Oz Trails Tips

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Over the past two decades, trailbuilders have carved hundreds of miles of soft-surface trails into the Ozark hills. Volunteer-built singletrack has given way to professionally designed trail networks featuring high-speed downhill sections, technical rock gardens, and seriously big jumps. In short, there are many more opportunities to have fun. There are also more advanced features, which entail greater risks. To that end, we convened leaders in the Northwest Arkansas cycling community to compile this short list of trail tips to make sure you stay safe and our trails remain in good shape.

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There's no shortage of gear for the modern mountain biker, but there are a couple basics that no rider should leave the house without:

ESSENTIALS

  • Helmet
  • Water
  • Snacks (because bonking sucks)
  • Phone with GPS capabilities (If you get hurt and can't hike out, you'll need to be able to relay your location to paramedics.)
  • Flat-fix kit & pump

ADDITIONAL GEAR

  • Full-face helmet (Some, like the Giro Switchblade, come with a removable chinbar.)
  • Knee and elbow pads
  • First aid kit (Joel from Progressive Trail Design on the necessity of a tourniquet: "It's overkill until it's not.")
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Everyone's familiar with the old maxim that you have to know the rules before you can break them. Similarly, in mountain biking, you have to know what it means to ride within your limits in order to push your limits—without going too far beyond them. That's where crashes happen. 

Our soft-surface network is expanding to include increasingly advanced features, and some trails simply aren't for everyone. Generally speaking, harder trails are higher up; if you can't climb to it, you certainly shouldn't try to go down it. If you do find yourself on a trail that's too hard, there's no shame in hopping off your bike and walking to a more manageable trail. There's also no shame in trying something new, falling, and then dialing it back a notch.

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In addition to taking care of yourself, it's our collective responsibility to take care of our trails. That's why you should never ride a wet or muddy trail. Ever. Because when the mud dries, the trail will be badly rutted and someone—most likely not the person who messed it up—is going to have to fix it, and that can take a very long time. If you've just gotta get a ride in, go to Hobbs State Park. Due to the unique makeup of the soil there, it's rideable in pretty much all conditions, even during a downpour.

Additionally, never ride a trail that is under construction. You could screw up a work-in-progress or, worse, get seriously injured on a trail with no name. Paramedics will have a very difficult time finding you on a trail that isn't yet public, and the recklessness might expose trailbuilders to liability issues.

If you're interested in proactive trail stewardship, get in touch with Bike Alliance member orgs Friends of Arkansas Singletrack or Ozark Off-Road Cyclists to find out about upcoming volunteer trail maintenance opportunities.

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Never be afraid to ask for help, advice, or tips. Conversely, never be above offering the same. We're in this together—from NICA coach training sessions to IMBA certs and skill-specific clinics, there are countless opportunities to learn from others. 

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Finally, spread the word about this stuff. If you see someone riding without a helmet, gently encourage them to swing by their local bike shop to pick one up. A helmet is cheaper than a hospital bill. If you see someone coming off a trail covered in mud, kindly educate them about the damage that riding in wet conditions does to trails. If you encounter a newbie struggling along, encourage them! There's plenty of stoke to go around, and we've all been there.

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