If you live in a climate with a cold and snowy winter, spring can be a pretty messy time. Here in Ottawa, Canada our snow starts to melt in March but sometimes lingers until mid to late April and it’s important to know when mud is ok and when it is not ok.
During this sloppy time of the year in spring, the mountain bike trails are thawing, and are very vulnerable to damage. It can be warm and sunny, but the ground might still be partially frozen and is not properly absorbing the spring melt as quickly as you think. Stick to the gravel roads until your local mountain bike trail association says the trails are ready to ride. This includes mountain bikes and fatbikes—both do damage during the spring thaw. Even locally, some trail networks dry out faster then others, and the damage caused by riders can be demoralizing to the trail builders who spend countless hours trying to fortify the trails and improve the drainage. The nice path of rocks that magically creates the trail to avoid a wet area were not placed there by nature, it was your local trail builders who secured them into place, in hopes of getting the trails ready to ride as soon as possible. Riding your mountain bike in the mud in the spring before the trails are dry, is a recipe for bad karma for the rest of the season. It’s just not cool.
Gravel riding and gravel events are gaining momentum and they are the perfect solution to a muddy spring, when everyone is itching to get on their mountain bikes. Only mountain bikers really understand the itch I’m talking about. It can consume you, especially if you have a new bike!
Last year I completed my first ever gravel race on my trusty Kona Rove ST. The event was on April 6, and of course, it snowed the night before. I fatbike and ski all winter, and I love the snow, but there is something that freaks me out about snow and ice on skinny tires. I pulled up my big-girl pants and showed up, feeling terrified, and a bit out of my league.
It was my first gravel ride on muddy gravel roads, and my first outdoor ride on my gravel bike for the season. The mud splatter was intense, and that was OK! I had grit between my teeth most of the way and was happy for the stretches of pavement. When I finished the short course, I was impressed with the amount of mud collected on myself.
I was in the finish area when the competitive racers (who did a longer distance) came towards the finish line. It looked like a zombie-gravel-apocalypse. They looked ashen-grey, but really they were absolutely covered in mud. It was AWESOME. This is exactly where mud is ok, and even fun to ride in.
If you are in the Ottawa area, or looking for a road trip, check out these events: https://gravelcup.com/gravel-cup-events or look for some gravel rides in your area. They might look all serious, but our local gravel events start and finish at wineries or maple syrup shacks (yay for pancakes!) so they are really fun and only a few riders really race them. Another perk of doing an event is you can get pictures of yourself in action. Thanks to Robert Roaldi for the great pictures (https://robertroaldi.zenfolio.com/f208444081)!
You might not think gravel riding is for you but gather your friends and sign up for an event or do a social ride together. There are some pretty magical gravel roads around with almost no traffic and trees lining both sides. You don’t need a matching kit, or even leggings that stay up, just get out there and enjoy the gravel roads, especially when it is mud season on the mountain bike trails.