The Trail Snob: Is Good Dirt All it’s Packed Up to Be?

The Trail Snob presents the periodic, ill-informed opinions, malformed thoughts, and inappropriate convictions of a certain Web Content Editor. Art’s Cyclery disavows all knowledge of, responsibility for, and concordance with anything that comes out of their keyboard.

As mountain bikers, the supposed nuances of petroleum-paved  surfaces suitable for riding frail, narrow-tired bicycles on do not concern us. Alternately, every mountain biker eventually morphs into an amateur geologist, taking note of the changing matrix we find our joy upon, joy which is directly dependent upon the qualities of the surface our rubber knobbies dig into, roll across, and slide off of.

Depending on where you spend most of your time pushing the pedals, riding mountain bikes can range from confident roost-fests with traction to spare around every turn, to slippery, slidey tests of weight distribution, cornering knobs, and body armor throughout every ride. Here on the Southern edge of the Franciscan Assemblage in San Luis Obispo, we have healthy doses of Monterey Shale making up our geology. Thus, unfortunately, most of our riding surfaces  range from sharp-edged extrusive igneous rock, to soft sandstone, to the “baby powder” of exposed ancient marine terraces. What actual dirt we have turns to tread-clogging, drivetrain-incapacitating clay with more than a couple inches of rain, which, this year, is not a concern. So between embedded basaltic rock; broken-up, ball-bearing sandstone, and smooth, hard packed clay which might as well be rock for all the  traction it provides, we learn to appreciate every degree of lean we can coax out of the ground.*San Luis Obispo's What? Trail, by SLOCAUS

As a result, Nature has nurtured your typical SLO mountain biker to become comfortable with a lack of traction, along with a need to maintain excellent wheel-truing skills. “Straight shots” take on a new meaning here, with the only thing maintaining a straight line being your helmet, as underneath you, your bike dances and flicks from side to side in an attempt to find a way through the rocks or a non-sliding surface to grip. In the dark days before suspension, and even after hardtails became the norm, a ride on any of our West Ridge trails would leave your hands and arms vibrating for days afterward. A pleasant consequence of this is that when we get to ride trails with actual dirt—what you might call loam—like in Santa Cruz, we start slobbering like a dog with two tails. If you followed us down the Soquel Demonstration Forest’s Sawpit Trail you’d hear phrases like “So that’s what a hooked-up turn is!” or “Wow, tire tread actually does influence the bike’s trajectory!” ringing out like spokes popping on a 2007 Mavic Crossmax.

One benefit of our lack of traction for you, the Art’s customer, is that we get pretty good at figuring out which tires work and which tires don’t. Tread patterns have to be responsive and reliable to work here, and a tire’s construction has got to be top notch or else its shredded carcass is quickly tossed on the scrap heap of ineffectiveness. If the same tire ends up on several of our bikes, that’s the one to bet on.

Mmmm... Fast, loamy soil.So to our friends who live in and ride such locales as Santa Cruz, the Pacific Northwest, the Appalachians, and other mountainous regions where the trails consist of soil, we extend our congratulations and mildly conceal our jealousy. Have fun in your berms and eternally grippy cake-batter substrate, while we skitter and slide across our sandstone and clay. But you know what? We wouldn’t have it any other way.

*Lately, however, there has been an alarming trend of building new trails to provide as little challenge as possible. Even more disturbing are mis-guided efforts to tun our legacy rock-strewn trails into golf-cart paths.

mind_blownThe Trail Snob goes by several pseudonyms, but is most recognizable as the Guy With All the Answers. He was around when the trails were so much better than they are now and is way cooler than you’ll ever be. Well, at least that’s what he thinks…