Fall is one of the best times of year to ride in the mountains. Unfortunately it also comes with it's own unique challenges. One the biggest problems with Fall riding is trees. Here in Central Washington we have pretty warm and dry summers. The lack of moisture tends to dry the ground pretty seriously and allows tree roots to sort of loosen up. So, when the weather moves in and it starts to blow and rain it is not very unusual for trees to fall over and of course many of those trees fall across the riding trails. When you are out riding and you come to one of these trees you have three choices: 1) Call it a day and go back to the truck, not my idea of good time, but it is an option. 2) Go over or around the tree; which depending on where you happen to be riding might require angel's wings or a helicopter. 3) Clear the tree the tree somehow. Which in some cases might still require a helicopter and possibly the entire crew from Axemen.
For me, going back to the truck is the last and worst option. Going over or around the tree is usually the first option; but keep in mind going around the tree can add 20 miles to your ride sometimes, and could put you on a federal "no fly list" for going off trail. Going over is the preferred method and for small tree is not so bad. I know there are lots of Youtube videos out there showing the proper technique for going over bigger trees; videos made by people that make it look really easy. Unfortunately I am not one of those people and more often than not I end up on the ground with the bike laying on top of me. Or worse if you happen to be on one of those lovely exposed side hills that fall away to who knows where you may find yourself in need a that helicopter just to get you out and forget about your bike. So that leaves clearing the tree out of the way.
In my opinion, in most cases clearing trees off the trail is the best. It's not the easiest and certainly not the fastest. But, in the long run it makes for better riding for everyone, if you document your time and turn it in it helps the local ranger station get funding. Not to mention when one some snooty hiker starts telling you how terrible you and your sport are you can remind them that if it wasn't for dirt bike people doing trial maintenance many popular trails would not be usable.
Over the years I have tried different methods of removing trees and have learned quite a bit, both from trial and error as well as from other people I ride with. I have also tried, or been with people who have tried, a variety of tools and saws. So far I have not found the magic joo joo that makes trees get out of my way, no matter how much I yell, beg, plead or cry. What I have found is some tools that make the job easier. Short of carrying an actual gas powered chain saw (which I have and will do again in the spring) I have found that the best saw is a pocket chainsaw and a wedge. The pocket chainsaw is not one of those cheesy cable saws they have at Bi-Mart, but what looks like an actual chainsaw chain with handles. One of these saws along with a simple plastic falling wedge will allow you cut trees relatively quickly, take up less room in your pack than a folding saw and will really impress your friends.
Whatever your preferred method, always keep in mind that at some point you may want to go home, so don't get in a position where can get hurt or captured by Big Foot.
What do all those numbers mean?
Have you ever wondered what the numbers at the gas pump really mean? Some people live by the motto; "bigger is better". In some cases that is true, but not always, particularly when it comes to gas and oil. So how do you decide? When it comes to buying gas at the pump, you need to know a little about your equipment. The owner's manual is usually the best place to start. Manufacturers put allot of effort into engineering their products and usually have a good handle on what is best for it. But, if you are like me, you put your owner's manual somewhere safe where it won't be found again until you move. So to simplify things you really only need to know one thing, is your equipment considered "high performance"? Even though you may think of your riding mower as being a "beast" it's not really a high performance engine. So what that means your mower is most likely designed to run on lower octane fuel. Where as your motorcycle or ATV is going to be much happier on the expensive high octane stuff. Octane ratings are all about the fuel's resistance to ignition. Which means the higher the number the harder it is to ignite the fuel. High compression engines need a higher octane rating so that the heat generated by compressing the fuel air mixture does not "pre-ignite". But, on lower compression engines, high octane fuel is not needed and in some cases can actually make the engine run worse. The idea that "premium" gas is better is not really true, it's just a marketing gimmick. So the next time you are at the pump and trying to decide what to get, just keep in mind what you are buying the fuel for. But, as always, avoid ethanol fuel for your equipment and toys if at all possible.
Cold Weather Riding
As the weather gets cooler and cooler the issue of how to dress for the weather becomes more important. What to wear is always a personal decision and over the years I have ridden with lots of people with vastly different ideas on how to stay comfortable in the cold. Some riders prefer to put on heavy warm jackets while others don't wear anything more than they would in the summer. Regardless of which camp you lean toward here are a few tips to keep in mind.
Layers, layers, layers! Just like many outdoor activities riding a dirt bike or an ATV can be hard work. Also depending on the time of year the temperature can vary quite a bit throughout the day. So instead of wearing warm bulky clothing I have found it's better to wear several thin layers. By doing this, you can take off layers as it gets warmer or add more as needed. Not to mention, if you do need to cool down a bit, thin clothing fits in a pack much better than a heavy jacket. Believe it or not, when the temperature is below freezing, getting too hot can be a real problem. Remember, the more you exert yourself the more you are going to sweat if you are too warm. Once you stop moving, all that moisture in your clothes and on your skin is going to get very cold and uncomfortable.
