How to Ride Ruts Better While Mountain Biking

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Riding a mountain bike through muddy, low-lying ground and well-trodden race tracks can leave you in a rut, quite literally. These long, deep tracks and grooves made by other riders can easily throw you for a loop. They limit your steering options, lock your tires into position and can drown your tires in mud and dirt, leading to wipeouts and nasty slogs. So, how do you ride ruts without sacrificing your momentum? Learn how to get through deep grooves on trails with the right mountain biking gear and techniques.

What Are Ruts?

A rut is a long, narrow, often deep groove in the ground caused by the repeated impressions of vehicle tires. When multiple riders and vehicles drive over the same stretch of ground, the dirt will sink into the earth, forming walls on either side.

Instead of riding the road, the road rides you. When you run a rut, your bike tires are forced to travel the existing path regardless of what’s happening on the trail. Taking the wrong line can lead you astray as you weave toward obstacles. Just because other riders traveled along the rut doesn’t mean it’s the best way to go.

Ruts can be firm or soft, depending on ground conditions and the temperature. Both types can spell trouble for riders. Soft ruts tend to be muddy, gunking up your wheels. Too much mud can bring your bike to an abrupt halt. Depressions in the trail can freeze over with ice and snow, cementing the rut into place and further limiting your range of motion.

What Causes Ruts?

Ruts have become commonplace on most mountain biking trails as the sport welcomes new riders amid increasing popularity. More traffic leads to more ruts, especially in the spring and summer when everyone gets back on the trail.

Source: Simon Annable/

Heavy rain and excess moisture make the dirt malleable, increasing erosion. Running over with your tires compacts the dirt until a narrow groove is formed. They tend to appear in low-lying areas, valleys, trenches and pits where water collects.

Tips for Riding Ruts on a Mountain Bike

Riding ruts increases the risk of falls and crashes. Wear the proper mountain biking gear to protect yourself on the trail, including a helmet, gloves for gripping the handlebars, mud-terrain shoes, long sleeves and pants and pads to brace your fall.

Use these tips to master ruts like a pro:

Look for Alternatives

Riding the rut may not be your best option. You can get stuck in the mud or veer off course. If there is enough space on the sides of the rut, consider avoiding it altogether. Stay vigilant and look ahead to give yourself time to get around the groove. If obstacles like trees, rocks and even deeper mud patches block the path’s edges, you have no choice but to go through the rut.

Choose the Best Rut

Not all ruts are made equal. The bigger and deeper the rut, the more dangerous it tends to be. If there are multiple grooves in the road, aim for the shallowest, driest and most worn path. Look where the rut is headed to avoid getting thrown off course. Don’t assume the most popular rut is best. Many riders might have taken a wrong turn, so use your judgment instead of following the herd.

If your current trajectory becomes untenable, you can also try jumping ruts using the bunny hop. Anticipate how the road will change depending on the incline and water flow to stick to the best ruts.

Know Your Terrain

Riding through a rut can feel like pinballing between two bumpers. You won’t be able to turn as your wheels bump up against the edges of the walls. Know how the ground will respond if you ride over the edges. The dirt may compact under your tires, giving you additional support, or sink into yet another groove. You can also push your tires through wet snow to escape the rut. Ice and firm dirt can keep you entrenched in the rut. If you feel constrained to the edges, relax and let your tires follow the path without fighting against it.

Source: Real Sports Photos/

Stay Connected

You need as much time as possible to prepare yourself for deep grooves, whether you run a rut or find an alternative path. That means staying alert and giving your fellow riders a heads-up when the trail breaks down. Use a bicycle helmet communication system to wirelessly connect to your companion. You don’t have to take your hands off the handlebars or look away from the trails. Just speak into the headset to send a warning as if you were talking face to face. Point out ruts when they appear to keep everyone on the same page.

Turning with Corner Ruts

Ruts reduce your ability to steer, so how do you control where the bike is headed? Steer with your rear when cornering ruts. Keep your legs and body centered over the bike. Use your core and legs to keep the back wheel in line with the trail while the front tire follows the path. Lean to the side when turning instead of turning the handlebars. Keep your knees and elbows bent to respond to sudden fluctuations in elevation.

Riding ruts is part of the mountain biking experience. More rain and riders have only made them more common. The more you practice riding with them, the sooner you will embrace them as a fact of life. Use these tips to get around or through ruts without wiping out.


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