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The Art of Riding in the Rain

  Here in the front range, we try to take care of our trails. The Boulder Mountainbike Alliance (BMA) and other local groups put a lot of hard work into maintaining and repairing the glorious singletrack we get to ride. Riding trails when they are too wet can cause considerable damage that requires a lot of time and hard work to fix. Sometimes ruts put into a trail in early season can last the entire summer.

If it's rained recently, and you aren't sure just how wet the trails are, do a little research. Rangers from  Boulder County Parks are consistently checking on the trails in county parks. They post conditions with pictures and descriptions on Twitter.
  The BMA website,  contains a very thorough chart that is constantly updated by actual riders. Anyone who visits a trail can contribute to updates on the conditions.
  If you think "Ok, the trails are muddy, I'll just go to Valmont," think again. The trail crew at the bike park are constantly working hard to keep that place dialed. Anyone caught leaving ruts there will be publicly shamed. In addition to the BMA site, Valmont Park has a very active Facebook page that gives up to the minute info on what sections are open and closed. Sometimes sections of the park are closed down for general maintenance too, so it's always good to check.
  This culture of trail responsibility hasn't always existed. When I started riding in Crested Butte, most of the trails had been created by dirtbike riders, and those guys rode rain or shine. My friends and I would go out when it was wet because it was hard to imagine that our bikes were going to hurt the trail anymore than the motorcycles that had come before us.
  The front range isn't quite that wild. Whenever I've ended up on a wet trail here I always  felt a sense of guilt and an understanding that it was wrong. Back in the nineties  we had a bit of a buffer though. We could legitimately use the excuse of, "But how could I have known?"
  Before the internet, we could only look at the sky in the general direction of the trail we wanted to ride. We would evaluate the cloud pattern like old-time sailors and make a call. Obviously this didn't always work out well. Colorado is famous for a warm, blue-sky day dropping twenty degrees and snowing in a matter of hours. The high country can be especially fickle, I quickly discovered that a small rain jacket had to be mandatory on any long ride.

  I think the circumstances of how you end up on a wet trail also matter when the trail gods are weighing your case. Did you start out on a bone-dry trail and as you reached the midway point the sky opened up in a torrential downpour? Or did you decide to ride after three days of constant rain, just because you were jonezing?
  Wet days  give you a new understanding about textures and consistencies of the dirt we ride on. I remember early one morning I went to the Gunbarrel jumps. I had ridden the night before and they were great. It had rained a little overnight, but surely it wasn't enough to have much of an effect. I left the parking lot and made it about twenty feet down the trail leading into the jumps. The instant my tire hit the wet clay a thick layer stuck like glue and stopped both tires dead when it bound up at the fork and the chainstay. My wheels wouldn't even roll, I had to carry my bike back up the hill.
  Then there was a time when six of us assembled for a ride at White Ranch park near Golden. We set up a double shuttle with one car left at the bottom and then drove everyone to the top. Shortly after we started to descend, the rain came. Soaking wet, with faces covered in mud, we tried to make a banzai run to the bottom. As the grime accumulated on drivetrains we all started to experience chains dropping off and unwieldy, messy shifts.
  Still we pressed on, lightning flashes convinced us we needed to reach the bottom post haste.The trail opened into long fast sections,and we started to notice a lack of braking power on all the bikes. Not only were the brakes not slowing us down anymore, but when we tried to squeeze them there was no denying a sharp, metallic, grinding sound. I think a few of us tried quick barrel adjustments to get more brake action, but the noise only grew angrier.
  Finally we made it to the safety of the bottom parking lot. We inspected our bikes and discovered that a layer of the fine red mud had congealed between the rims and the brake pads. The mud had worked into an abrasive compound that caused our brake pads to disintegrate. All the rubber brake material was gone and the inner metal structure of each pad was exposed. The sound was steel gouging into the sidewalls of our aluminum rims. After inspecting the bikes came the realization that we had left the keys to the bottom car up in the top car. Shivering and wet, five of us huddled inside the small pit toilet at the trailhead while one brave soul hitchhiked back to retrieve the top car.
  It's safe to say that riding when it's too wet has detrimental effects on both the trails and our bikes. We also have resources we can use to get a quick evaluation of trail conditions. That said, everyone knows you will still get caught out in the rain if you ride regularly. So the best you can do is try not to damage trails and always bring a raincoat.


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