Green’s Lick is a roller coaster of a mountain-bike trail. Located in the Bent Creek Experimental Forest, the steep, two-mile route is rated “difficult” even for expert riders. But Green’s Lick is a popular trail, and it’s seen a lot of casualties—concussions and other “closed head” injuries as well as broken shoulders, legs and necks.
In response, an area nonprofit took action. On National Trail Day this past June, PAS (the Pisgah Area affiliate of the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association) mustered more than 130 volunteers, led by local trail builder Ben Blitch. Working on specific high-speed areas where riders needed to slow down and erosion control had to be maintained, the group helped add rock “gardens” and other trail improvements. Shortly thereafter, amid complaints that the trail had lost its “flow,” the rocks were mysteriously moved out of the way.
Nonetheless, Tim Hinman, EMS operations officer for Skyland Fire & Rescue, says his agency has gotten far fewer calls concerning Green’s Lick this year than the six received in 2007 (when one rider survived a broken neck). Overall, however, Bent Creek calls are up this year, he reports. Hinman also notes that hard-core riders rarely call for EMS: They call their friends or drive themselves to the emergency room.
“If I’d have to guess, 75 percent of riders we pick up are recreational cyclists—those who ride once a month or every six months,” says Hinman. “I know the hard-core riders are crashing and getting breaks, too, because they tell me about it later. They just don’t call.”
Forest Service workers try to impress upon riders the need to respect trail maintenance for the trail’s sake as well as for the safety of those who use it. Manipulating the trail to suit a lack of skill is never environmentally friendly. Some less-skilled riders have been seen ripping out rhododendron along trails in Black Mountain simply because they wanted to make it easier to navigate the tight turns.
On Bent Creek trails, it’s common to get run over by other riders on the weekends. Rather than yielding to those who are climbing, many riders just fly by at top speed. But this leaves them unable to stop when suddenly confronted by hikers, children, dogs, bears or terrain changes. Riders who can’t come to a controlled stop are riding above and beyond their skill level.
Wide and rolling with jumps and berms, Green’s Lick is attractive to people who enjoy the thrill of speed. Unfortunately, some of those riders have failed to hone their technical skills—hence their need to remove obstacles. While it’s fun to go fast and catch air, it’s important to know how to land. Landing from big air at high speeds requires quick reflexes. The thing about Green’s Lick is that it’s all too easy to go fast, which nearly anybody can do.
Here are a few key rules for riding Green’s Lick and other trails:
• Carry your cell phone. Phones made in the last four years are “phase two,” meaning they’re equipped with a chip that enables EMS to quickly zero in on where you have fallen.
• Wear a helmet.
• Have as little impact on the woods as possible. Don’t change trail features. Professionals are hired to build and maintain trails; they know what they’re doing.
• Ride only as fast as your skill level allows. If you can’t stop fast without crashing, you’re going too fast.
• Yield to those who are climbing the trail: hikers, runners, riders and large, furry animals.
• Don’t just carry food and water—consume it. Lots of it.
• After a long, exhausting climb, rest, eat and drink so your body and brain can maintain the most control on your descent.
• Stand on the pedals while riding downhill.
• When coming down steep technical sections, move your weight behind the saddle. This will help you avoid flipping over the handlebars. It’s cool to say you did an “endo,” but it rarely feels great.
• When you get scared, don’t grab the brakes. Allowing the wheels to turn will roll the bike through technical spots. You’d be surprised at what the bike is capable of handling without your help.
• Use your front brake the most—but use it lightly. Simultaneously, move your rear end behind the saddle. This will keep the rear tire rolling and on the ground.
• Don’t shred the trail by skidding or sliding out.
• When in doubt or scared, get off and push your bike through tough sections, first getting out of the way of other riders.
For more information about PAS, visit www.pisgahareasorba.org. The group sponsors Bent Creek rides most Sunday afternoons. Starting at noon on Sunday, Oct. 26, at DuPont State Forest, PAS and the International Mountain Biking Bicycling Association will host Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day.
[Bettina Freese lives and bikes in Asheville.]