One of the best parts of riding off road is finding that elusive section of tight winding singletrack that follows the contours of the land that you ride to the limit of your ability late into the evening while still being basked in the summer sun low on the horizon. Then winter comes along yet this desire and dream to ride that gem of a trail is just as strong, however should you? I don’t think the answer is black or white as there are various factors perhaps we need to consider. A few of these factors are:
- Take for an example a crushed rock trail in a dedicated trail center; these can take a fair bit of beating with too much suffering and depending on the management of the trails, dedicated maintenance and upkeep. So there I would say crack on and rip around.
- Trail traffic also plays an important part, after all if it will be weeks in-between you and the next rider, again the damage and erosion caused would be pretty limited, so crack on too!
- Will riding the trail alter is character, for example straighten out corners, create braking bumps or expose roots and rocks? None of these are necessarily bad if they are part of the trails character however could be if made by inappropriate use.
However take our local woods Stanmer Park, this very special resource has a finite number of trails and gets pretty grim mid-winter. Then if we use the criteria above Stanmer Park does not have dedicated maintained all weather trails, in fact it has the total opposite, a network of delicate, narrow twisty and very susceptible trails that are very vulnerable to over use. They also have a high traffic flow on them being so close to both the university and the town as well as one of the best and closest places to ride locally. A double whammy to potential disaster.
Old school mountain bikers have always had an unwritten rule to avoid these special trails during winter and stick to the all-weather trails, bridleways, back roads and other more resilient trails. Or even branch out to road riding, cyclocross, skiing or running (many of these I agree are a very unpleasant prospect). Sure it may not be as exciting but the lull over winter only brings more joy when the trail you covet so much can be ridden in all its glory year after year.
The danger is we will see these narrow ribbons so well portrayed in mint sauce tales turned into tracked out straight motorways of mud that will never return to their former glory. Sure things change and this unwritten rule seem to have been forgotten over the years or not passed on to the new cohort of riders.
So to ask the question again, should you ride singletrack in winter? I am not saying don’t, just that you probably shouldn’t unless you are satisfied you won’t be part of the destruction of what we love.