Quantcast

Trails and how we build them

The latest Dirt Rag just arrived, and it has an article by Frank Maguire of IMBA discussing whether we are tending to overbuild with current standards of construction. I'm interested in the discussion - I tend to favor narrow rocky rooty east coast gnar-gnar over wide swoopy pump track trails. It's not that I don't love the swoopy stuff, but there's a place for trails that are extremely difficult to ride, which is why Borderland, in Easton MA, is one of my favorite trail systems.

It'd be interesting to have a builders and riders conference to discuss this sort of question. I think it'd be most interesting if it was outside of the aegis of IMBA or other established access organizations - they tend to get stuck on doctrine and protection of established turf.
 

JohnE

filthy rascist
May 13, 2005
12,889
950
Front Range, dude...
You know, in 20 plus years on mountain bikes, I have yet to knowingly ride a "built" trail. Maintained yes...built, no. Either I am doing something totally right, or really wrong...
 
Last edited:

AngryMetalsmith

Business is good, thanks for asking
Jun 4, 2006
16,999
3,893
I have no idea where I am
I like both styles of trail building, but I certainly don't want all trails to end up IMBA designed. Not all topography is suited for the berm and flow type of trail. One of my local spots is unsanctioned, unorganized and technically demanding. Myself and the other trail gnomes hope it stays that way despite the talk of the city making it legal.

There is a new trail system in Boone, NC called RockyKnob where there is an amazing blend of flow/berm with technical rock features. It has so many rocks that it borders on absurdity. Way too many rock gardens to count. It's definitely one of new favorites.
 

ICEBALL585

Bacontard
Sep 8, 2009
6,540
1,459
.:585:.
I like both the slow/technical/skinny trails and the fast/flowy/wide trails... just depends what I'm in the mood for. Although my main complaint about wide trails is that after a while they start to feel more like a paved bike path than a trail in the woods.
 

buildyourown

Turbo Monkey
Feb 9, 2004
4,832
0
South Seattle
We have a county park bike here, that was built with an extremely well thought out plan and subsequently has very "built" trials. They are flowy, and lack the edge that natural trails have, but they stand up to an amazing number of riders per year. More than Whistler's bike park.
There is a time and a place, and the super flowy trails built to IMBA specs are good for the sport and the progression of riders.
 

eric strt6

Resident Curmudgeon
Sep 8, 2001
18,682
7,810
directly above the center of the earth
out on the left coast near me the land managers have this stinking habit of sanitizing the trails and removing anything rocky, rooty, narrow and or technical in favor of these flowy trail machine made monstrosities that present almost zero technical challege. Lucky for us the BLM folks and the Cal Fire managed Demonstration Forests let, for the most part,the hard challenging fun stuff remain. They do draw the line at "Constructed stunts" like ladder drops
 

AngryMetalsmith

Business is good, thanks for asking
Jun 4, 2006
16,999
3,893
I have no idea where I am
Ya know, maybe I'm just a grumpy old schooler, but when I was learning to ride we didn't cut logs out of the trail if we couldn't ride them. We'd either get off and walk or crash trying. There was never the idea of making the trail easier instead of learning to ride an obstacle. Twenty-two years later and I still enjoy a challenge and the opportunity to continue improving my skills.
 

jdcamb

Tool Time!
Feb 17, 2002
17,759
5,531
Nowhere Man!
My dad is 70 and he walks the trails I ride. If he complains about something being to hard I often find I enjoy that trail the most. I like trails I don't build the best. If you build it I will ride it. Beggars can't be choosers....
 

eric strt6

Resident Curmudgeon
Sep 8, 2001
18,682
7,810
directly above the center of the earth
Ya know, maybe I'm just a grumpy old schooler, but when I was learning to ride we didn't cut logs out of the trail if we couldn't ride them. We'd either get off and walk or crash trying. There was never the idea of making the trail easier instead of learning to ride an obstacle. Twenty-two years later and I still enjoy a challenge and the opportunity to continue improving my skills.
This^
 

