Riding Bikes And Eating Popsicles


It is still early February, but we have officially had our first warmup of the year. The beautiful weather coincidentally started on Friday in time for the weekend.  After weeks of cold, cloudy, rainy weather we are having a respite from the dark clouds that have been following me around on my bike for weeks. This was going to be an excellent weekend

Saturday dawned bright and sunny with a light breeze and azure skies. After a tasty breakfast and a couple of cups of strong coffee, I was kitted and off on my bike for a 20-minute ride to my local trail system.  As great weather often does, it draws large crowds and today was no exception. Horses, hikers, mountain bikers, cyclocross riders, all out for the first beautiful day in a month. Like bears waking from hibernation and shaking off indoor mustiness, everyone is eager to take in the glorious sunshine.  After my cruise up a paved bike trail, I make my way to the fireroad that climbs and winds it’s way to my favorite trails in and around a giant lake called Folsom.  It’s a commonly used trail on any given weekend, and to no surprise, it is unusually packed and akin to riding through an indoor mall on a Saturday afternoon. I pick my way carefully through the groups of hikers, dog walkers, runners and little tykes weaving their small bikes down the flat trail with dad in tow. These little guys and girls are so impressive and as I pass by I give a wave and a word of encouragement.

I sweat my way to the top of the fireroad before bombing down the other side to the killer singletrack awaiting me. Man, I feel good, the warm air is at once exhilarating and motivating as I pedal my way onto the first singletrack, weaving through the grasses and trees. After so much rain the native plants are glowing green against the white sandy trails. The many oak trees dotting the terrain stand in stark contrast to the dayglo green grasses dancing in the gentle breeze. The vegetation surrounding the narrow trails are putting out tiny buds, a sure sign spring is growing near. I snake my trusty mountain bike up and around, climbing rocky singletracks to the top of my favorite downhill. This trail has everything, rocks, berms, ruts, roots and sand patches. I carve my hardtail into the corners, fly over sparkling granite rocks jetting out from below the loose dirt, smoothly attacking the berms and power my way to the bottom, back to the trail junction. A big grin comes across my face as I realize I was barely in control, flying by the seat of my pants.

I continue on through the park coming across other mountain bikers enjoying the incredible riding conditions, a quick hello and off I go. I am flying now, or at least I feel like I am. I hit the next dusty short climb with gusto, egging myself to go faster until my legs are on fire and I have to back off. I stop at the top of the hill to take a swig of water to relive my dry throat. Beads of sweat drip off my forehead and into my glasses so I wipe them clean and hop on my bike for the descent back down. Boy, I haven’t sweated this much in a long time, and it sure feels good! Feeling a little spent and hot from the sun I reluctantly decided to head back home and cool off.  On a day like today, you could just ride forever, but I quickly remind myself that tomorrow is Sunday and it’s set to be another stellar day on the trails.

On the ride back to my house I suddenly realize how thirsty I am and how I could really go for something cold and tasty. I start thinking back to when I was a little kid like the ones I saw on the trail today and remember what I craved when I was hot and tired all those years ago-  Bomb Pops. The cold, icy, refreshing popsicle all done up in red, white and blue in a white wrapper. My friend and I would ride our bikes down to 7-11, park our bikes out front, run into the store and rummage through variously frozen confectionaries until we found our favorites. Creamsicles, ice cream sandwiches sidewalk sundaes, too many to chose from and all delicious but in the end, I would always want a Bomb Pop. That was always my favorite and to this day is still my favorite warm-weather treat.

Mountain biking always brings out the kid and me. Therefore, each and every time I get on my bike, I flashback to my childhood and I can not think of two things that go better together than riding a bike and eating popsicles.




Mountain Biking- Lose The Large Groups

When you think of mountain biking, do you envision escaping from the hustle and bustle of our hectic daily lives?  Do you use riding as a way to avoid civilization to be alone or perhaps spend time with a few close friends sharing a weekend ride together?  I think many mountain bikers have this idea of how a ride should be, but when it comes to our beautiful sport, there is growing trend in the mountain bike scene that is turning our local mountain bike trails into a clogged freeway: large group rides.

It’s not about pack riding

Mountain biking is an organic sport, born out of an idea a few guys in Northern California had to take cruiser bikes, tinker with them and adapt them to the rigors of off-road riding.  The sport took off from there, becoming “mainstream” in the 1990s but has always been viewed as the rebellious cousin of road riding and a counter-culture to the road scene.  A sport that is not about pack riding or large group rides like road riding but more about being a lone warrior or riding with two or three other lone warriors.

Mountain bikers are generally robust, adventurous thrill seekers that love the challenges that the outdoors has to offer.  We are independent, and like the solitude and freedom, mountain biking has to offer.  Mountain biking has always been labeled as a sport that is leaning towards the opposite of road riding, providing an independent and a peaceful solo counterpart to a sometimes overcrowded and chaotic road scene.  After a long day of sitting in meetings, talking on phones, and meeting deadlines, it is nice to be able to disconnect, be alone, and regain a sense of solitude and decompress.  So when I show up to one of my favorite riding areas for a relaxing afternoon on my bike, the last thing I want is to battle large, unsanctioned, group rides in parks that explicitly cannot support these massive rides.


You might miss out on seeing this little guy on an overcrowded trail.


