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  1. #1
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    Phil's Trail Complex Soils 101 - Why riding when wet and muddy causes trail damage.

    Why does COTA ask us to stay off of our beloved Phil's Trails during wet and muddy conditions? Are our trails really getting wider? Is there any other long term damage if I ignore COTA and ride anyway?

    To answer these questions we have to delve into the soil. Beer (an Abyss would be welcome) with me as we get down into the dirt!

    The high ash content soil found at the Phil's Complex has 3 distinguishing characteristics -

    1 - low density (like moon-dust)
    2 - poor compaction when dry (like moon-dust)
    3 - high water holding capacity and, when wet, it is very soft and displaces easily

    Unfortunately these are exactly the characteristics that make a trail unsuitable for riding during wet and muddy periods.

    Because of the high water holding capacity large areas around any puddle will be soft and muddy. In other words, you can ride around the puddle but it is very hard to ride around the mud unless you go very wide! The wider you ride the more damage done to the surrounding foliage. Obviously this increases trail width. But there is much more happening down in the dirt! Because the soil is low density and displaces easily any riding around a puddle displaces mud to each side of the tire track. With each passing rider more mud is moved. The trail is literally growing a little bit deeper and wider with each rider that passes by. It's like a thousand tiny elves digging deeper and wider tracks on the trails that result in the rutty conditions many riders dislike (would it surprise you to learn that the COTA Trail Gnomes harbor a hatred toward these trench digging elves?)

    By the end of the winter these rut tracks will be wider than the original trail because of the large number of riders trying to avoid the puddles and the obviously muddy sections.

    I don't undestand. Why does avoiding the mud puddles lead to wider trails?

    Because these riders still end up hitting mud due to the soupy nature (high water holding capacity characteristic) of our soil. You see, that patch of mud is much wider than it looks. So wide that riding around it is quite a challenge without running over forest foliage.

    Well, what happens if we don't ride wide and instead ride straight through the mud puddles?

    In this case the damage is limited mainly to depth rather than width, but the soil characteristics haven't changed so the depth of the rut increases with each pass of a tire. This damage manifests as blown out sections of the trail as you will see below.

    Dude, I really don't believe all this high ash content soil crap. I've been riding for many decades, long before COTA work parties started, and by summer the trails were always back to normal. IMO the trails take care of themselves.

    This will require a two part answer.

    First, we must consider the large population increase Bend has seen over that time period. Add that population growth to the rapidly increasing popularity of mountain biking in Bend and we end up with a massive increase in trail traffic just from locals. Next, take Bend's growing reputation as one of the top mountain biking destinations in the US, the increasing popularity of mountain biking with the general public, and the massive local traffic, add it all together and we end up with unprecedented numbers of riders on Phil's. And not just during the summer months but whenever the weather is decent for riding. With this mild winter the trails are getting absolutely hammered, both in depth and width. Much worse than I've seen over the years. We can't compare to what happened 30 years ago, or even 10, because the trails weren't seeing but a tiny fraction of the traffic we see today.

    Second, let's take a closer look at what happens after the last bout of moisture has hit. Given the low humidity and lack of rain the soil dries quickly in the late spring leaving ruts that feel like solid concrete. The rut walls will be mechanically knocked apart and buffed out by COTA Trail Gnomes (trail traffic will also knock down rut walls but it takes a longer period of time and the final product lacks that hand smoothed finish we all like so much).

    Great, now its all smooth and back to normal, right?

    Nope! Remember the first and second characteristics of our soil? It's low density and it resists compaction! So, yes, the COTA Trail Gnomes can create a very nice buffed out look and feel, but those hardened ruts that were mechanically ground up were turned into moon-dust. Unfortunately each of these previously rutty areas will end up as blown out sections in just a month or so.

    Big deal, we just need to fill-in the blown out sections!

    Hey, not a bad idea, but you are forgetting characteristic number 1. The low density moon-dust is long gone. Some got blown away and some got sucked down by the poor souls that aren't as fast as you when they were literally eating your dust! All that is left is a blown out section of trail, basically a ditch, for the COTA Trail Gnomes to smooth out and hide as best they can. This problem builds on itself, wet season after wet season, widening the trail and leading to ever deeper blown out sections of trail.

    Oh man, that sounds permanent!

