One of the important things that has to be done very early on when taking out a group of riders is to make a quick assessment of the overall riding ability and modify the route accordingly, I’ll take competent riders on the tougher,more challenging trails and opt for an easier route if I think some riders in the group aren’t quite ready to tackle the technical stuff.
When assessing rider ability one of the quick points of reference I use is to observe how well the riders cope with ruts. Ruts often create problems for inexperienced riders which can lead to frustration, fatigue and occasionally a minor spill. This then leads to more frustration, fatigue and… well you can guess the rest. I think the record I’ve seen is six falls from one rider in a day.
When approaching a deeply rutted lane experienced riders invariably choose the narrow central raised crown of the lane between the two tracks . It’s not the obvious choice – riding the narrow centre ridge can look intimidating, especially if the surface is masked by long grass. However, experienced riders know the elevated position allows a more commanding view of the upcoming terrain and provides three options from which to tackle upcoming hazards . You can either stay on course or drop off the crown to left or the right to avoid whatever hazard has just been identified and then hopefully take the next opportunity to climb up on the central ridge in anticipation of the next obstacle.
Inexperienced riders almost always choose one of the ruts to ride in. Often at the start of the lane they look like the more inviting option but those of us who are lucky enough to ride the trails frequently know that once you’ve chosen a rut you are often quite literally stuck in it and if you come across deep mud or gnarly tree roots in your particular rut you’ve got to grin and bear it, plough through or dismount and lift your bike out , often easier said than done . Meanwhile your riding buddy who has cannily chosen the middle route will romp past leaving you floundering in his often very muddy wake.
If you’re not confident enough to ride the central ridge here’s a tip for riding steeply banked rutted lanes which is worth bearing in mind. If it’s not immediately obvious which rut to choose always opt for the left hand rut. Why? Well if you’re in the left hand rut you can use the left hand to move brambles and obstructions out of the way whilst chugging along at walking pace. Try doing that with your right hand and see how far you get.