Calling a spade a spade. Or a mattock.

Trails all gone gloopy? Don’t reach for the bike, grab a shovel and do some trail maintenance instead. Keep your singletrack single.

>>> MBR Trail Bike of the Year 2020

Tips for trail maintenance

We spoil our bikes. We clean them, polish them, maintain them and lavish them with all kinds of shiny treats. Isn’t it about time we showed our trails some l-u-r-v-e too?

Here are six simple tips to help your trails survive the winter…

1. The right trail on the right day

Mud splash

If it’s been raining for weeks and you know those surfaces don’t stack up well in the wet, then give them a wide berth: head for the local trail centre with its perfect all-weather surface. You’ll have more fun and your local trails won’t suffer.

>>> The best mountain bike mud tyres

2. Keep it clean

Not only is it cool to take all your litter home — and that includes banana skins, orange peel etc, it’s even cooler to take home anything that others have left behind. It’ll make the trail look better, make you feel better, and you might need the karma on that next drop-off.

3. Lighten up

Skids are for kids!

Skids are for kids!

Skids cause ruts — whether they’re caused by wheel spinning or braking. When the surface is soft and traction is hard to find, it’s time to lighten up your riding. Imagine you’re riding on egg shells and you don’t want to break them.

Choose a gear that allows you to apply smooth power and then feel the trail through your pedals. If you’re starting to break traction, ease back a tad until you’re rolling again.

>>> The best mountain bike disc brakes

Apply your brakes gently, with the emphasis on the front, where most of the weight is. But keep your weight over the rear wheel if you think it’ll lock.

4. Tight is right

1. Devol's Staircase

When traction’s limited, it’s easy to drift wide when cornering, and then suddenly the exit’s wider and the bend’s not as tight. Slow down on entry and carve smoothly to keep on the established trail. Then get the power back on early (and gently) to rattle on down to the next turn. Cutting the corner will do the same damage.

5. Maintain and repair

trail building with a mattock

If you notice a really bad section of trail, how about repairing it yourself?

If you can do it alone, great. But even better might be to try and get a bunch of local riders together and arrange a joint social/trail-repair event. New friendships will made, new riding buddies found, and your trail will definitely thank you for the attention.

If you don’t know where to start, there’s stacks of info on the web, or check out a course such as the CTC Repair & Inspection Course.

6. Take the direct line

This may sound odd but if there’s a puddle, a hole or a big boggy patch, try to ride straight through. Divert around it and it’ll just get bigger. And then the next guy along will ride around the new enlarged version and so on, ad infinitum.

Keep your singletrack single.

What to bring

Anyone can do a little maintenance on existing trails, pruning brambles here or stomping out a rut there. If you get really keen here are some tools to get you toiling.

  • Fiskars Xtract Garden Saw, £29.97, Lightweight, folding saw that slices through even really big branches and briars in no time.
  • Pick: Azada. Try this Azada for clearing ground – it’s basically a long, lightweight mattock. £30,
  • Mechanics Gloves: Hardwearing yet nimble gloves that don’t cost a fortune. £8.20,
  • Old riding shoes: Riding shoes have stiff soles, perfect for stomping and compacting dirt.

Here’s why: It’s easier to dig in the winter because the ground’s soft and easy to break and you’d probably spend more time cleaning your bike than riding it.

And you’ll reap the rewards of your labours once spring gets here, because those trails will be running much better. Most importantly though, it’s actually a really creative and involving job — you’ll certainly remember the bits you’ve dug.

Warning: digging is addictive, remember to ride your bike sometimes too.

Tools for the job

There’s a new trail building weapon from BTR, called the Tough Rake. It’s handmade by Burf and Tam from BTR, zinc plated and comes with a hefty wooden handle, yours for £80.

Then there’s the Trailhead TT-Mk1 tool, also £80 and also lovingly handmade and heavy duty. It even has a bottle opener in it.

Finally, we love the Pick Azada from — it’s light enough to heft all day and slices through soil. It’s much cheaper too, at £29.