Motorcycle stuck in mud


Spring is here, and normally that means it’s time to get back out on the roads and trails that have spent the winter off limits due to snow and/or seasonal closures. The problem is that the winter of 2022-2023 was anything but normal for many places. Snow accumulation has been record-breaking, and many places are going to take much longer than normal to melt out as a result. Even if the snow has melted in a given area, the impacts from so much moisture moving through the landscape may mean that trails are going to take much more work than normal to get them back into good riding shape. So now (and every spring) is a great time to review key information prior to setting out on those first rides of the season.



Here are the three key things to remember when heading out to ride this Spring and Summer:

  1. Respect seasonal closures and closed signs.
  2. Over, Under, and Through.
  3. If you’re making ruts, turn around.


Depending on the Land Management Agency that is responsible for a given road or trail, you may see seasonal closures with opening dates determined by several factors. A given trail may be clear of snow, downed trees, and anything else that would impact your ability to ride it, but it may not be open yet – so do your homework and determine trail status before you head out to ride. Seasonal closure information can be found online through land manager’s websites and/or trail map resources. Reaching out to a local club is also a great way to get more information on trail status.

If you encounter a gate or a closed sign at any time, respect that sign and turn around. In many jurisdictions, riding past a closed sign or gate is a citeable offense. Land managers and other law enforcement agencies have these nifty things called trail cameras, or they’ll post up where they can catch you riding past a gate. So don’t be that clown that gets an award (citation) for violating a closure – you’re making motorcycle riders look bad by doing so. Also, bear in mind that other user groups may be out in the woods and some of these folks are all too happy to record you poaching a trail. Don’t give the folks that want motorcycles off our public land any more ammo.

Motorcycle riding in USFS land


The best way to handle obstacles you find on the trail is to go over, under, or through them. Longer explanations to the most common obstacles are detailed below, but there is a great reason to remember this simple mantra of over, under, and through: the fact of the matter is that many trails that we get to ride are shared by multiple user groups; nothing gets non-motorized users more fired up to work to close a trail to motorized use than to see dozens of moto tracks tearing up the ground just to avoid an obstacle. All users need to stay the trail, and we all need to make sure we’re doing it right so that our kids will get to enjoy these awesome trails. Besides, going over logs and trying to clean snowbanks without getting stuck is great fun!

TREES: We’ve all encountered downed trees – it’s just part of the game when it comes to riding in the woods. Any time you’re heading out for a ride in a forest, at least one rider in your group should carry a folding saw, and after years of trying so many different folding options out there, let’s just say you can’t beat a Silky BigBoy.  Available Here. These folding saws are easy to pack, razor sharp, built to last, and they can do some serious work in the right hands. To be clear, I’m not saying that you need to turn your ride into a trail clearing mission. Even stopping to limb one downed tree so it’s easier to get over is a help to all user groups, and nothing makes for better good will to motos than having a group of hikers roll up on you and your riding buddies while you’re busy disassembling a tree. A saw will also become your best friend if you’re riding on a windy day and a tree falls down that blocks your route home.

Many of the trees that fall across the trail are perfectly set for going over, so here is where you get to practice your wheelies and your double blips on the big trees. Just commit to it and you’ll be fine. Going over is good fun – and cleaning a big, intimidating log crossing never gets old.

Every once in a while, you’ll find those trees that just couldn’t make it the last few feet to the ground, and these are the trees that you need to go under.  Before you proceed make sure the tree is stable – give it a few good kicks or shoves to make sure it isn’t going to settle lower if you bump it while you’re going under. If you need to, whip out that saw again and cut a hole to pass through. If you have to wrestle your bike under, make sure it’s something that can be done going both ways before you commit, in case you are forced to turn around further down the trail.

SNOW: Snow is a ton of fun to ride through, and it can also be very entertaining to watch riders try to clean a snowfield without dabbing or getting stuck, so have a camera at the ready. The whole idea here is that the snow is eventually going to melt, so making a few tracks in it won’t hurt anything, whereas going around the snow could leave tracks in something like fragile alpine tundra which could turn into scars that last for years. If you’re crossing a relatively flat snowfield, just point and shoot with your weight back. Momentum is your friend here, so come in with a bit of speed and don’t be afraid to use that throttle. With any luck, you’ll most likely sail right over the top of the snowbank. If you get stopped, just hop off and push your bike using the throttle to move your bike forward.  