Westy

the teste
Nov 22, 2002
44,769
10,418
Sleazattle
Seems to me that pretty much any of the trails I have ridden that have been built in the past few years have been over engineered superhighways. Gone are the natural rocks and roots and technical features have become engineered drops, jumps, bridges and perfectly rectangular 8'X10' rock gardens. No question they are fun but when all the trails become the same it just becomes boring and a little bit soul-less. I always hear that this is necessary to make a trail sustainable, Bull****. Picking good lines make a trail sustainable. I love the occasional well designed berm but all else being equal I prefer my trails as natural as possible
 

sstalder5

Turbo Monkey
Aug 20, 2008
1,943
20
Beech Mtn Definitely NOT Boulder
I second AMS on Rocky Knob. Great mix of natural and "built" trail. But the trails I grew up on were natural with sketchy ladders and jumps built over everything that couldn't be ridden over and I loved it.
 
Last edited:

Quo Fan

don't make me kick your ass
Both types of trails have their place. I like to ride both kinds, depending on my mood. I also agree with AMS, that obstacles need to be learned to be ridden as opposed to being "sanitized". If you can't ride an obsticle, get off your bike and walk it. Don't build a go around because you think it is too hard.
 

Pesqueeb

bicycle in airplane hangar
Feb 2, 2007
34,408
8,749
Riding the baggage carousel.
Both types of trails have their place. I like to ride both kinds, depending on my mood. I also agree with AMS, that obstacles need to be learned to be ridden as opposed to being "sanitized". If you can't ride an obsticle, get off your bike and walk it. Don't build a go around because you think it is too hard.
:stupid:
 

4130biker

PM me about Tantrum Cycles!
May 24, 2007
3,884
444
Lizard Town
Sounds like everyone is preaching to the choir here, but it's a good topic. I agree that both kinds of trails have their place, my concern is that local legal trail building efforts keep turning into these sanitized Prius trails.
Everyone says "get involved", but I have a hard time getting motivated to build a 100 year berm with boulders and 20 people.
A natural, loamy rut of a berm is so much more fun to ride, But is never going to be sustainable for the masses.
I see the necessity of making stuff bomb proof for tons of use, But what's wrong with the idea of have LOTS of legal riding zones to spread out the impact?
 
Last edited:

Benton

Monkey
Aug 8, 2003
118
0
SLC
Good topic. Smooth machine built trails can be really fun to rip down. They make mountain biking possible for more people and increase the consumer base for the sport which then provides more money for land purchases, trail building, R&D. Which then causes the trails to get crowded again. Around here I have to get up at the crack of dawn to avoid the crowds. It's rare that you can actually enjoy one of these trails on a weekend without running into someone every 500M.

I think machine built flow trails have a place in the sport, but maybe it's time for the IMBA to start revising its trail strategies to include more technical trail building techniques. One thing that I've noticed helps is to create single-direction trails. The Soquel Demonstration forest trail system does this really well. It decreases the chance of collisions on the trail and really makes it more fun for everyone. Trails that don't have an obvious preferred direction lead to congestion and collisions.
 

boostindoubles

Nacho Libre
Mar 16, 2004
5,235
2,834
Yakistan
IMO, the best trails have a strong mix of flow and tech, where the flow is released by riding the tech smooth. If you can't ride the tech, you don't get the flow. They are usually narrow, off-camber, rocky. Problem is weekend warriors and novices clipped in on squishy 29ers widen the trail out, roll the best rocks, and cut corners, sanitizing fun trails for the masses.

Thats where the machine built trails come in, to be highways for the newbies.
 

AngryMetalsmith

Business is good, thanks for asking
Jun 4, 2006
16,999
3,893
I have no idea where I am
Problem is weekend warriors and novices clipped in on squishy 29ers widen the trail out, roll the best rocks, and cut corners, sanitizing fun trails for the masses.
I've noticed this as well. A lot of trails are getting dumbed down by proponents of 29ers who simultaneously praise the easier rolling of the bigger wheels for rough terrain while altering the existing trails making them even smoother.

