Too early for trails

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— If you're thinking about heading out on the muddy, rugged terrain of the forest to mountain bike your way to the top - don't.

Forest Service officials and concerned environmentalists said many people get antsy to jump on their bikes and tear up the trails, but that will only cause more problems down the road. It's still too early in the season.

Make your contacts with others pleasant, no matter how brief. Make the first move. Yield to hikers and horseback riders. Speak up at first sighting. Try not to startle people or livestock. When approaching oncoming livestock on trails, speak, slow down and move off the trail to the downhill side. When passing livestock from behind, speak out and ask for instructions. Let both livestock and riders know you are a friendly human. Ride in small groups and in single file when passing. Ride in control and pass others slowly. Respect private property and route closures. Leave gates as you find them. If we abuse a privilege, we'll lose it. Tread lightly and leave no trace by packing out litter and avoiding muddy trails. Stay off the vegetation and on designated routes. Try not to skid. Help teach new riders proper trail etiquette. Lead by example. Try not to disturb wildlife. Courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service

Pete Wither, president of Routt County Riders, said mountain bikers not obeying the etiquette can cause problems with erosion.

"We want to stress this year staying off of the muddy trails until they dry out," Wither said. "This is the only time of year that destroys and tears up the trails" if people don't wait until the snow has melted.

And Ed Patalik, recreation planner for the U.S. Forest Service, said erosion causes muddy streams and rivers.

"When soil moves downhill, you're ending up with a rut rather than a trail. (Trails) are most saturated in spring and early summer," Patalik said. "One thing we like to stress is staying off trails until they've had a chance to dry."

Patalik said the Forest Service mostly is concerned with people not using the system trails, but instead making their own trails off course, called user trails. User trails are not official and are not maintained for erosion and water control.

By detouring through non-environmental analyzed brush, bikers can disturb wildlife and archeological sites, Patalik said.

"They have no regard for wildlife ... we pay attention to that when we engineer the trails," Patalik said. "The proper water drainage is established and maintained to certain standards."

So when can you ride?

"If you can tell me when the snow will melt, I will tell you when to ride," Wither said. "We're all in this together. We'd much rather be gaining trails than losing them. That's why we encourage trail etiquette."

New Trail?

Routt County Riders is the only nationally recognized mountain biking association in northwest Colorado. It has received about $50,000 in grant money in the last 10 years to ensure rider safety and knowledge about bicycle-related issues.

After adopting the Hot Springs Trail about seven years ago, Routt County Riders have made it a responsibility to maintain the trail every spring. On April 9, the Riders will meet to talk about the fix-up day they have in June to cut back the brush and put in water bars where needed.

Wither said the association hopes to build the Lower Bear Trail this summer with help from the Forest Service, the city of Steamboat and the Rocky Mountain Youth Corp. However, the Forest Service may be hesitating on approving the construction.

"They haven't decided for sure if they want to do it this summer," Wither said of the trail that will bypass the current Elk Park Trail on private land.

Wither said the Forest Service has been particularly attentive to the wants and needs of bikers and the environment. And using their expertise to design the proper trail has been helpful, he said.

The Riders have flag-lined the future trail, but they'll need the Forest Service's OK before getting out the shovels and digging 500 to 800 feet a day.

Wither helped design the 50 miles of Mt. Werner bike trails during the first six years, and he said he's proud that the mountain honored him with his own trail - Pete's Wicked Trail.

Mountain

Biking Tips

Ed Crislip, owner of Sore Saddle Cyclery, gives tips for mountain bike riders.

It's tune up and overhaul season, but don't wait until the day you want to ride to hand over your bike to a shop. Shops get backed up a week or two during this time of year.

If you have a front shock, you know it - so don't ignore it! Crislip said water and dirt can collect in the shocks and create hundred of dollars worth of damage.

One tune up should last a whole season, but those with loose ball bearings may need an overhaul. For this procedure, the bike is dismantled down to the bearings and then reassembled with fresh grease.

And of course, every bike is different. Depending on the age and condition of your bike, an overhaul may be needed.

As the whether gets nicer and the snow starts to melt, people tend to get excited about riding around in some mud. Crislip said wait you'll screw up you're bike and the trail. Crislip said use your common sense. He lives by the motto that if you have to walk back, you weren't prepared enough to go out in the first place.

Items Crislip recommends:

Bring enough water to get through the ride.

Bring an energy bar.

Always be prepared for a change of weather - a light wind/rain shell is an essential.

Not required, but always recommended - helmets.

When you're through and the bike is a little dirty or muddy - don't use a high pressure mechanism for washing the bike, you'll ruin the bearings and cables.

"So many people want to yahoo through the mud. It's terrible for your bike and terrible for the trail," Crislip said. "It makes for a good photo op, but walking around the (puddle) is much better than trying to power through it.

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