Concepts

Hazards on the Bike Trail

Be aware and ride a lifetime

Before getting into any sport, it’s wise to know what you’re up against. I will quickly summarize some aspects of bike riding on trails in Ontario that everyone needs to be aware of.

My intention is to inform and warn everyone of the possible (yet unlikely) perils of trail riding. A little education will lessen the concerns of anyone apprehensive about riding.

I’m not trying to scare anyone away from bicycle riding; actually, I’d like to encourage people. Just be aware of your surroundings and what to expect so you can go out and enjoy the good times.

I have been bike riding for decades with next to no injuries to speak of. Was I lucky, prudent or both? Knowing what to expect on a ride and how to circumvent problems keeps me going injury-free every year.

A lot of these concerns are for MTB riders and Park forest rides. Doing an asphalt path in a city park is safe with few hazards. Just the usual park traffic to avoid hitting – other cyclists, walkers, dogs, strollers, kids…

Getting mugged or worse could happen, but thankfully here in Canada, a very rare occurrence.

So here is some basic information (with links at the bottom) on how cycling trails can be enjoyable with few real dangers.

 

Trees, and a few Nasty Plants

Objects to avoid hitting and plants that have thorns and toxic sap.

Obvious objects to avoid are trees. The woods have plenty of them and hitting one with your handlebar or shoulder tells you they are not moving. Firmly rooted, trees will not give, hence measure your ability to navigate around them wisely.

A fallen tree can be fun to hop over with a mountain bike when approached with enough speed and confidence. Otherwise, carry your bike over the log or ride around.

Thickets of Raspberry bushes close to a narrow trail can scratch and cut you with thorns on the larger canes. These plants often like to grow on the path if not cleared by trail maintenance crews. Plowing through an overgrown path slowly is possible, but if they are Blackberry bushes, stop! These plants have dreadful thorns that shred and entrap you.

The next category to avoid are plants that have toxic sap. Brushing against these plants, or touching the sap on broken branches could cause allergic reactions on your skin, blindness, or worse if eaten. Yikes!

Stick to the middle of the trail, or ride in early spring when the plants are low, or late fall when the frost has killed them off. To avoid skin contact, wear high socks or pants, long shirts, gloves and then contain and wash these clothes well afterwards if contaminated.

Avoid spreading these toxic oils around. Don’t scratch an itch or rub your eyes.  Handling your bike may lead to oils transferring from your tires. The sooner you wash with soap and cold water (not to open the pores) the better the chances of containing any stray residue. Perhaps the bike needs a scrub too. Jeez, this sounds like some kind of nuclear fallout. lol

Poison Ivy This plant is common in Ontario and grows in sandy soil on the side of paths. In the spring it starts small but can grow waist high by late summer. Easy enough to avoid at the beginning of the riding season, later it can fill in a path and be impossible to avoid.

The sap from these plants can cause an allergic reaction. Not to say you will have one, as my many encounters with this plant suggests I am not affected or just lucky. Not wanting to find out, I avoid close encounters.

I also heard recently that new strains of Poison Ivy are affecting many who had tolerance over the older strains.

Giant Hogweed, Wild Parsnip, Spotted Water Hemlock  All these plants are to be avoided, touched, eaten or fallen into, oh dear. Get to know what they look like. Not as common as Poison Ivy, yet more alarming as they are multiplying and spreading around in ditches, by roads, around moist thickets and giant they can become.

The last plant I’ll mention is Stinging Nettles. Not nearly as dangerous, but when you brush by a few bushes it gives you a short burning sensation. So do not fall into this either.

poison ivy
Poison Ivy

Hogweed in Toronto
Hogweed in Toronto

Stinging Nettles
Stinging Nettles

Biting Bugs & Bears – Beware

Lessen the typical party of mosquitoes, black flies and other insects wanting to dine on you by avoiding a few things. Late May through June into mid-July, the bugs are active, plentiful and hungry, so doing a forest ride then is sure to keep you busy. High humidity and high heat gets them frisky too.

Black flies are the first to breed in spring water runoff, then the mosquitoes move in where there is standing water.

Perhaps stick to a more tame city park or Rail trails at that time of year. The open areas with less water and more wind will likely reduce this problem. By the fall, the bugs are all gone, which is wonderful.

Wear loose clothing, avoid black and dark blues as those colours seem to attract their attention. Favour white, yellow, or orange colours. Outride them if you can and then use bug juice when it gets bad. I put Deet on my clothes rather than my skin, and sparingly.

