Long Live Fall (and Winter!) Rides
Our days are definitely getting shorter, and after a long, hot summer, the wet is coming. But, don't hang up the bike just yet. Fall is an incredible time of year to actually increase--not decrease-- your ride time. If you've traditionally been a fair-weather rider, here are a few reasons you should extend your season and get out more this Fall (and even Winter).
Reason #1: Hero Dirt
The long dry days of summer are pretty brutal on trail conditions. Combined with more traffic in the warm months, that can make for some loose corners, entrenched brake bumps in steeper sections, and a fine coating of dust all over your front teeth during a ride. Fall moisture tamps all that back down. Within 24 hours after a good soaking, trails are in prime condition, and Fall is the most consistent time of year we get rain systems bookended by dry spells. Endless traction = smiles for miles.
Reason #2: Solitude
Let's face it, regardless of me trying to convince folks to ride when temps fall, fewer people ride after the weather starts to turn. Capitol Forest is a good place to get away from crowds even in the summer months, but on a misty Fall day you're unlikely to see another soul once you get away from he trailhead. Enjoying perfect silence on a damp, moss-lined trail is about as good as it gets.
Reason #3: Keeping Warm Is Easier Than You Think
There are few things more true than the saying: "there's no such think as bad weather, only bad clothing." Good gear makes all the difference, and it's way more affordable than you think. Mountain biking definitely presents some challenges when it comes to clothing choice and packing. Too much and you'll get wet on the climb up just from sweat then freeze on the way down. Too little and you'll just freeze period. Luckily, there are good solutions. For one, ride with a pack that'll fit some extras. There's nothing better than putting on a dry jersey or jacket at the top of a long descent. That flask of whiskey goes a long way too.
Next up, material also matters. Synthetics are fine during the summer, but there is no better material than wool in colder weather. And it does not have to be bike-specific wool. There are plenty of companies out there making reasonably priced wool base layers that can be added under a flannel or synthetic overshirt. Unlike cotton or synthetics, wool stays warm even when it's wet and drys out quickly. Because shoe covers never last more than a season, a good pair of cold-weather riding shoes also goes a long, long way. Same with gloves. Warm hands and feet are about 90% of the battle when it comes to staying comfortable in cool/wet weather. Added with fenders and a lightweight waterproof shell jacket, you'll be ready for most of what the Forest throws your way.
Reason #4: It's Fun In The Dark
Night riding is one of the true joys of mountain biking. If you've never done a night ride, it really needs to be on your list, and Fall is a prime time to night ride. Being in a group of riders and watching headlights flow through the woods at night is incredible, but even solo night trips make for good times as the lack of depth perception and limited sight lines can make even them most familiar trail feel like a new challenge. Compared to back in the day, good bike lights are dirt cheap. A Nite Rider that costs well under 100 bucks throws off more lumens and lasts way longer than $500 lights of 10 years ago. Helmet lights work best if you only go with a one-light setup, but throwing a bar light into the mix as well will give some added ability to see shadows and depth.
Reason #5: The PNW Is A Four Season Riding Mecca
There are plenty of parts of the world where biking pretty much shuts down out of necessity for parts of the year. Not here. There are very few times per year where there's too much snow to ride Capitol Forest. We've talked about riding in the wet, but riding when it gets below freezing is a great time to ride. Hard, frozen trail tread is almost as good as hero dirt. And even the days we do get snow can be some of the best of the year. A 3" dusting of snow is completely ridable, and the Forest is downright stunning with even just a little snow.
Another good option on deeper snow days is to throw a pair of snowshoes in a pack, ride until the snow gets too deep for tires, then ditch the bike and go for a snowshoe. Wedekind trail is perfect for this as the deep woods keep most of the climb manageable in snow until you get all the way to the upper clear-cuts where things get deeper.
Reason #6: Trailwork Incentive
Once you're addicted to riding all year, you'll be even more incentivized to do what you should already be doing: volunteering some trail time. Part of the reason the Forest is pretty enjoyable year round has to do with the efforts FOCF has put into drainage on the main MTB trails. There is no better feeling than working on a wet trouble spot one weekend, then coming back the next to see that the water has
disappeared. The wet months are our prime digging season. There's plenty of moisture to move dirt, and the trail issues are more easily identified. Plus, our hot meals in the woods are about as good as they get. Check out the calendar for our schedule.
That's it. Go find your inspiration and keep riding. It beats the hell out of football and yard work.