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Now that all the leaves are off the trees (and on the trail) in the northern hemisphere, it’s time to decide what to do with them. There are two schools of thought on dealing with leaf litter, and the answer often depends on local soil and weather conditions. Of course leaves make it harder to see obstacles and tend to provide unreliable traction, but they can serve to protect the soil beneath. Yet some say clearing leaves allows the trail to dry more quickly after rain.

There may be a right and wrong answer, depending on where you live, but that doesn’t stop arm-chair trail maintainers from weighing in. 🙂

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# Comments

  • vapidoscar

    When the leaves are dry, schedule a trail running race. The leaves will be pulverized and trail will run great the next day.

  • atbscott

    Leaves on a trail are part of the condition. Can’t see what’s under them? Not enough traction to shred? Well, slow the f**k down and ride according to the condition. You may not get your Strava PR that day, but you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you rode the trail the best you could for that day’s trail condition. Trails don’t need to be groomed and perfect to have fun riding. Some of the most fun rides I have done were not ‘fast’ rides. Riders need to enjoy the rides for what they are, not what they wish they were!

  • norcalskier

    I’d say leave them in most areas, but in big uphill switchbacks and other steeper areas, I’d remove them to focus where in the trail ideally the riders should be guided too…

  • Timkennedy

    I think this is an extremely difficult question to answer, my first response is to blow them off and dry out the trail. However I do agree with the man who said leave them there cope with the trail as that is a large part of mountain biking it is an outdoor activity after all enjoy the conditions that you get I agree wholeheartedly. Having said that if you have corners were leaves are piling up and holding the water and creating muddy areas that will become ruts you should clear it. So I guess my answer to this question is who the hell knows, I’m glad I could add to the confusion.

  • Holly T

    Leaves left on trail create an insulating barrier between the cold ground and air temperatures during melt/soil upheaval process with softer soils. Leaves on sandy/rocky trails don’t matter as much.

  • rajflyboy

    Lots of people riding trail = leave the leaves

    Not many riders on trail = clear the leaves from trail

  • dirtybob

    Trail is wet? Leave them for traction. Trail is dry? Take them off for traction.

  • silves38

    No mention of WHO is going to spend hours raking or blowing those leaves off the trail . The trail Stewards I know would prefer to be building and maintaining new trails . We’re up to about 170 miles of single track on Long Island NY and it requires a helluva lot of hours to maintain them . Just the Pine trees alone , dying ( and falling) on the trail due to Pine Beetle Borers , keeps us real busy . From what I’ve observed, the leaves and Pine straw give the trail a bit of “ float “ over the Winter freeze/thaw mud conditions, so I say , leave em .

  • m.krupp

    I want dry trails but got into mountain biking to be out dealing with what the trail throws at me. i vote leave them down as another feature.

  • Justin White

    “It doesn’t matter either way. Tires will break them down over time.”

    It _does_ matter both ways. Tires (and natural processes) break them down into _dirt_! If the leaves are always gone, eventually the dirt is gone, too.

  • beerfriday

    I’m in the ‘both’ category that doesn’t exist here. I’m a believer of removing from grade reversals or drainage where they may hold water, but will generally leave on the rest of the trail. I’m also a believer that if you are going to remove leaves you should only do so with a rake, as a back pack leave blower just blows it all out. Some strategic raking can help reduce traffic on B lines

  • John Long

    I’d rather they weren’t there in rock gardens and such. They should probably remain in the dirt areas to help dissipate any precipitation. We have a lot of loose rock here is SWMO, and the leaves tend to hide some rocks that can cause a spill on an otherwise sedate section of trail.