I have encountered Fire ants in the Don Valley. Not native but there are pockets of these aggressive critters. So if you are standing around too long on their home turf and they bite, it burns.

 



 

Ticks are the new threat to our biking enjoyment. With warmer winters, ticks are moving north into Ontario. There are many species of ticks, the Deer tick is the one that can carry Lyme Disease. A nasty aliment that can debilitate you, in a few weeks or stay dormant for years until triggered.

This can be a serious condition that I have seen occur regrettably in friends. You do not want to get this.

Ticks take their time feeding on you. There is no stinging feeling like other biting insects. They say you have a day to find any on you before their saliva could infect you.

Avoid ticks, prevention is important.

So when riding, stick to the middle of the path. Avoid brushing up against tall grasses. Ticks wait there for a host to come by and latch on to. Check each other after a ride for the little beasties. They can be very tiny and work their way up your shirt sleeves, shorts or in your hair.

If you find a tick, you must remove it whole or you will leave the mouth part embedded in your skin. Squeezing it from the back will possibly transfer a nasty infection.

Other than pesky insects, there are no tigers or alligators to warn you of here in Ontario.

We do have a few bears and they do not like to be surprised. If you ride a remote forest trail, having a bear bell or chatting among other riders makes enough noise for bears to head the other way.

tick sizes
tick sizes

Deer and Wood Ticks
Deer and Wood Ticks

Ontario Lyme Risk map
Ontario Lyme Risk map

Terrain –

Watch where you are going.

Bicycle trails and paths vary greatly in Ontario. For some who cycle leisurely city parks their expectation of hazards is low, while a veteran mountain bike rider may want those “challenges” and tricky sections on their loops.

Everyone has to be aware that any bike trail can have hazards like rocks or tree roots. Riding a paved park trail certainly adds comfort in knowing the path is designed for easy, safe navigation. But here is where you may get too comfortable and drop your guard.

Any trail can have sudden surprises in the terrain caused by rain washouts, fallen trees, flooding, sinkholes and animal burrows. On any path that is new to you, watch for the unexpected.

Never assume anything!

That goes for finding some fun structures and just blindly flying

Stick jamb in derailer

Stick breaks derailer

off the end of a ramp, unaware of what comes next. When in doubt, scout your log jump, skinny bridge, or giant boulder drop on the first run. The next time around you are now aware of the thrills and consequences.

Of all the potential objects found on a path, my most troublesome is a fallen short branch around the thickness of a broom handle. When this stick is parallel to the path, your tires may suddenly roll sideways when you ride over it.  This could throw your weight and tip you over on a fast hill.

If this stick lays across the trail then what can happen is, your tire snaps it in two as you ride over it. The two ends may flip into your spokes and rip you derailer off. This now leaves you two options, walk the bike back or shorten the chain and ride out on one gear.

Weather –

On trails, recent weather conditions can give you surprises that you need to be mindful of.

Whatever makes the terrain slippery, you need to be conscious of any impending accidents it may produce. Water, snow, ice, mud, wet moss, algae and leaves all reduce traction and can cause a fall.

During and after rain or snow, you now have a lubricant between the rubber tires and the terrain. Certainly, knobby treads with save you from sliding out, but only to a point.

Testing those limits cautiously will give you a new reference for the day as to how much play you have in maneuvering. This a good thing to know in a pinch when you need to make a sudden move.

Avoid crossing patches of ice, and if you must, stay straight. After the length of your bike, there is no grit left between the ice and the tire. You can easily have the bike slide out from beneath you. Boom!

Rain can also bring with it trail washouts. Rivers can totally erode the banks of a path or wash sand and gravel onto asphalt routes. They can become a hazard to even unsuspecting regular riders.

 



Last bit of advice…

Plan to Fall –

At any given moment in the back of your mind have an exit plan. As the trail continually changes form a plan to exit a crash with the least amount of damage to you and your beloved velo. That plan should continually change in tandem with your surroundings.

Think over what may happen and where you would fall.

Try to dissipate the energy in a fall by rolling your body or walking off the momentum. Avoid straightening out your arms and legs to lessen breakage.

Eject the bike in the process. You do not want to fall on it, or it on you. Make sure if you use pedals that clip in, you can quickly detach. Or unclip your shoes at any precarious sections.

