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First Mountain Bike Ride of 2024: Raven Trails

Matthew Betka

Posted on March 09 2024

First Mountain Bike Ride of 2024: Raven Trails


Early Season Mountain Bike Session

February isn't the typical month for hitting dirt trails on a mountain bike in the Northwoods, but this wasn't the typical winter season. Normally, it's reserved for fat bikes, snowshoes, and cross country skis. However this year's unusual weather granted me the earliest mountain bike ride I have ever had on February 28th. Curious to test the conditions, I loaded my bike into the truck and headed to Raven Trail here in Minocqua, Wisconsin. The parking lot, shaded and icy, presented a challenge. Undeterred, I ventured into the woods to asses the single track. 

Initially, the lead-in and paved trail were icy, giving me second thoughts. Nevertheless, as I delved into the single track, the ride became more feasible. Warm temperatures and sunlight had melted the snow, and frozen leaves provided much needed traction on the icy surfaces. The frozen ground made the "dry" parts of the trail exceptionally fast, and the bright Northwoods sun made it feel warmer than the actual temperature. 

Approximately 95% of the trail proved ridable, with only a few climbs covered in packed snow. Notably, the climb near the boat ramp parking lot and some north-facing ascents required walking. Despite some challenges, the ride was very rewarding. 

Pro Tips for Early Season Mountain Biking:

           1. Trail Fragility: Trails are delicate during freeze-thaw cycles, especially before the ground thaws. Riding on muddy, thawing trails can damage them. If conditions seem mushy, consider an alternative activity. 

           2. Optimal Riding Times: Ride when the ground is frozen in the mornings or on cold days before thawing. In this case, the temperature was around 25 degrees at the start.

           3. Traction Challenges: During early season rides, it can be tricky to find traction. Frozen trails offer fast riding, but caution is necessary. Use the good visibility with leaves off the trees to anticipate icy spots and control speed in ice-free sections. 

           4. Climbing Techniques: In icy conditions, avoid breaking the rear wheel loose. Build momentum on areas with good traction to navigate slippery patches. Roots and exposed rocks are great sources of grip as well as leaves frozen into the surface of the ice. Choose your line carefully.

           5. Know your Limits: Don't push too hard. If traction is lost, dismount where it's safe. Avoid riding yourself into an icy corner where climbing becomes impossible and there is no place to safely put your foot down.

           6. Front Break Awareness: Be mindful of your front break. Equal braking is generally advocated, but loosing the front wheel on ice can lead to a fall. Use the front brake cautiously.

While the eagerness to start the riding season is understandable, it's crucial not to damage the trail or risk an early-season crash. You don't want to have a season ending crash before season begins! We urge you to use caution while biking in early season conditions, but to enjoy your time if you decide to! At Coontail, we have been making the most of the strange weather we have had this winter, and hope that you have been as well. 

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