Motorcycle Council of NSW Ph: 1300 679 622 (1300 NSW MCC) |

Riding Challenging Terrain

Riding challenging terrain is an important part of the trail biking experience, however, riding challenging terrain while having minimal impact on the trail is even more important for the long term survival of the sport and the protection of the environment. It is essentially down to the ability, skills, and attitude of you the rider.

Ability and skills mean you can negotiate challenging terrain be it uphill or down, creek crossing or simply the car park without wheel spin, excessive throttle and excessive noise.

Having the right attitude means you will apply these skills always and either avoid riding in areas where it would be inappropriate because of muddy or steep conditions, or where throttle control is critical such as around other forest users for example.

Using skill and common sense will help you get to your destination smoothly, safely, and in style, and ensure you can keep coming back in the future.

Mud, Tracks & Trails

Obviously soil erosion is a natural process, the process that created mountains, valleys, and plains. In most places this natural process is generally quite slow, because soil is stabilised by plants which hold it together…until we come along and remove the plant to make a track. No longer held together the soil washes away whenever it rains, usually into the nearest creek and river system, and maybe your water supply or just your local creek.

Do we replant all tracks? No…just some, and the remainder should be relocated, constructed, and managed so the water can’t easily wash the tracks away. They should be managed to be sustainable and there are numerous examples throughout Australia and the world which demonstrate this is possible.

Muddied Waters

Essentially the further rain water flows or follows along a trail or track the more force it has to cause erosion and wash the trail or track away, muddying the waters of the nearest creek and then river. Muddy brown creeks and rivers are not ideal if we want to drink from them or swim in them. Life also becomes more difficult for the plants and animals trying to live in a muddy river. Their homes fill with mud, and if they’re food doesn’t have the same problem surviving in the muddy water they probably can’t see it anyway. Essentially light penetrating through the water is reduced, which reduces the productivity of the whole creek or river.

Take different lines over cross banks / erosion humps

Cross banks, also known as rollover banks or erosion humps are usually raised sections or low ridges across the track that look like big speed humps. They’re constructed perpendicular across many forest trails and tracks. They divert rain water that’s usually carrying mud off the track and into the adjacent bush before it gets up enough pace to wash too much track away. Once off the track and in the bush the vegetation usually slows the water, and the mud it ‘s carrying is able to settle out and not so easily end up in the creek.

Unfortunately riders often follow the same line over rollover banks. This wears a groove or channel where water can easily continue to flow down the track building up pace and causing more erosion. Obviously the worn line is probably the safest line because it’s the most used line, but by slowing down a little you can follow a different line over the bank safely and avoid damage to the bank.

Some useful links:

NSW Lands and Water Conservation Guidelines for the Planning, Construction and Maintenance of Tracks

NT Dept of Natural Resources, Environment and the Arts Land Note: Road Drainage – Whoa Boy Construction

NT Dept of Natural Resources, Environment and the Arts Tech Note No. 8 Diversion Banks

Riding in Wet Weather

It is important to consider the weather conditions before going on a ride. Ideally you should avoid riding in wet weather as dirt roads and tracks are more susceptible to damage and will erode faster.

You should also consider modifying your route if you have to ride in wet weather, to stay clear of tracks or trails that may be more sensitive in wet weather. This would include steep hills, areas that are wet on dry days, and also creek crossings.

Be careful with your throttle. Don’t make the mistake of thinking more throttle will always get you past an obstacle. It turns your tyre into a slick and puts a groove in the track. Using your clutch to feel for traction will maintain forward motion more effectively than wheel spin.

Illegal Trail and Track Creation

A common problem in forested areas, including national parks, state forests, and other public reserve areas, is the making of new trails or tracks. It is illegal to construct new trails or tracks in National Parks, State Forests, Crown land or other public reserve land. When illegal trails or tracks are established they aren’t usually located, designed or constructed well. Obviously they then wash away and deteriorate quickly. This usually leads to diversion trails being created which exacerbates the problem.

Subsoils or the layers of soil below the topsoil are usually more prone to erosion and once the topsoil washes away the remaining track washes away very quickly. This can often render trails or tracks unusable or unsafe.

Obstacles and side tracks

Creating a side track or riding along the track edge to avoid an obstacle is a common problem. This leads to more tracks being created such as numerous routes up a hill for example, or the track becoming increasingly wider. The result is more vegetation cover being lost, more soil being disturbed, then eroding and washing into the nearby creek.


Riding up and down is obviously an important part of the trail biking experience. A flat ride would likely get boring after a short time. However, spinning rear wheels when going uphill and sliding wheels when descending hills cause a lot of damage to tracks through direct erosion. Generally speaking, on level tracks motorcycles have similar or less impacts than walkers, horses and mountain bikes, however motorcycles make considerably more impact than non-motorised users on hills.

Riparian zones

Also known as the creek bank or river bank. Riparian zones are important in maintaining the course of a watercourse. Lowering of the banks can lead to a watercourse being redirected or expanded. Damage to vegetation in riparian zones can have a similar effect, as well as impacts on water quality and micro-climates around the watercourse.

Inexperienced Riders & Having Alternatives

Inexperienced riders may have difficulty with descents or climbs, creek crossings or other challenging sections and usually cause more damage to a trail or track than an experienced rider.

For example an inexperienced rider is more likely to have problems at a tricky creek crossing or hill climb, spinning the wheels into the bank or on the hill, causing more soil disturbance and erosion.

It is important that inexperienced riders are encouraged through signage, by more experienced riders and riders with good local knowledge to avoid using difficult trails, particularly during wet weather.

Where particular obstacles cannot be avoided it is critical to apply good technique (link to creek crossing section). Using smooth acceleration to avoid wheel spin is the most effective way of negotiating a creek crossing or hill and it also reduces damage.

When a motorcycle becomes bogged or stuck, riders will often attempt to ride on by revving and spinning the back wheel and only digging up the track. Whether it’s a creek crossing or hill climb the loosened soil will be washed into the nearest creek with the next rains.

In a creek you should stop riding the bike and with help lift it out by hand and then ride or push it across using a smooth throttle. Wheel spinning should be avoided or reduced to minimise damage to tracks or trails on hills. Also as discussed previously riding in wet weather should be avoided or tailored to avoid sensitive areas such as hills and creeks or rivers crossings.

Campsites and Unloading Areas

The creation of impromptu camping, parking and unloading areas causes damage to vegetation in these areas. If the trampling and damage to the vegetation continues it often results in areas expanding further into the surrounding bush.

Noise can also be a problem at unloading areas, particularly if they are also used by other forest users or are near a popular tourist attraction.

Always park in established parking areas and keep noise to a minimum when unloading, setting off and returning.

Do not ride around a parking areas or campsites repetitively as this will disturb other users.