 

Wear Protection –

Enough of the perils of this bike riding gauntlet, let’s ride anyway.

Cracked helmet

Cracked helmet = non-cracked head

Though only kids and teens are required to wear a bicycle helmet in Ontario, you would be a fool not to. Your bike gives you lots of freedom, so wear a helmet, one day it may spare your life. Not convinced, imagine whacking yourself with a 2×4 in the head with and without a helmet.

I wear riding gloves (not only to look cool) but in case I fall and instinctively put my hand out. A sure road rash is lessened.

Forest trails can have a lot of pointy branches ready to jab your eyes. I wear on narrow trails clear sport/safety glasses. (Dark sunglasses in the woods would not be my first choice.)

Those mountain bike riders game to push boundaries and take on rocky terrain and wooden structures should wear armour. Wearing knee, shin and elbow pads is a good policy if your ride that day warrants it. The ladies can spare themselves leg bruises and odd looks at the office.

And let’s not forget getting too much sun has its risks. Lather on the sunblock before you need it.

Be Seen ! –

My pet peeve these days is all the black clothes I see. Riders dressed in black on black bikes. Trendy yes, but just the worst colour to be seen by others. Being visible to other riders, hikers and cars, will avoid possible collision, injury, and deadly trauma. Why would you wish this? So why do I see even cycling club jerseys in black? Think this through everyone and...Be Seen!

 

You might think looking at this list that it’s scary to go on a bike ride and a sport to avoid. On the contrary, get off the couch and get in some fun!

Just know the facts and make good decisions. I leave to you to follow the links to sort it out and feel confident you can take on the wild kingdom safely.

June 8, 2019 / by / in ,
What is a Bicycle Park Path?

I think we can envision what cycling a Park path is like, though I am not going to be just stating the obvious here. I want to mention how I define the category and finer points of Park bike riding for the Ontario Bike Trails (OBT) site.

This will be informative for anyone new to cycling and tourists visiting Canada.

First I tend to intermix the terms trail and path when talking about Park bike routes. Here they mean the same though I see a path as wider, like the width of a car.

Now mentioning cars, they are seldom seen on these paths/trails, so one less concern (except for the odd detour). OBT reviewed routes need to be more than 85% off road, and most are 100% car free.

As the name implies, about half of the trails on the OBT site are Park type rides. These will split into two subtypes: City Park and Forest Park riding.

City Park riding is an easy beginner bicycle route in a city park. Whereas a Forest Park ride is for more experienced Park cyclists that want to go out of town, try a woodlot with rougher terrain and have few amenities.

Most trails do not loop back. So often doing a shorter ride requires returning on the same path. Sometimes you can connect with other trails and work your way back making it a longer route. Note that all paths have two-way traffic, so be aware.

Rideau-bike-trail

 

What is it Like to Cycle a Park Path in Ontario?

A path through a City Park usually has gentle turns put in them to keep you interested. Sometimes paths share old roads or rail beds no longer in use. You might be able to tell.

Many park trails follow along a creek or river. This makes for a gentle incline with few hills of any length.

These rides are in typically well-manicured parklands, with cut grass, flower beds, open fields, and a few random trees here and there.

You may pass by benches, picnic tables, baseball diamonds and soccer/football/cricket fields. Kids’ playsets offer a stop for the little ones to go wild or exercise stations for you to get a total work out.

Some more popular paths now have bike repair stations. A nice touch if you have to tighten something or put in some air.



I would have to say that there are never too many washrooms on any route. So if you think you need to take a pit stop, do so. Same with water fountains and snack bars.

A few other observations. City Park trails can be busy on sunny weekends with not just other bikers but challenging obstacles called people, kids and dogs. Many of them are oblivious to cyclists coming up behind them. A small bell on your bar is good to have or call out “on your left” as you pass on the left, which can help.

The terrain of a Park path in the city will usually be all smoothly paved asphalt. Sometimes at the end, where it peters out, it turns to finely crushed stone or smooth soil. Bridges take you over waterways to keep you connected. Some bridges are rather pretty and worth a picture.

Some city rides have more naturalized and less manicured grounds with small woodlots and ravines to pass through.

 

 

The other type is a Forest Park path that will take you to even more of a natural wooded setting.

The terrain will be mainly smooth soil or stone dust with sections of sand and gravel. There may also be leaves, woodchips, and the odd rock, patch of mud, puddle or animal burrow holes to negotiate.

