Sunday, May 29, 2011

Mud Avoidance

There seem to be a few common truths to mountain bikers and while this is not always the case with all of them, the majority suffer from a couple ailments, and I’m no exception.
1) Avoidance of the first scratch on a new bike.
2) Don’t get the bike dirty.
The first is not really a serious problem and is quickly resolved by just crashing, falling or participating in your first “derby,” which of course, involves crashing and falling.  It’s almost a relief to get that first scratch in the top tube- “There, got that over with, now I can get back to serious riding!”  There is a sense of relaxation when that moment finally comes; the new paint is blemished, so one might as well ride like mountain bikes are supposed to be ridden-carefree.
The second is a bit trickier.  There will always be mud.  This spring, in Wisconsin, there is tons of it.  So common mountain bike law says you should ride thru the middle of it, not expanding the singetrack wider.  Eventually, the mud will dry up and the trail will remain as it was-narrow and flowing.  Of course in reality, we take steps to avoid it.  Mud caked bikes make such irritating sounds and time spend cleaning a bike is time missed riding.  Mud avoidance is directly related to how new ones bike is or how expensive.  My brother Scott and riding buddy Dean are two prime examples of having that to deal with as well. Again, there are some who relish a second skin of muck, but I’m not as big a fan.

My solution, and it has been for many years of trail building at Levis Mound, is to build bridges.  Not only do bridges, ramps and skinnys serve to rise the knobbies above the muck and provide a cleaner riding experience, but also as great trail riding features.

Which leads me back to this year.  The Levis trails have been as wet as I have ever seen them, recent logging in the trail system hasn’t helped-all those trees sucking up excess water, are now gone.  All the usual mud holes are deeper, wider and longer, forcing me to skirt around them in the tangle of trailside brush.  Enough of that.  The long weekend provided me with some extra time to “fix” one section on a trail called “Dead Turkey” (yes, named after a dead turkey I found years ago while scouting a new trail location).  One of my favorite mud hole solutions is to build a “Skinny.”  A narrow plank bridge, usually fairly low to the ground for riders to show off their balance skills, and in this case, keep the bike clean. 

We have built some skinnys as narrow as 7 inches, but most are a foot or so.  These can be traversed by the majority of riders depending on how long they are.  My plan on this one was to use some old county picnic table planking and set it up across a 50 foot span and keep it just 6 inches off the ground.

The process is fairly simple.  Get the building materials as close to the singletrack as possible, cart it all in to the site, lay out the planking, hike back to the truck for materials you forgot.  Repeat.  Overlap the planks and cut the angles (if any) with a chainsaw, and start screwing them into treated blocks underneath.  Move a little dirt around to make a smooth transition on and off the skinny and it’s done.  Moments after I finished the Dead Turkey skinny, the first rider came along and “tested” it.  Worked just fine and his bike was clean as can be. 

I had my chance a while later, after unloading building materials back at the trailhead, I quickly changed and knew I needed to try my luck at crossing the skinny.  Along the way, I met a pair of mud caked kids who obviously had not used my bridge! It’s always exciting to ride a new section of trail, a new feature or even a re-route for the first time, especially if I’ve planned and built it.  Today was no different-the skinny was out before me and a moment later behind, my bike high and dry without a drop of muck spatter-Success!

1 comment:

  1. Nice work! I always love riding man-made obstacles, even if they aren't challenging... the change of pace is just fun!

    We could really use a ton of skinnies on our local trails, but since they are National Forest trails and have a ton of horse traffic, that's probably never going to happen.