a break.”

Clay Soils: “Make sure to watch for clay soils in heavy rains and especially in freeze-thaw or melting snow situations. Clay soils don’t stand up well to lots of moisture. They tend to get really slimy and then start to turn into deep mud.”

Leave No Rut: “The best way to think about it is ‘leave no trace’, but with your tires. Leave No Rut!”

 

traildamage 800px Examples of trail damage including tire trenching (left) and heavy water flow (right).

  

Top 10 Wet Weather Trail Recommendations:

  1. Tokul East 
  2. Olallie
  3. Green Mountain
  4. Grand Ridge
  5. BDOS
  6. Tiger (EBADPredator, The Legend, Megafauna, Easy Tiger, Preston, Bail Out)
  7. Tokul West
  8. Dockton Forest
  9. Swan Creek
  10. Duthie Hill Mountain Bike Park

Trails To Avoid When Wet:

  1. Poppin' Tops Upper
  2. Poppin' Tops Lower
  3. NOTG 
  4. Any trail marked "Under Construction" or "Closed"!

 

With some attention to conditions, and a keen eye for signs of water related trail damage, we can all help keep our trails in tip-top shape. Ride on!