Trying to ride out of a stuck will usually turn your bike into a trenching machine and make things worse, so go easy. If you have to side hill across a snowfield, get to boot-packing a track so that you don’t slide downhill off of the trail.  Make the boot track as straight and with a constant grade as possible.  Turns and low spots can hang you up while crossing. Again, a bit of momentum will help you out here, and if you get stuck, just hop off and push. Remember that the snow’s firmness will change throughout the day, so what was firm and easy to cross in the morning could be a soft and challenging obstacle on the way back through later in the day. Going up a hill covered in soft spring snow can be quite the challenge, so make sure to not ride down a snowfield that you can’t get back up. If you’re riding a trail where you know that you’re going to run into snow, consider carrying an avalanche shovel and just digging the trail out – again this wins you all of the good karma with other riders and user groups.

WATER CROSSINGS AND EROSION: Spring runoff means rivers and streams may be flowing well in excess of their “normal seasonal” flows. You may encounter water crossings in new places, sections of trail that are completely flooded, or areas where the trail has become a stream. When it comes to water crossings, it takes surprisingly little fast flowing water (swift water) to knock a person off of their feet, and swift water can also do things like rearrange the stream bed creating traps, holes, and other not-fun surprises which are hidden by the rapidly moving turbid water. If you drown a bike, can you get it out? If you slip and get soaked, are you now dealing with a potential hypothermia situation? If you fall in the water, will you be swept downstream? If a water crossing gives you pause, don’t risk it. It’s always better to turn back than to find out what happens if you fail a water crossing.

Water levels can also change throughout the day – just because you were able to cross a steam in the morning doesn’t mean you can cross it in the afternoon after the heat of the day has increased the rate of snowmelt and introduced additional flow to the watershed.

Erosion can have all sorts of impact on trails, ranging from completely blowing out sections of trails to making cut banks and other hazards. Keep your head up, and always expect a trap around the next corner. That small stream bed that was a little dip in the trail last year may have become a giant chasm thanks to some serious spring runoff, so never assume. If you encounter trail damage, submitting a report to a local club or land manager is a big help and the first step towards getting the trail repaired.

SATURATED GROUND: Another reason not to ride around a patch of snow is that you may find ground that is completely saturated with water. What looks like solid ground may actually be a trap, and trying to ride through it will quickly turn into an exercise in mud flinging, your bike becoming a trenching tool, and most likely getting stuck. If you’re riding solo, can you get your ADV bike out of axle deep mud? Reading terrain to see low spots where water can pool will help you avoid areas of saturated ground. It’s also very important to remember that saturated soil and a little bit of wind is all it takes for a perfectly healthy tree to fall over, so be very mindful of where you stop, park your bike, and walk around. If you encounter saturated trails, it’s time to turn around.


It’s just as easy as it sounds – if you’re making constant ruts while riding a road or trail, stop and turn around. As previously mentioned, should a Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) happen to see you making ruts with a moto, a bicycle, or vehicle, they have the power to cite you for damaging resources. To be clear, I’m not advocating for turning around at the first sign of mud, but if all you’re doing is creating ruts, give the trail some time to dry out.

While I certainly get the lizard brain appeal of trying to see how much mud can be splashed out of a given puddle, know that splashing mud onto the vegetation surrounding a trail impacts the vegetation’s ability to perform photosynthesis. In other words, mud covered plants can’t breathe, so they die, and that lack of vegetation makes it easier for trails to become damaged, and the anti-motorized users spin that as one more way motorcycles are killing the world. I know, it sounds crazy, but it is a valid argument that’s been used by the anti-motorized folks, and you better believe those user groups are sharing their notes in their efforts against motorized recreation. When you encounter mud puddles or moving water on a trail, just go easy and stay on the trail; treat it like a wet trials section (ride slowly, no dabbing) instead of like a muddy MX track.

Spring riding is awesome. For many of us, it means discovering how our local trails have fared after a long winter’s nap under so much snow. Trees will be down, and all of this water that’s currently working its way through the watershed, or still tied up at higher elevations as snow, is going to continue to impact “normal” seasonal riding for months to come.

Expect trails to become rideable later than they usually do and be prepared to deal with downed trees and trail damage from the forces of nature. Report trail conditions to local clubs and land managers, or better yet, get involved with your local trail organizations and help out! Most importantly, remember the three key points: 1. Respect seasonal closures and closed signs. 2. Over, Under, and Through. 3. If you’re making ruts, turn around. Be a good ambassador for our sport so that we can continue to enjoy our sport for years to come.