    Unfortunately, it really is permanent because once the low density soil has blown away there isn't anything else to put in its place. And it's only getting worse as the number of riders hitting the Phil's complex increases at an exponential rate. Social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, and Strava are fueling a massive increase in traffic during wet and muddy conditions. If a Strava follower sees that a local racer is out riding Phil's then the obvious conclusion is that it must be good to ride for everyone. That follower tells his/her friends, they tell their friends, and so on. Soon half of the mountain bikers in town are out riding in the mud. That is the viral nature of social media at work!

    OK, you've convinced me, how do we fix this?

    The "fix" is to stay off the trails when they are wet and muddy. Give mother nature time to work her magic. You see, as the trails go through the freeze-thaw and drying out cycle(s) the soil will ultimately form a solid substrate that is very good for trail riding. By staying off of these trails when they are wet and muddy you are helping to preserve a wonderful community resource.

    Is there anything I can do to help?

    Yes! Please consider helping to spread the word by posting the following link on Facebook or emailing to your friends - Right-Click to copy link address

    Are there other trail systems that can be ridden when Phil's is wet and muddy?

    Absolutely! There are a variety of great trail systems nearby that are well suited for winter riding:

    Phil's Trail Complex Soils 101 - Why riding when wet and muddy causes trail damage.-1472009_576186885787899_1478833657_n.jpg
    Last edited by StreamRider; 01-27-2014 at 03:40 PM.

  2. #2
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    Awesome post. A lot of great information to explain recommended trail closures. Thanks for the effort you put into that post.
    Moving to Bend? Let me help.
    Derek Faller - www.BendHouseSeller.com

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    Thanks for the info StreamRider!

    I just cannot understand why people even want to ride with poor/muddy trail conditions in a shaded forest in the middle of winter. BURRR! Guess I am kinda soft. Why not soak up the sun and warmth out east, riding trails at the moment that are in near perfect condition.

  4. #4
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    Amen. Great post. Personally, I am happy to ride the cross bike on dirt roads and to ski until my local trails dry out.

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    Nice post Sketch. I'd like to see some numbers. I know that's impossible but I'm taking a Stats class and it would be a great project. BTW Maston and Horse Ridge are riding way better then Phils. don't really understand the push back from some folks. Strava works in those places too!

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by CmbtDvr185 View Post
    Nice post Sketch.
    Now that's just mean!

  7. #7
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    Dam, sorry. My dyslexia kicked in. Not intended lol.

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    Thanks for the effort Steamrider, i think that's helpful information and well written.

    I'm not sure i'm totally clear on one thing though. After riders ride through the puddle (staying in the proper trail tread), then it dries up all rutted out. I get that, and ruts don't really bother me. After that though, are you saying the the rutted area eventually becomes sort of a pot hole or something like that, because the ridges get worn away and/or groomed away by volunteers? Ruts don't bother me but potholes are kinda crappy.

    Also, i understand it's not all about me and what does or doesn't bother me personally, it's about what works for all trail users. I'm just continuing to play devil's advocate after my post in the other thread. I suspect that a lot of people consider what sort of summertime consequences do/do-not bother them when deciding whether or not to ride during wet conditions.
    Bend, OR

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by TroyS600 View Post
    After riders ride through the puddle (staying in the proper trail tread), then it dries up all rutted out. I get that, and ruts don't really bother me. After that though, are you saying the the rutted area eventually becomes sort of a pot hole or something like that, because the ridges get worn away and/or groomed away by volunteers?
    That is correct. And the size of the hole will be similar to the size of the muddy section. Unfortunately these areas will continue to grow all summer as the bike traffic erodes the banks of the holes that were created when the trails were wet and muddy.

    Some areas are so big we'll be describing the blown out sections as trenches rather than potholes.

    Phil's Trail Complex Soils 101 - Why riding when wet and muddy causes trail damage.-phils1.jpg

    If you enjoy riding fast then you will understand why it really sucks to have the blown out sections form on curves.

    Phil's Trail Complex Soils 101 - Why riding when wet and muddy causes trail damage.-img_7.jpg
    Last edited by StreamRider; 01-24-2014 at 09:24 PM.

  10. #10
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    Phil's Trail Complex Soils 101 - Why riding when wet and muddy causes trail damage.

    Quote Originally Posted by StreamRider View Post
    Why does COTA ask us to stay off of our beloved Phil's Trails during wet and muddy conditions? Are our trails really getting wider? Is there any other long term damage if I ignore COTA and ride anyway?

    To answer these questions we have to delve into the soil. Beer (an Abyss would be welcome) with me as we get down into the dirt!

