It’s definitely the shoulder season here in Truckee. The sky is gray, the snow piles are dirty, and I am ready for summer! Unfortunately, we have a ways to go, and I need to find ways to enjoy the spring. Luckily, spring means the start of mountain biking season here in the Sierra. Spring riding is a little different than biking in the summer or the fall, but it can be a bunch of sloppy fun.
Depending on how much snow we get in the winter, the lower trails in Truckee and Tahoe start melting out in March and April. The earliest rideable trails in Truckee are usually Emigrant, Jackass, and Elizabethtown Meadows. In South Lake Tahoe, Powerlines, Railroad and Lower Corral in the Corral Trail Network are among the first to be rideable.
In a winter like this, the Tahoe and Truckee trails might not be rideable until summer. In that case, I drop down into the foothills to ride. My favorite spring foothills trails are Hoot Trail in Nevada City and Foresthill Divide and the Culvert/Confluence Loop in Auburn.
The biggest question about spring mountain biking is – can you ride your mountain bike when it’s been wet and raining? The answer – it depends! There are regions where the very idea of riding in the wet makes responsible mountain bikers recoil in horror and others where, if you didn’t ride in the wet, you would never ride at all.
If a trail is well designed and is mainly composed of sandy and rocky soil and drains well, it is probably safe to ride when it’s been raining. If a trail has clay type soil and the water tends to puddle in the flat spots and/or create erosion ruts, it’s not safe to ride. If you’re riding a trail and leaving tire tracks for long stretches, you shouldn’t be riding. It sucks, but if the spring conditions are such that you are damaging the trail, you should bail on the ride.
Riding on wet trails increases erosion ruts, damages jumps, berms and other features, and contributes to trail widening and reroutes. When you’re unsure if a trail is rideable due to conditions, do some research ahead of driving out to the trail. Local trail groups, like TAMBA in Tahoe or BONC in Nevada City often have up to date trail conditions reports on their websites. Regional facebook groups, like Tahoe Mountain Biking Meetup, are another great source for finding trails that are rideable. Finally, the location specific forums on websites like MTBR often have the most up to date trail data, though be sure to take personal recommendations with a grain of salt, and be ready to turn around if the trail is unrideable.
For wetter spring riding, it’s nice to have some specific gear. Layers are always good, and I decide what I want based on what the weather is actually doing. If it’s going to be actively raining, I’ll wear an actual rain coat. I have a Patagonia Torrentshell, which is a very waterproof coat. It’s not very stretchy or packable, though, and I’m interested in trying out something like the Patagonia Stretch Rainshadow which looks to be smaller, lighter, and more comfortable than a typical raincoat. When there’s no rain in the forecast, I just got a new softshell, the Patagonia Nano-Air Light Hybrid Hoody, which I think will be perfect. If there’s a slight chance of rain, I’ll often throw my Patagonia Houdini Jacket into my hydration pack. It’s tiny enough that I don’t even notice, and while not fully waterproof, it will help if I get caught in the rain. On the bottom, I like to wear full length chamois tights if it’s cold or particularly muddy. I have the Pearl iZUMi Escape Sugar Thermal, which I like, though I wish they were a little longer. If anyone knows any good full length tight chamois that fit someone 5’11” – let me know! Greyson likes to wear water resistant baggy shorts over his chamois, but I haven’t found any water resistant women’s baggies, unfortunately. When it’s grey, cloudy, and wet, I’ll switch to clear lenses in my Smith Squad MTB Goggles. I also carry sunglasses with me in case the sun comes out, because I cannot function when it’s too bright.
A couple of other things that are nice to have during the spring is a foldable saw, like the SILKY F-180, which is useful if you encounter trees downed across the trail and something like the Nemo Helio Portable Pressure Shower, which is great for rinsing mud off your bike.
Trail work is a great way to give back, and spring is a time where a lot of trail work gets done. After the snow melts out, there’s often debris and garbage all over the trails. Trails are rutted out and features have been damaged. Additionally, trail builders might be cutting new trails. Some trail groups and governmental agencies might have a trail builder on staff, but all rely heavily on volunteers to get trails built, repaired, and maintained.
While anybody can just go out and pick up litter from a trailhead, trail building requires some knowledge and training, and the best way to get that is to volunteer with groups that organize trail days. Beyond the warm glow of giving back, volunteering on trails often has other benefits – you’ll almost always get at least a beer. It’s also a great way to meet other riders in your area, and once, Greyson and I even got a free shuttle to the top of Mills Peak! Here are some great trails groups in the Sierra that host trail days:
- Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship (Downieville/Graeagle/Quincy)
- Truckee Trails and Truckee Donner Land Trust (Truckee)
- TAMBA (Lake Tahoe)
- BONC & Bear Yuba Land Trust (Nevada City)
- FATRAC (Auburn & Folsom)
I’m hoping to get out this weekend and do some riding, but the weather that’s coming doesn’t make that likely. I guess I’ll deal with a couple more weeks of winter.