A local trail has had a two foot tall log crossing on it since it was built 6-7 years ago. In the past two years with the increase on newbies on 29ers, the log was built up with dirt so now it can be rolled. And just to see, I road over it seated and didn't touch my big ring on a bike with a very low BB (13" and 5" r travel).
 

JohnE

filthy rascist
May 13, 2005
12,889
950
Front Range, dude...
I dont/cant/wont judge either type as superior/better/whatever...I just ride. I like twisty old game trails...we used to call them stoner trails. Big climbs, swoopy descents. I need to get to a park full of built trails, I know there is one near me...want to learn to ride cool stuff more. Its just never been my thing to do anything at peak times at popular places where all the other kids play. I like my own time in my own space...just having fun riding bikes. Isnt that what its all about?
 

stevew

unique white person
Sep 21, 2001
35,974
5,892
i prefer the ones where jbp just dragged his finger across the earth.
 
Nov 8, 2012
1
1
Indianapolis
I believe the key is to have diversity. As a trail builder, I have seen challenging sections sanitized by riders, while other riders complain about the trails being too easy.

We seem to have things pretty well under control at Brown County State Park. We have a wild range of trails. Flowy-Beginner, Flowy Intermediate, Hand build intermediate, Hand built expert, and full on extremely difficult. Riders with lesser skills have plenty of trails to keep them selves busy, so they don't feel the need to ride Schooner Trace. So Schooner has stayed hard and even on a busy day is the trail less traveled.

There isn't a right or wrong type of flow or difficulty. There are many types of good flow and each is needed to have a complete trail system.

I do take issue with the comments that suggest that only a machine built, easy, flow trail can meet sustainability guidelines. I have been involved in building a number of non flowy, expert level or above trails that are sustainable. If you think a trail can't be built with old school feel and challenge and still be sustainable, then you need to up your trail building skills.

Paul
 

weedkilla

Monkey
Jul 6, 2008
362
10
Im pretty sure that the best trails are designed and built to one persons idea. As soon as a land manager, a risk assesor, a sustainability expert and an accountant all modify the original plan the trail is ****.
I will still work towards getting new legal trail built and old trails maintained, but the best trails I ride are all illegal.
 

Trail Ninja

Monkey
Jan 4, 2013
109
2
Vancouver Island
I love to build trails. To me, building a trail could mean anything from clearing a few branches off a natural line or game trail, to a bike park "flow trail", to constructing an "Ewok Village". I don't even ride half the stuff I build because it's beyond my abilities. I also build stuff that nobody rides but me.

I've been at this a very long time and it wasn't that long ago that your choices for riding were fire roads or super-tech goat path trails. I'm thrilled that the sport has progressed to the point that there is a need for all the different types of trails and different types of bikes.

As a builder who rides (as opposed to a rider who builds) my favorite type of trail is going to be the one that requires the most building skill and style. That would be the "Ewok Village".

This little gem is on one of my private trails. The top boards are rough cut with a mill. The rest, including the wooden pegs holding the decking on are hand carved and compression fit with the tools you see. When this bridge rots as all wooden structures will eventually, there will be nothing left to indicate that people were there (nails, bolts, etc.). There was no good reason to build it this way and it took WAY longer than if I'd built it by conventional methods. I just did it because I could.

P1010003 (3).JPG
 

SlapheadMofo

Monkey
Jul 29, 2003
412
0
Westminster MA
Lots and lots of time spent figuring the layout, then rake-n-ride w/ bare minimum of 'construction', then let wheels do the rest works well for XC stuff. I really like the old-school steep and bony DH trails over the DH/BMX hybrid style that everybody seems to go for these days. Pump-tracks are really fun to build, would be kind fun to do a 'pump-trail' type project. Luckily in N.E., we've got a good mix of everything. Variety is the spice and all that.
 

rockofullr

confused
Jun 11, 2009
7,345
922
East Bay, Cali
This little gem is on one of my private trails. The top boards are rough cut with a mill. The rest, including the wooden pegs holding the decking on are hand carved and compression fit with the tools you see. When this bridge rots as all wooden structures will eventually, there will be nothing left to indicate that people were there (nails, bolts, etc.). There was no good reason to build it this way and it took WAY longer than if I'd built it by conventional methods. I just did it because I could.
Props
 