    The high ash content soil found at the Phil's Complex has 3 distinguishing characteristics -

    1 - low density (like moon-dust)
    2 - poor compaction when dry (like moon-dust)
    3 - high water holding capacity and, when wet, it is very soft and displaces easily

    Unfortunately these are exactly the characteristics that make a trail unsuitable for riding during wet and muddy periods.

    Because of the high water holding capacity large areas around any puddle will be soft and muddy. In other words, you can ride around the puddle but it is very hard to ride around the mud unless you go very wide! The wider you ride the more damage done to the surrounding foliage. Obviously this increases trail width. But there is much more happening down in the dirt! Because the soil is low density and displaces easily any riding around a puddle displaces mud to each side of the tire track. With each passing rider more mud is moved. The trail is literally growing a little bit deeper and wider with each rider that passes by. It's like a thousand tiny elves digging deeper and wider tracks on the trails that result in the rutty conditions many riders dislike (would it surprise you to learn that the COTA Trail Gnomes harbor a hatred toward these trench digging elves?)

    By the end of the winter these rut tracks will be wider than the original trail because of the large number of riders trying to avoid the puddles and the obviously muddy sections.

    I don't undestand. Why does avoiding the mud puddles lead to wider trails?

    Because these riders still end up hitting mud due to the soupy nature (high water holding capacity characteristic) of our soil. You see, that patch of mud is much wider than it looks. So wide that riding around it is quite a challenge without running over forest foliage.

    Well, what happens if we don't ride wide and instead ride straight through the mud puddles?

    In this case the damage is limited mainly to depth rather than width, but the soil characteristics haven't changed so the depth of the rut increases with each pass of a tire. This damage manifests as blown out sections of the trail as you will see below.

    Dude, I really don't believe all this high ash content soil crap. I've been riding for many decades, long before COTA work parties started, and by summer the trails were always back to normal. IMO the trails take care of themselves.

    This will require a two part answer.

    First, we must consider the large population increase Bend has seen over that time period. Add that population growth to the rapidly increasing popularity of mountain biking in Bend and we end up with a massive increase in trail traffic just from locals. Next, take Bend's growing reputation as one of the top mountain biking destinations in the US, the increasing popularity of mountain biking with the general public, and the massive local traffic, add it all together and we end up with unprecedented numbers of riders on Phil's. And not just during the summer months but whenever the weather is decent for riding. With this mild winter the trails are getting absolutely hammered, both in depth and width. Much worse than I've seen over the years. We can't compare to what happened 30 years ago, or even 10, because the trails weren't seeing but a tiny fraction of the traffic we see today.

    Second, let's take a closer look at what happens after the last bout of moisture has hit. Given the low humidity and lack of rain the soil dries quickly in the late spring leaving ruts that feel like solid concrete. The rut walls will be mechanically knocked apart and buffed out by COTA Trail Gnomes (trail traffic will also knock down rut walls but it takes a longer period of time and the final product lacks that hand smoothed finish we all like so much).

    Great, now its all smooth and back to normal, right?

    Nope! Remember the first and second characteristics of our soil? It's low density and it resists compaction! So, yes, the COTA Trail Gnomes can create a very nice buffed out look and feel, but those hardened ruts that were mechanically ground up were turned into moon-dust. Unfortunately each of these previously rutty areas will end up as blown out sections in just a month or so.

    Big deal, we just need to fill-in the blown out sections!

    Hey, not a bad idea, but you are forgetting characteristic number 1. The low density moon-dust is long gone. Some got blown away and some got sucked down by the poor souls that aren't as fast as you when they were literally eating your dust! All that is left is a blown out section of trail, basically a ditch, for the COTA Trail Gnomes to smooth out and hide as best they can. This problem builds on itself, wet season after wet season, widening the trail and leading to ever deeper blown out sections of trail.

    Oh man, that sounds permanent!

    Unfortunately, it really is permanent because once the low density soil has blown away there isn't anything else to put in its place. And it's only getting worse as the number of riders hitting the Phil's complex increases at an exponential rate. Social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, and Strava are fueling a massive increase in traffic during wet and muddy conditions. If a Strava follower sees that a local racer is out riding Phil's then the obvious conclusion is that it must be good to ride for everyone. That follower tells his/her friends, they tell their friends, and so on. Soon half of the mountain bikers in town are out riding in the mud. That is the viral nature of social media at work!

    OK, you've convinced me, how do we fix this?

    The "fix" is to stay off the trails when they are wet and muddy. Give mother nature time to work her magic. You see, as the trails go through the freeze-thaw and drying out cycle(s) the soil will ultimately form a solid substrate that is very good for trail riding. By staying off of these trails when they are wet and muddy you are helping to preserve a wonderful community resource.