Easier to get the right of way in a large group

Unfortunately, in many urban areas, large group rides are becoming a big issue at various riding spots.  One local park I ride in particular can see three or four large groups, each composed of fifteen plus riders on any summer weeknight.  This park is located within close proximity to the city near significant commute routes. Therefore it is a favorite place to stop on the way home in the spring and summer as well as weekends.  Several local organized mountain bike groups have chosen this site as an unofficial place to gather for large group bike rides.  Compounding the issue is that this park consists of only 535 acres of trails for hiking, bicycling, and horseback riding, it is quick to become congested and in no way can support large group rides.  To me, the definition of a large group of riders is seven or more, which I feel is the threshold for when a group becomes a problem.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not against group riding at all, but I do think that packs larger than seven are just too big and they should be broken up into smaller, more manageable categories.  When local parks and preserves opened their trails to mountain bikers, I don’t think they envisioned having the park overtaken by large group outings.

Not always respectful of other trail users

The popularity of this particular park for horses makes it a poor choice for these large groups of riders that frequent the preserve.  We all know that horses can sometimes be spooked thus a large group of riders can make a horse uneasy. Furthermore, it is unfair for a horseback rider, hiker or other trail users to have to stop at the top of a trail for an extended period of time to wait for long trains of mountain bikers to file by slowly.

Think about it: you’re standing on the edge of a trail with a downslope on one side and trees on the other holding onto a horse which is rapidly getting impatient and nervous as riders file by for minutes on end. This type of scenario is just adding to that never-ending perception that mountain bikers are taking over the trails and not respecting other trail users.  This is not what we need, period.  Sometimes these large groups of riders do not yield to the individual or small group riders, so one or two pedalers are forced to wait – occasionally several minutes – for everyone to finish the trail section.

Many of the large groups I run into act as if they are a sanctioned event and have filed permits to have the trails to themselves for a certain amount of time.  Sometimes human nature can trend towards the “there is strength in numbers” behavior, so perhaps it’s easier to get the right away or take control of the trails when you’re in a large group.  I have also noticed that these groups consist of extremely varied levels of riders, which adds to the frustration of dealing with them.  The stronger riders will reach the trailhead first, with less fit mountain bikers at the rear of the group. This variation of skill levels helps exaggerate the long train of riders. Moreover, many of these groups contain a fair number of beginners or newbies so teaching these new riders that they can push their way through the trails with no regards to the established “right of way rules” is not proper trail etiquette.

Social Assassins

One of the main reasons large mountain bike groups are so popular on our trails is the use of online social networking.  Massive group lists or online communities can be easily created to organize and broadcast rides, and someone can post or twitter about a ride thus 40 people will show up.  Before social media, mountain bike group rides were spread by word of mouth. Therefore it was harder to broadcast about a ride so as a result, fewer riders would show up.  Now the announcement of a mountain bike ride can be heard and seen globally.

The pains of yielding to a large group

Many other parks I frequent are suffering a similar fate. My friend and I were riding one bright sunny morning making our way to the top of a singletrack when we happened upon a large group of mountain bikers filing up the downhill we wanted to blast down. The first two riders informed us that there were several riders picking their way to the top Well, a two to three-minute wait turned into a fifteen-minute wait as rider after rider slowly made their way toward us. My friend and I were beginning to get irritated by the whole situation, and we started to wonder who the heck they were.  I asked the rider who appeared to be the leader of the group about who they were, and he replied “we are the so and so mountain biking group” which I recognized as one of the local meetup groups online.

I started to become more and more frustrated when I realized that this was a huge group of riders in an open space preserve full of other users, and they were treating the trails as if they were running a private trail event.  It was assumed that we should have to wait for each and every rider. Furthermore, the riders within this group acted like it was entirely reasonable for us to yield to forty riders snaking up a singletrack!  Even if we had decided to go for it and not wait, the tedious aspect of trying to weave through this many mountain bikers on such a narrow and winding singletrack would have been a feat within itself!  A veritable traffic jam in the middle of a beautiful open space preserve is not what I envision when I set out on a ride.

Sanctioned verses non sanctioned

If you are participating in a race, an off-road grand fondo, a charity ride, or another organized event then there are obviously going to be significant groups of riders, perhaps hundreds of riders showing up to take part in the event.  There are several differences between these sanctioned events and a local bike group doing a massive group ride: the trails and park have been secured through a permit, and park management, rangers, and other park goers are informed of such an event.  They are aware that for a specific time period parts of the park may be closed off or are going to be challenging to navigate due to a large number of mountain bikers.  Also, sanctioned events do not appear randomly on any given day without warning and promoters, and event organizers do not plan sanctioned events in smaller crowded parks during the busiest times of the week when trail issues may arise.

Final thoughts

Recreational mountain biking in large groups goes against the original idea of mountain biking- getting away from crowds, exploring nature and being self-reliant. Large group rides are not appropriate for most parks and are neither beneficial to our trail systems nor our relationships with other trail users.  As mountain bikers, we must act responsibly, respect all trail users, and realize that our local parks and preserves are not a free for all playground for us to overrun the trails en masse.  This shows little regard for other trail users and ourselves.  Local mountain bike groups need to reinvent their mass rides into scheduled sanctioned mountain bike events or races and not clog up the park trails with their traffic jams