To Leave Leaves or Not Leave Leaves

It doesn't get much better than fall mountain biking for me.  The air is cool and the ground is dry. Colors find their way into the trees and the trail takes on a completely different look and feel.  It's always amazing how different the trail can appear when even a small number of leaves start to fall.  Views open up exposing the terrain in ways that you just don't see at other times of the year.

Fall is a special time of year for mountain biking in Central Ohio. Alum Creek, Phase II

Fall is a special time of year for mountain biking in Central Ohio. Alum Creek, Phase II

Just as the yellow and gold move into the trees and the leaves inevitably drop to the ground, every fall sees us rehashing the debate over removing leaves from the trail or leaving them in place.  

Some riders prefer the leaves removed.  The idea is that it maintains the look & the feel of the typical trail experience.  Especially in the midwest when riding trails defined by roots, removing the leaves makes in easier to see all the intricacies of the line.  The leaves camouflage a lot of the bumps along the way.  Removing the leaves prevents any surprises.

On a recent ride at P1, I actually rode off the trail because it wasn't plainly obvious which way the trail was supposed to go because of all the leaves on the ground.  The leaves had yet to be ridden in and maybe my eyesight isn't what it once was.  No matter the reason, I quickly realized what I had done and found my way back to the original trail.  No harm done.

Some riders actually love riding through the leaves.  There's something to be said for not being able to see every root, every rock, every little bump on the trail.  With the proper speed and momentum added to the right line, it's often surprising how easy those features are to roll over if you don't know it's there.  

Have you ever ridden at night with lights?  It's kinda the same thing.  You tend to 'ride further out' and not worry about the stuff that's closer to your wheels.  Rolling over those roots & rocks becomes a function of trusting your tires, maintaining your line and holding the right speed as you float over the things you didn't even see coming.

Personally, I like riding the trail as it is.  If it's powdery dry, I'm riding a dry trail.  If there's been a recent rain and it's hero dirt, game on.  Leaves down... ok.  Part of the experience of riding throughout the year is being on the trail seeing and feeling and riding the different seasons.

So whether or not to remove the leaves becomes an individual preference from the rider's standpoint.  But what about the trail?  Which is better for the trail?  Is it best to leave leaves or not leave leaves?  And this is the consideration that guides our actions.

The trail has a personality that changes from season to season. Leaves are a part of that.

The trail has a personality that changes from season to season. Leaves are a part of that.

After trying it both ways, removing the leaves and leaving them, throughout the course of many seasons and after thorough research, the COMBO trail stewards and people who spend a lot of time dealing with these issues have come down on the side of leaving leaves.  Put another way, "Leave in the Fall, Remove in the Spring."

This might sound kinda silly but the thought is that the leaves actually provide a protective cover of the trail throughout the fall & winter.  What we've found is that we're able to make trail rideable earlier in the spring with a good leaf cover that's removed early in the spring.  Protection under snow, removed to let the trail dry in the Spring.

At least that's what I've been told by those who spend countless hours working their tails off to build & maintain trails for us year-round.  And I side with them.  Whether you like riding leaves in the fall or not, I bet you hate missing out on Spring riding because of closed and/or unrideable trail in the Spring.  So we go with what's best for the trail. And hope you all understand.

If you'd like to learn more about Trail Stewardship or participate in a Trail Day, check out our Events section on the website or Facebook.  Help support local trails by pitching in and get to know some of the people who build and maintain the trails you love to ride.  If you have a question about why a particular feature is set a certain way or why a certain decision is made, please show up & participate!  We're all in this together.

Thanks for reading & we'll see you on the trails.

-Dean