    Are there other trail systems that can be ridden when Phil's is wet and muddy?

    Absolutely! There are a variety of great trail systems nearby that are well suited for winter riding:

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Well done. Love the detail. Thanks SR.

    Cheers


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  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by TroyS600 View Post
    Thanks for the effort Steamrider, i think that's helpful information and well written.

    I'm not sure i'm totally clear on one thing though. After riders ride through the puddle (staying in the proper trail tread), then it dries up all rutted out. I get that, and ruts don't really bother me. After that though, are you saying the the rutted area eventually becomes sort of a pot hole or something like that, because the ridges get worn away and/or groomed away by volunteers? Ruts don't bother me but potholes are kinda crappy.

    Also, i understand it's not all about me and what does or doesn't bother me personally, it's about what works for all trail users. I'm just continuing to play devil's advocate after my post in the other thread. I suspect that a lot of people consider what sort of summertime consequences do/do-not bother them when deciding whether or not to ride during wet conditions.
    Any dirt that gets displaced has to get broken down. So ruts turn to moon dust. Corners which get high speed skidding and sliding turn to moon dust.

  12. #12
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    Those big "trenches" seem to end up holding all the Pumice/sand runoff too, when we DO get a healthy rain, turning the trench into a big sand-trap.
    Bend, Oregon

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    Quote Originally Posted by thuren View Post
    Those big "trenches" seem to end up holding all the Pumice/sand runoff too, when we DO get a healthy rain, turning the trench into a big sand-trap.
    Thuren that is an excellent point I missed. You motivated me to take another hike to scope out depth. The ruts shown below range in depth from 1 - 3" or so. Pictures were taken on Phil's trail 1.4 to 1.9 miles from the main trail-head.

    Phil's Trail Complex Soils 101 - Why riding when wet and muddy causes trail damage.-phils1.jpg

    Phil's Trail Complex Soils 101 - Why riding when wet and muddy causes trail damage.-phils1-2.jpg

    I didn't have a tape measure with me but these suckers are impressively deep. Wouldn't want to hit them riding fast!

    Phil's Trail Complex Soils 101 - Why riding when wet and muddy causes trail damage.-phils1-3.jpg


    The following pics show just how wide riders will go to avoid puddles.

    Here we see tracks way to the left, literally up the bank, which are roughly 8 feet from the tracks on the far right -

    Phil's Trail Complex Soils 101 - Why riding when wet and muddy causes trail damage.-phils1-5.jpg

    And here you see tracks separated by a whopping 9 feet! A couple of tracks are on the far left that go around that log -

    Phil's Trail Complex Soils 101 - Why riding when wet and muddy causes trail damage.-phils1-4.jpg

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    Phil's always be blown out, yo

    No amount of appropriate wet conditions use (judging by this post that would mean non-use) on Phil's will prevent it from being blown out in June. Just take a look at Farewell as one of many examples, where no one rides it in winter or much when it's wet, and virtually every corner is baby powder.

    I'm glad for all the conservation-minded spirit. But tut tutting anyone that leaves a tire track on Ben's this time of year isn't really so much about soil composition and its preservation as it is about living out one's inner hall monitor.

    I can't agree enough, though, with all the suggestions of superior riding in places other than Phil's. But, when is that ever not the case?

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Erika's Brother View Post
    No amount of appropriate wet conditions use (judging by this post that would mean non-use) on Phil's will prevent it from being blown out in June. Just take a look at Farewell as one of many examples, where no one rides it in winter or much when it's wet, and virtually every corner is baby powder.

    I'm glad for all the conservation-minded spirit. But tut tutting anyone that leaves a tire track on Ben's this time of year isn't really so much about soil composition and its preservation as it is about living out one's inner hall monitor.

    I can't agree enough, though, with all the suggestions of superior riding in places other than Phil's. But, when is that ever not the case?
    Comparing farewell to lower phil's is probably not your best idea. I can't think of 2 more different trails. Literally complete opposites.

    First off, it's less about ruts and more about trail widening (riding around mud and puddles). There pretty much is no riding off trail on much of Farewell. You will fly off a cliff, ride into beds of rocks or bushes.