Trail Ninja

Monkey
Jan 4, 2013
109
2
Vancouver Island
So, after that ramble a few posts back, I'll add that for building "MPH" I prefer minimal disturbance, follow the sustainable natural line, tech, singletrack. Also the type of trail I prefer to ride.
June90538.JPG
 

marian24

Chimp
Oct 21, 2015
4
0
I have been doing mountain trails for 6 years. It does defeat the purpose if you create a trail. However if it was for competitive riding purpose perhaps.
 

Da Peach

Outwitted by a rodent
Jul 2, 2002
13,195
3,271
North Van
I fall firmly into the beggars can't be choosers camp.

My trail preference has definitely mellowed over the last few years. Part is this is due to wising up, and another part is that I pretty much only ride my 6" bike both UP and DOWN the mountain. Riding up with a full face and a bunch of gear kinda sucks, so I'd rather just tone it all down and try not to kill myself.

I'm pretty spoiled living where I live, terrain-wise. There is always going to be a trail that is way beyond my capabilities somewhere nearby. I can imagine how it must be frustrating in areas where there are only a couple of really technical trails that get "improved", eliminating that upper range of difficulty.

Around here (Vancouver), the trend seems to be to make new trails more durable, but most of them are still built by hand. A lot of the effort on new trails is geared toward building climbing trails. Work on older trails seems to concentrate on making them more durable. Makes sense to me...This inevitably makes the trail buffed out for a while, and the old-schoolers come out to complain about "dumbing down". Meh.

When I tour newbies around (this has only happened 3 times...), the folks who categorize themselves as "advanced" riders tend to be pretty sketched out on even the "dumbed down" version of stuff, so I think the level of difficulty is being maintained at a pretty reasonable level.
 

KenW449

Thanos did nothing wrong
Jun 13, 2017
2,704
327
Floating down the whiskey river...
IMO, the best trails have a strong mix of flow and tech, where the flow is released by riding the tech smooth. If you can't ride the tech, you don't get the flow. They are usually narrow, off-camber, rocky. Problem is weekend warriors and novices clipped in on squishy 29ers widen the trail out, roll the best rocks, and cut corners, sanitizing fun trails for the masses.

Thats where the machine built trails come in, to be highways for the newbies.
As a weekend warrior who can occasionally get out for a morning ride, The trail system isn't far from where I work, that clips in on a squishy 27.5, I can proudly say I have never sanitized a trail to fit me. First time I did the main loop at my local trail system, which was also my first real ride, I had to stop often to catch my breath, drank way more water because I was exerting more energy, grabbing brake, and sketching out on some of the descents and bonking out on climbs. Now I'm riding much faster, less brakes, more balls, and not bonking out. Luckily my local riding spot as a great mix of trails for new riders and experienced alike. I do know from threads and old videos that some of these trails have been slightly sanitized. Some gap jump became a bridge and one of the descents became bricked. None of the trails are rated above average but it still has some very challenging obstacles. The old trails started off as old cattle paths, There are still cattle roaming around, most are natural. Only 3 trails feature man made obstacles, 2 bridges and a small table top jump. Its the closest place to ride on the east side of town. Everywhere else requires me to drive for about 40 minutes to over an hour. It can be over 80 degrees here by 0800 so drive time decrease ride time here in the summer. Its already over 100 degrees, 7 days a week. On the bright side, there's light a 0430... Pun intended.

Moral of the story, I learn to ride the trail, not mod it. If I cant, ill work on my skills and try again in the future.
 

boostindoubles

Nacho Libre
Mar 16, 2004
5,235
2,834
Yakistan
Moral of the story, I learn to ride the trail, not mod it. If I cant, ill work on my skills and try again in the future.
Good on you dude! Riding bikes is awesome. We really don't have too many sanitizers around here. I think that post I made was half serious and half poking the bear.

Over 100, 7 days a week?? Where you at?