Avoid cotton if at all possible. Cotton is a great material when it's dry. It's soft, comfortable and warm. The problem is that cotton absorbs and holds moisture. In the summer time, that's not a bad thing. But in the winter it can be very uncomfortable, or worse lead to hypothermia. Instead try to wear clothing that is either a wool blend or some sort of nylon, this includes your socks! You want materials that will wick the moisture away from your skin while at the same time still providing protection from the cold. As much as I hate to admit it, Spandex is your friend. But, do us all a favor and wear it UNDER you riding clothes.
I have ridden with people that swear by heated gear, particularly gloves. These are really nice when they work. But my concern with anything that relies on electricity is what do you do if the battery goes dead? You can't always count on being back at the truck on time. Will the gear you have keep you warm if your bike breaks down and you are stuck out in the cold longer than you thought?
Now that you have the basics, here is what I wear and carry with me when the weather is below freezing. I wear my normal riding boots and pants. But, for socks I like to wear two pairs, a thin pair and then a thicker pair. Both of some sort of nylon/wool blend. The thin pair helps to wick away the moisture while the thick pair offers good insulation. Under my riding pants I wear either a thin pair of spandex tights or if it is really cold I go with a pair of nylon long johns. Under my jersey I wear sometimes two shirts. First a short sleeve nylon shirt, then a long sleeve nylon blend shirt and finally an insulated jersey. Under my helmet I wear a spandex baklava, which not only helps to wick the moisture but protects my face and neck from the worst of the cold. I usually carry two pairs of gloves. Typically I will start the ride with a pair of heavy gloves; once I get going and my hands warm-up I switch over to regular riding gloves. I try to switch gloves BEFORE the they get sweaty. That way, if I have to stop riding for an extended period of time I have something warm for my hands. Finally a thin windbreaker with a hood. I actually don't ride with the jacket. I have found that the combination of the jacket, base layers and chest protector is just too warm for me while I am riding, even in 20 degree weather. But, I always carry the jacket in my pack just in case I have to stop for an extended period of time.
Dressing for the occasion can be the difference between a fun day out on your bike and a miserable experience, or worse a trip to the ER.
If you have ever been a Boy Scout, or a parent of Boy Scout you have heard this phrase over and over and over. But, it is actually very good advice for any outdoor activity including riding. Recently I went up in the mountains with a couple of guys on our dirt-bikes for a nice fall ride. The day was beautiful and warm and we had the trails to ourselves. But, well into the trip one of the guys was unlucky enough to have a sharp stick or root go through his rear tire and tube. We got it patched and thought we had it made until one of the patches failed as we were putting the wheel back on the bike. The holes in the tube were just too big. He was able to ride it out until we hit a USFS road and had to wait there while I went back to the truck and drove around the other side of the mountain to pick him up. Fortunately the rain waited until I got to there so he didn't have to get wet.
So the burning question each rider has to address is how much "stuff" do you carry? I have personally struggled with this over the years and have gone from carrying enough junk to live in the woods for a month to just the bare essentials. Here are some things to keep in mind.
Always be sure to have a map of the area you plan to ride. Even if "you know it like the back of your hand". There is a very good chance that someone in your group does not know the area well, or if where you ride is like my area, there are lots of "user" trails that are not mapped but come out somewhere and you need a map to orientate yourself.
I always make sure to have plenty of water, an emergency space blanket, extra gloves and something to put on my head other than my helmet. In the summer I just carry a small spandex skull cap and in the winter I carry a knit cap. If you are the one waiting for rescue you want to be sure you don't end up with hypothermia before help arrives. Carrying matches is also a bonus, though depending on where you are riding a fire may not be possible, or a good idea. During the Fall/Winter I also carry a light wind breaker. At the very least the combination of the space blanket, the wind breaker, dry gloves and cap will keep you relatively warm.
As far as tools, I carry just enough wrenches and sockets to pull the shrouds and change the spark plug. For most Japanese bikes, most everything can be done with an 8, 10, 12 and 14 millimeter wrench and/or socket. An extra spark plug (and yes they do foul occasionally of 4 strokes) and spark plug socket that I know will actually get to the plug on my bike. Believe it or not, not all sockets are made alike and you would be surprised at how difficult it can be to get a spark plug out. A set of Motion Pro lightweight aluminum tire spoons that have a wrench on the end to remove the front and rear axle nuts, a tire patch kit, small hand pump and lots of zip ties. I personally don't carry the CO2 setup just because once the little cylinders are empty your are finished.
You will never be able to plan for every problem you might encounter. But you can be ready for many of them. The best way to avoid problems on the trails is proper maintenance of your bike. Always check your tire pressure before you go, look for problems with your chain, loose fasteners, etc. Keep up on your oil changes and cleaning your air filter. Ignoring little things can very easily turn into big things when you are 20 miles from the truck with no cellular reception.