Riding after rain storms have left the trails rutted, wet, and muddy adds a new dynamic to the tandem mountain bike odyssey. For tandem mountain bike teams the mud presents a unique challenge for keeping the rubber side down and the tandem running in a straight line. While best practice calls for trail avoidance in muddy conditions sometimes it can not be avoided. The following will provide you with a little knowledge on mud and tips for picking the proper trails to ride when the rain has been falling.
There is an urban legend that Eskimos have hundreds of words for snow, describing the various types, consistencies, and impact on their world. For tandem mountain bike teams it is a bit easier to learn the words for mud but the concept mirrors Eskimo snow name story.
Mud in its basic form is a mixture of dry dirt and water. Based upon the makeup of the dry dirt the resulting mud can range from a little extra grip for better traction to a sticky gooey mess that will destroy your components. The big variable for mud types derives from the amount of clay combined with the size and texture of dirt grains. Generally speaking the more clay in the soil the stickier the resulting mud.
Clay is composed of inorganic minerals, silicates, and can include organic materials from plants and grass. Clays have been used for centuries to build buildings in part because they suspend in water allowing them to be applied and dried into shapes. Clay is more readily encountered in alluvial deposits and near active stream beds where seasonal run-off drops the smaller mineral deposits. In large enough quantities the clay overwhelms the stone and gravel to form a paste that will immediately stick to the tire, then itself, then the tire again building mass like a snowball going downhill. A trail heavily comprised of clay deposits should be considered completely off limits for mud riding.
Gravel, sand, and stones in contrast to clay do not stick to your tires and paint. The stones will not suspend in water and therefore can not be carried to stick to your tandem or your body. In fact a little rain on a sandy trail can make riding a bit easier by compacting the top layers eliminating the tendency for your tires to drift or wash out.
Clay mixed with gravel, sand, and stone in varying consistencies generates mud. Choosing trails with low volumes of clay is the first step to successful mud riding. Once on the trail the tandem captain must use line choice carefully to stay on the gravel and out of the clay. Momentum and mass will be your friend on a tandem mountain bike up to a point; past that point, meaning once too much clay builds up, mass and momentum can carry your team further into the sticky stuff = getting more stuck.
Riding a Tandem Mountain Bike in the mud is not our idea of a good time but hopefully this lesson on mud can help your team should the urge to ride come during or immediately after a storm.