Fall is arguably the best time to go for a ride on your mountain bike. The air gets cooler to help you stay comfortable as the natural environment turns into a breathtaking display of color. For many riders, autumn is definitely prime mountain biking season. But all those stray leaves falling from the trees can make it harder to navigate the terrain. Your favorite path can easily transform beyond recognition when there’s so much debris on the ground. If you want to get out and about this fall, use these tips to learn how to navigate leafy mountain bike trails like a pro.
Wear the Proper Gear
You should always use the proper mountain biking gear when hitting the trail, including a helmet, gloves and shoes that clip into your bike. Temperatures can range from mild to freezing depending on the time of day and where you ride. Dressing in layers will help give you more options on the trail. Start with a light layer of moisture-wicking fabric like wool or a synthetic blend and build out your outfit from there. Bring along thermals and a weather-proof windbreaker to shield yourself from the elements. Keep an eye on the weather forecast to find the right outfit.
Use Wireless Communication to Keep in Touch
Tackling hard-to-see areas is always safer in a group. Use a bike helmet with Bluetooth to coordinate with your companions in real time. If something looks unsafe, just speak into the device to drop a line to your friends about the path ahead. The device clips onto your helmet to help you keep your eyes on the road. It’s also waterproof for communicating in any weather.
Stay in the Proper Formation
The most experienced rider should stay out in front with the rest of the group riding either side-by-side or single-file when the trail narrows. The leader is responsible for choosing the route in terms of where the bike hits the road and setting the speed. They should avoid overly leafy pockets and slippery sections and encourage their companions to do the same. The other riders should stay in their position and only pass one another when necessary.
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Know Your Limits
Riding in the fall is inherently more challenging than it is in the summer. Water collects on the waxy surface of the leaves, which reduces traction. Work together as a group to navigate the terrain. Everyone should be on the lookout for possible hazards and slow down when approaching turns and slick sections that increase the risk of injury. If the leaves look wet, there could be something more sinister lurking underneath, such as a deep pocket of mud, ice, sharp rocks and twigs that can easily throw you for a loop. Consider pulling over and walking your bike over the roughest sections instead of plowing straight ahead. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Prepare to Potentially Get Lost
Fall foliage will change the landscape, sometimes beyond recognition. Even if you think you know the trail, you may find yourself at a loss when everything starts to look the same. The leaves can cover important trail indicators, which makes it easy to get lost. Bring along a compass and a paper map of the region to find your way home. Give yourself more time to navigate so you don’t get stuck in the wild after dark.
Coordinate with the Park
It always helps to tell someone where you’re going in case you have trouble getting back. Share your itinerary with the rangers or staff in case things take a turn for the worse. Ask about trail conditions to see if it’s safe to ride.
Beware of Hunters
Fall riding happens to coincide with hunting season, so don’t be surprised if you hear gunshots in the distance. Wear bright colors and high-visibility clothing to alert any hunters of your presence. Check the map to see if the trail borders or passes through active hunting grounds. Even if it looks like you’re in the clear, some people could be hunting in the area illegally. Keep away from wildlife to avoid getting stuck in the crosshairs.
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Break in Your Bike on Dry Ground
If you’re just learning how to ride or recently replaced your tires, it’s best to start riding on a paved road before hitting the leaves. You should only ride over unstable terrain if you have some training under your belt. Fresh rubber will also stick to the leaves, gunking up the inner workings of your bike. You don’t want to spend the day pulling stems out of your gears and wheel sprockets.
The fall scenery is sure to make for a pleasant ride, but it can also affect your ability to navigate. Use the latest technology, warm layers and good communication to enjoy your favorite activity responsibly when the road changes color.
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