Exploring unfamiliar trails and soaking in new views is an exciting part of mountain biking. The only problem is, most of us don’t have a chance to do that every time we head out for a ride. We often “settle” for our regular ride, but what if it was possible to make even our weekday ride exciting and fresh again?
Singletracks reader rajflyboy asked how to do just that on the Singletracks forums over the summer and got a ton of great responses. For those who missed the discussion, here are 10 takeaways for spicing up a regular mountain bike ride.
Session the Difficult Parts
One of the best things about riding a familiar trail is that it gives riders many opportunities to hone technical skills. When I lived in Colorado Springs, my regular after-work ride was at Palmer Park, and when I first started riding there I had to walk my bike… a lot. But each week I challenged myself to make it through another tricky spot until eventually, I was riding the “black diamond” loops without putting a foot down.
If you’ve already conquered all the technical features on your go-to ride, read on–there are other ways you can challenge yourself on familiar trails.
Switch Up the Route
If your local trail system is laid out in a stacked loop or network configuration, the possibilities for creating new routes are virtually endless. Even if your local trail is just a single loop, try riding it forward, then backward. It’s easy to get into a rut, riding a loop in one direction just because you’ve decided it flows better that way. But switching things up can really give you a new perspective on a familiar trail.
Ride at Night
If you really want a new perspective on a boring old trail, try riding it at night! Exposed trails that get your blood pumping during the day become no big deal at night. Wide trails become narrow singletrack tunnels. Steep climbs seem to sneak up on you. Descents into darkness will ramp up the fear factor.
Early morning “dawn patrol” rides can be a lot of fun too. Riding a familiar trail during a different time of day even gives riders a chance to spot new wildlife.
Ride a Different Bike
Taking an unusual bike to a familiar trail can be a lot of fun. For some, that means riding a cyclocross or fat bike on dry singletrack. For others, it might mean attempting a ride with a lot of climbing on a singlespeed mountain bike. Riding a new bike on a regular trail forces the rider to see old features and terrain in a new light. If you’re really looking for a new and exciting challenge, try riding a road or track bike on your local trail!
Push Yourself to Ride Faster
Most of us are competitive, even if it’s just with ourselves. Start timing yourself on a loop or just a section at your local trail system, and track the times to see how you improve. An app like Strava can help, or you can just use old-fashioned pencil and paper.
Riding fast not only helps improve fitness, it also ties into the idea of sessioning to improve skills. Familiar trails can be a safe place to push limits. Just remember to always ride in control and expect the unexpected (for example, freshly-fallen trees).
Seek Out New Lines
All of us get into the habit of taking the same lines on familiar trails, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Once you’ve found the easy, efficient line through a rock garden, start looking for other ways to get through it. Instead of riding to the left of a big root, try riding straight over it. In a lot of ways, our regular rides become boring because we make them boring. Snap out of it and start getting creative with your line choices!
Do Some Trail Work
If you’re a regular at your local trail system but haven’t volunteered yet, now is the time to get busy. Getting involved gives you the chance to become more familiar with the trail, and it even gives you a voice in how the trail is maintained. If there are parts of the trail you find boring, annoying, or just plain wrong, find out what you can do to make improvements.
If you have permission, make your next ride a rolling work party. Bring a set of hand pruners and cut back overgrowth or toss branches off to the side of the trail. Getting in a ride and a work sesh in one fell swoop can be very satisfying.
Ride to the Ride
If part of your routine is loading up the bikes and driving from home or the office, consider riding to the ride every now and then. You’ll get in a good workout plus you might just find that the ride is even more fun without the stress of driving to the trailhead.
Bring a New Friend
Let’s face it: one of the things that can make a regular ride feel stale is riding alone every time. Likewise, riding with the same group of friends week after week can get old too.
Inviting a new friend on a regular ride always adds a new dimension to the mix. Riding with a beginner forces you to slow down and really focus on your own technique. On the flip side, riding with a really strong partner can open your eyes to new lines and new ways of approaching the ride.
Hit the Trails Year-Round
If you ride your go-to trail all summer long and then stop once temperatures begin to drop, you’re really missing out. Changing seasons bring new views and new challenges to every trail, no matter how familiar. Take advantage of unusual weather events–like snow in Georgia or fog in the desert–and see your trail in a new light. Full moon (and occasional eclipse) rides provide a good excuse for celebrating a regular ride.
No matter where you ride or how often you ride there, it’s always possible to keep things fresh and exciting. Don’t waste your time on a boring mountain bike ride–we all have the power to make every ride special!