Some locations have hills. Not steep ones as in mountain biking, but fair-sized inclines. None of these hills will last longer than a minute to climb, as Ontario is not a mountainous province.

This kind of Park trail riding may be at a MTB location as well. There is a bit of an overlap here between more advanced Park riding and the beginnings of MTB riding disciplines.

You may eventually take to it and ride the easier MTB side trails. These are what they call single track trails that loop in and out from the main wide access paths you are riding.

If you ride beyond these Park trails, I would recommend using a mountain bike to navigate the twisty loops safely. You will enjoy the experience as well as be on a more solid bike with a front shock, better brakes and lower gears for climbing.

 

 

 

Who is Suited for a Park Trail Ride?

Well everyone is the quick answer…let’s divide the masses into two camps:

#1 City Park
• Bike owners who are fair weather riders and cycle a few times a year
• Beginners of all ages, learning skills and not wanting to encounter road vehicles
• Commuters going somewhere, work, shopping…
• Citizens and tourists exploring the city

#2 Forest Park
• Riders with Intermediate skill level as a Park cyclist
• Cyclists wishing to improve bike skills and endurance
• Naturalists seeking a peaceful environment with some adventure
• Day Trippers out of town, vacation riders



 

City Park cyclists have few challenges, an easy journey, with plenty of time to unwind. They enjoy the weather and see the scenery drift by far away from the office and dishes.

This is a recreational pastime to meet up with friends or get the kids out of the house not a race.

It is also rather a safe route to cycle, with no cars and easy terrain. Yet watch out for kids and dogs zipping across your path.

One of the main causes of accidents are riders chatting to each other and not looking ahead. (This has happened to me.) Also when the leaves fall they can hide nasty holes and crevasses that will send you flying, or be slippery when wet after rain.

You may encounter stairs to get over bridges or up out of the valley but otherwise little biking skills are needed to stay the course beyond the basics.

A Forest Park ride gets you into what I rate as an Intermediate Park ride. Good for seasoned road/path cyclists, where the added skill and leg power needed is there.

Are you looking for some adventure in a peaceful setting in the woods? You might even see some wildlife. Make it part of a day trip, weekend or vacation to stretch those legs after sitting in the car so long.

As recreational cycling grows in popularity here in Ontario, you can even ride paved paths in the winter, if you dress for it and have the right bike.

 

 

What do I Need to Bring ?

Riding in the city one need not be totally self-sufficient. (Though it’s better if you are.) Usually within walking distance is a means of getting your bike repaired or taking transit/ taxi back home. In the city, you can find many places to eat with a quick search on your phone.

Getting out of the city on a Forest Park ride, one needs to pack for the occasion and have a plan. Few forest rides have anything more than a parking lot and outhouse. So bring plenty of water, snacks, a rain jacket, a bike tool kit, a pump and a spare tube.

Maps and signage on most trails are adequate but reviewing your location on your phone will help. Saving a map offline on your phone or printing out a paper map may be wise, as cell reception can be limited in the rural areas.

Up north in the bush, having a bear bell might be smart as they do not like to be surprised. Or keep talking, singing, reciting Shakespeare…

 

 

Being seen and highly visible is never a bad thing on a bike. You are a thin object moving quickly. Cars, people (hunters) cannot see you easily dressed in black on a black bike. I know BLACK is the trend but it’s not helping. Why do road workers wear safety vests?

Wear some bright colours folks! Do you own lights, have reflectors on your bike for when it gets dark?

Cycling local park paths with our parents or friends is how many of us started bike riding. Carry on and explore other trail areas in your own neighbourhood, town and province.

It’s a great way to be a local tourist. You see plenty at a leisurely pace. Not too fast like in a speeding car, or too slow walking it. No hassles with parking, gas or traffic jams; I love it!

Combining your planned route with local subway stops, GO train stations and other public transit makes it stress free.

And isn’t that the way your cycling day should be?   Stress Free !

Enjoy the ride and tell us about it back on the OBT trail pages. Leave a Trail Review !

 

 

 

August 11, 2018 / by / in , ,
Find winter sport trails for X-Ski and Snowshoeing on our sister site - Ontario Ski Trails.com

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Hey, this may be interesting for you: Hazards on the Bike Trail!

This is the link: https://ontariobiketrails.com/hazards-on-the-bike-trail/

Lets get together and do a ride soon.