The Short Story of Trail Gentrification

Endangering The Soul of Mountain Biking

making mountain bike trails to easyA strange phenomenon is sweeping our local trail networks. Roots are disappearing. Rocks are migrating. The cuts in the side hill are getting wider. At it’s current rate of growth, every corner will be bermed by 2015, and terms like “off-camber,” or “bunny-hop,” will quietly make an exit from most mountain bikers’ vocabulary.

While masses of sheep cheer for faster, smoother, flowier trails, the lions left among us are growing worried. This growing trend in our communities may actually threaten the very foundation of our still great sport.

Many early mountain bike trails were all but un-rideable by any but the most seasoned riders. It may have taken years to gain the skills to clean what today are our favourite trails. At times sections of them were humiliating, frustrating, and even down right enraging, but they managed to  get us hooked and kept us coming back for more. These challenges earned us great skills, confidence and power. In short, they made us better. Failures made us smarter, cuts and bruises made us tougher, and overcoming our fears made us smile! These were the principles that made mountain biking as popular as it is today. Obviously people could see that we were having fun because many of them are now trying out mountain biking for themselves.

All over the world, the sport of mountain biking is undergoing a major growth spurt. In our community we are seeing quite literally hundreds of new riders each year take it up! But this exponential growth is changing the face of mountain biking in a very significant way.

Apparently not every rider has the patience, perseverance, or courage to devote the time to becoming good enough to ride some of the more technical sections of trails, yet for some odd reason feel entitled to an experience free of getting off their bikes and walking!

I find the trend towards making the trails easier for everyone to be a disturbing one. I was fortunate enough to grow up with the sport of mountain biking from its early infancy, and have developed a lot of technical riding skills along the way. I don’t always miss all the roots and logs on my favourite climbs, yet out of principle, I can’t support the sterilization of our singletrack in any way. The individuals involved in the dumbing down of our trails are robbing themselves and other newer riders of opportunities to push themselves and become better. How can this be good for the soul of a sport that thrives on the progression of rider’s abilities? How can we prevent turning exciting rivers of singletrack into stagnant ponds?

If there are any of you new trail yuppies out there reading this, please be considerate, and think to yourself for a moment before you alter that section of trail you don’t like or can’t ride. Ask yourself these questions: Is it difficult? Is it challenging? Is there anybody who can ride it? Is it possible that someone could actually enjoy the difficulty and challenge? If you answer yes to any of these questions, then I suggest you put down your tools, pick up your bike, and try that section until you clean it, or have at least given it three to five honest attempts. Then go home, and come back to it another day and try it again. And again, and again, and again! After several years, go back to that section and look at it again. Are you a better rider now than you were before? Do you want to remove it now? I didn’t think so!

Also keep in mind that although you may believe that what you’re doing to the trail is improving it and increasing it’s sustainability, think again. Roots and rocks are like the rebar in your house’s concrete foundation. They’re helping hold the dirt together, and keep it on the trail. Removing them will make the trail faster, which may seem like a good thing for a while, but give it time and you will see the negative results. With more speed comes more braking, and with more braking comes more braking bumps. Deep braking bumps are every bit as rough as the roots and rocks that used to be there and much less satisfying to ride over. At least in my opinion.

Mountain biking is hard. It’s supposed to be challenging. This is the spirit the sport grew up in. Let’s not bring the trails down to our level. If you have no easy trails in your area, then build a new one, but let the difficult ones remain difficult. You’ll appreciate it once you’ve learned to ride better.

 

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