    Second - Farewell has a ton of exposure and not much tree cover on the very steep parts. These areas not covered in trees get a lot more snow, and thus more runoff/erosion. Where does all that runoff go? Down the trail. Depositing sand. Only way to keep sand from forming on Farewell is to armor the trail in rock.

    third - Sure, lots of corners get blown out on lower phil's in the summer, but that's because they are corners. People rail around corners and or skid through them. Dirt gets displaced. Skidding and cornering on Farewell is pretty par for the course for many people that are bombing down. That trail gets trashed literally within days of opening each year.

    fourth - You don't see many straight sections of singletrack which are sandy on lower Phil's. If you do, they are typically locations where puddles formed in the past. A rain storm sends sand and such down the trails and the debris stops in any low lying area. Or the low lying area was a puddle and turned into mud and people rode through and made ruts, which broke down into sand...

    COTA trail adopters and leaders are trained to recognize low areas and puddle prone areas and drains are placed where appropriate. Back breaking work. All those little mounds of dirt people think are jumps are actually created to divert water into drains. And they make nice jumps too

    trying to bring a wide trail back to singletrack is like converting an existing logging road to singletrack (which is what much of phil's area trails started out as.) It's 10x more work than building singletrack from scratch. COTA standards are that the sides of trails should look natural. Crews of people move giant rocks, logs, live bushes and trees and stumps around trails to make the trails look natural. Then they gather up piles of pine needles and sprinkle the bare ground around trails with the needles to hide where people have ridden off trail.

    The ideal is that people can't tell that work was even done on the trail.

    Believe me, nobody at COTA likes preaching about mud riding. COTA doesn't like to preach much of anything really. COTA wants to build trails.

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    I am humbled, even if I can't recall any sandy or blown out straight sections. But I stand by the proposition that Phil's will always be blown out. Also, much like a river delta, trail widening near the "ocean" of a popular TH like Phil's is also unavoidable due to the mathematical reality that that is where most of the use is (and use disproportionately of the unsophisticatd variety, cuz ANYONE can do a quarter mile out-and-back), and also why widening is not a problem "upstream" where fewer people venture. As far as im concerned, the first mile or two of trail aught to be wide enough for an adventerous wheelchair-bound homey, a double-wide chariot, or even a triad of cx dewshiz training 3 abreast. COTA, no doubt,has an interest in promoting responsible trail use. Who doesn't love COTA? I just sense the presence of something other than COTA-sanctioned trail advocacy in some of these posts. It's something not unlike whining. Maybe some kind of annoying self-righteous get-off-my-lawn type thing dressed up as a noble, altruistic call for super narrow single track. I don't really know. But I can smell a hall monitor from a Strava segment away. Next thing yer gonna tell me is that we gotta pack our beer cans out after long rides.

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    K!!!!!!! Way to stir the pot, homey. lol!
    Bend, Oregon

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    Put more, "hard to ignore", "don't ride in mud" signs up at the trailhead, cross your fingers, and watch the trials be just fine when spring rolls around.

    It's fun to examine trail and soil conditions, but really unless there is a chain across each trail entry, not much that can be done besides education.
    Bend, Oregon

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    Quote Originally Posted by thuren View Post
    not much that can be done besides education.
    Which is exactly why I took the time to write the original post.

    BTW, hardcore riders may think that Phil's isn't worth all the worry, but Phil's is a mtn biking paradise for families, beginners, and intermediates. I would bet it's one of the best introductory trail complexes in the U.S.

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    Quote Originally Posted by StreamRider View Post
    Which is exactly why I took the time to write the original post.
    Which IS awesome, but I think more "education" at the trailhead, is MOST important. Not sure this forum really makes that big of a difference.
    Bend, Oregon

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    I agree, we need more exposure than we can get here. My hope is that facebook and email will help spread the word. The goal is to get people to ride out East by default when its warm, because warm in winter means wet and muddy at Phil's.

    Also agree that bigger, brighter, more obvious signage at the trail head would be a great idea.

  22. #22
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    StreamRider, where do you get all the time to post 525 times....and with pictures? Who are you?

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    I'm just an another avid trail user that is disheartened by the damage I've seen at Phil's during this mild winter. Much worse than anything I've seen in past winters. I can only hope that with education the many riders that are hitting Phil's will reconsider their destination so that future generations will get to experience Phil's as we have.

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    Quote Originally Posted by kwdog View Post
    StreamRider, where do you get all the time to post 525 times....and with pictures? Who are you?
    He's a good rider and an even better computer geek. We need people like that.

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    Quote Originally Posted by kwdog View Post
    StreamRider, where do you get all the time to post 525 times....and with pictures? Who are you?
    And who are you?

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