  • Daniel Langevin

    In a small network of trails that I maintain I’ve discovered that timing plays a big part in this. In Vermont, the timing revolves around winter and frost. The pattern of freezing and thawing dirt and soil can create a lot of mud and softer ground that feels the damage or wheels a lot more. It’s healthier to keep the foliage on the trails throughout the winter. But a trail is a trail and it’s only a trail if you can see it and use it. I typically wait until the last frost in the Spring to clear the trails. In the fall, there are like two or three weeks where the trees are losing their foliage. I find that seeds, acorns fall first and can be raked away with the first round of foliage (So new plant life isn’t taking root in your trail) but I’ll leave whatever foliage comes down after that to provide a protective layer against the front for the winter months.

  • OldNewbie74

    Opinion shouldn’t matter. What’s the best for preserving the trail long term? What’s best for the local conditions?

  • williedillon

    I believe trails should either never or very rarely have the leaves removed (and only if absolutely required for some valid reason – traction is not one of them). I see trails around here that get blown and the erosion gets so much worse from it. When you blow you remove the natural protection for the trails, the very thing that creates new soil (leaves and other small tree debris), and some of the dirt on the trail. Not to mention gas blowers are incredibly polluting and very loud, which is the antithesis of something you want out on the trails.

  • baillie2

    You’re very lucky if you have the maintenance resources to worry about this……

    It’s also very regional. Us Westerners usually have little idea of the vast amounts of leaves those beautiful Fall Foliage days can give Easterners.

    In the Pacific NW we have a large volume of small branches and twigs that can get blown down in high winds…….these often make cycling difficult, but the same erosion issues probably apply. As a trail gets more use, and the duff is worn off, the erosion certainly does speed up.

    Also the difficulty and danger factor of the trail is important: not nice to have a crucial Black Diamond crux move hidden.

    Good to be thinking such things………..

  • planetx88

    For a trail intended for higher capacity, or introductory trails for less experienced riders, I think there is a strong arguement to be made for preserving sightlines, and eliminated surprises hiding in the leaves, within reason. If we’re talking about technical handbuilt stuff, I think I would lean more towards cleaning out necessary drainages and grade reversals, and then leaving well enough alone, or conservative leaf removal. In my own personal brand of pseudoscience, this is the best solution for soil conditions.

    From a riding perspective, I do value not being lost in the middle of the woods in a vast ocean of leaves (happens). There are a few spots on local trails where people miss a turn because everyone is basically guessing where the trail is, and now youve got a bunch of long skid marks that draw everyones eye and everyone goes flying off the trail. Fully losing the trail even on a climb is a real thing, at least in Vermont. Can we just speedwalk with a leaf blower to create some visibility? We definitely see a lot of over-zealous leaf blowing in my area, where the trail tread has a 3-4 foot buffer of immaculately clean, leaf blown corridor. Perhaps a middle ground that leans more towards the “let it be” end of the spectrum?

  • SKeen

    Another vote to leave them so they turn into fresh dirt

  • Justin White

    @planetx88, a higher traffic trail needs leaf removel even less. More traffic breaks down the leaves faster, and the trail will become noticeable more than fast enough. Maybe you’ll miss a turn or two the first day or two after a big windy day, but those conditions change rapidly AND are just part of the sport. Ride it as it is. Unless it’s unsafe, but some leaves do NOT make a trail unsafe. Wet roots and rocks can be just as slippery, and you’re not out there with heatguns drying trails off.

  • planetx88

    Justin, I mostly agree. Ultimately you’re right, we are riding in the woods, where different tree species drop leaves at different times, weather happens, etc, and the owness is on us as riders to adapt to conditions. I personally think that the “leavers” vs. “blowers” debate has less to do with water mgmt and soil control than people let on. I see a lot of leaf removal happen simply so riders can keep riding fast, with better traction and sightlines. I am suggesting that rider experience is often prioritized over rider impact. Is that good? Nope. For many folks, foregoing the optimal riding experience for soil health, which is a vague, long-term goal is a non starter, especially when there is a lot of noise in support of leaf removal, “to help dry out trails.” I think this is used as a ploy for summer riding conditions extension.

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