Getting out of a Rut

Running water and rolling tires can carve mini dongas into your favourite trails. These wheel traps mess up your balance, steal your speed, and collect rocks and other scary stuff. They’re “usually” to be avoided, but they can be your friends if you follow James Thornhill-Fisher’s advice.

Photo by Zoon Cronje/Nikon
Photo by Zoon Cronje/Nikon

Ruts that run down the trail love to grab you and lead you into terrible situations. On a gravel road or jeep track, there’s plenty of room to take a better line. But if the trail is super narrow and there’s nowhere else to ride, go ahead and take the rut.

Stay out of uphill ruts.

When you climb in a rut and your rear tyre scrubs the “donga” wall, you lose speed and risk a spin-out. That’s if your pedal doesn’t crash into the ground next to the rut first. Climb above the ruts. If your back tire does slide down in there, keep pedalling, look ahead and get out as soon as you can. Often, if you can get up enough speed the bike will come out of the rut on its own. Don’t try and steer out of the rut.

Stay out of narrow ruts. 

Narrow ruts keep you from wiggling around for balance. Funnily enough, the faster you go through/along a narrow rut, the better.

Cross ruts with caution. When you have to cross a rut, try to hit it at a wide angle, and don’t let your tyres get caught in there. If you hit a small rut head-on, you can just get “light” on your bike. If you need to cross a huge rut that runs parallel to your line, hop over the entire thing. Manualing works for smooth transitions, but if the transition was smooth, you won’t be worrying about the rut, would you…

Use ruts in turns.

When loads of riders have carved through a soft corner, the best line gets formed by the compacting of the dirt, and it often forms a fantastic little berm—especially on flat or off-camber corners. But when the ruts get deeper than ±15cm or if they develop big holes, they become dangerous. Then it’s time to find a different line.

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