If you have been following us so far, the goals we have placed in our minds when building a new singletrack mountain bike trail are sustainability, consistent character, rewarding scenery, and trail flow. Remember quality over quantity. We are going to be taking our time. But what if you don’t have the time to invest in such a lengthy endeavour as building a new bike trail from scratch?
Feel the Connection.
If you live in an area that is already populated by a few good trails, have a look at that network and consider what it may be lacking. I’m sure you can think of some things that just don’t flow. You can make it your duty to improve your local trail network by maintaining the existing trails, building re-routes around sections of trail that are unsustainable and beat up, or building connectors between existing trails. The topic of connector trails should be considered most of all as a low cost, yet high value, addition to your riding community.
Many of the best trails I can think of are less than a kilometer long! Building short sections of trail linking together two or more trails that were not connected before adds tremendous amounts of variety to your local trail system in a very short time, simply by creating ways to ride old trails in new ways.
An example of a great connector trail might be building a short, exciting singletrack to replace an uninteresting fire road section on one of your local loops. Another example might be building a little side loop off of an existing trail that takes riders past a scenic view, or point of interest that, for some reason, the previous trail avoided.
There are countless ways to add something to the quality of your hometown trails. Be attentive to the complaints and desires of the people you ride with and yourself, and apply your creative energy toward making an existing experience even better. Every time one of these little connectors gets built in my local trail network, I’m left wondering how I ever survived without it! Variety is the spice of life, and interconnecting trails that are already there may be the best way to spice up the life of your local riding area.
We all Need to Challenge Ourselves Sometimes
In Part One, you heard me place a lot of emphasis on maintaining consistent character and flow in your trail building project. To some it may have sounded as if I believed that the best trails were the widest, smoothest, and fastest, ones. Which is true! But if I also left the impression that I recommend making your trail easy , then I must apologize. I will never recommend that your goal should be to build an easy trail. Trails that are too easy are too boring. Overcoming new challenges is what keeps the sport alive and interesting.
We need trails for all levels of riders, and you need to build your trail according to the style and ability of rider that you are. It is unwise to try and build a trail for a category of rider that you are not, as you cannot be sensitive to the needs of those riders. If you have never hit jumps, for example, than you really have no business building them, as you won’t know what a good jump is supposed to look or feel like. Not only that, but if what you are building is not something that you are interested in riding yourself, than what is the point? Part of the desire of building your own trail is to showcase your interpretation of what mountain biking should be.
Build a trail that can challenge you. A trail that will help you progress as a rider. Unless you are the best mountain bike rider in the world and in a league of your own, there will always be other people that will find the trail you build challenging enough. Every rider can benefit from the way you see the sport of mountain biking, and your vision of where the sport can go.
I’m going to go out on a limb here, and say that your favourite piece of singletrack wasn’t built by a single individual without a little help from somebody else. Very few trails are. Let’s face it, if we want to get this work done within a reasonable time frame, we are going to need some help from others.
It may depend on who you are, but speaking from my experience, the question of finding good help can be difficult. We can all accept that help is required sometimes, but questions we need to answer are: How much help do we need? When do we enlist it? and from Whom?
We all need to answer these questions for ourselves and our own needs. The benefits of good help are obvious to anyone and don’t need to be explained in any detail here, but we do need to be aware of some negative aspects of having help. You see, your trail is going to become your baby, and your artistic masterpiece. You will not hear of many great painters asking someone else to come paint beside them so they can finish their painting faster! When you get help for working on your trail, a very real potential for conflict arises. It is very hard to give up control of your child to somebody else, if even for just a little while. This is where the question of Who is helping us becomes important. Someone that shares our vision for what a bike trail should be, and rides at the same level as we do, can be an incredible asset to any trail. Sometimes we just need to look at the trail through another set of eyes as we all have our peculiar blind spots. The more eyes the better, as long as they are of a like mind.
When receiving help remember that even though the work was initiated by you, the trail will also become the child, and the art, of the person that helps you, and it is simply best that you allow them their full creative expression. Don’t be a control freak (it is so hard, I know!) or you may not get help the next time you need it. Let trail building be fun for everybody.
The Linear Trail Build
When building a trail, there always seems to be an urge to keep moving that comes from a desire to see that we are getting work done and that the trail is progressing. When we get into difficult terrain or larger trail features that require spending a lot of time in one place, we can be tempted to skip over it for now, and work ahead where the working is easier. It may make us feel like we are getting more done, but it is a bad habit to get into and should be avoided.
We can justify skipping over areas of our work by telling ourselves that we will just come back and do it later, perhaps when everything else is done. The problem with this way of thinking is that a lot of what we pass over, we will probably never go back to. Once the trail is being ridden, it is easy to ignore these short sections of unfinished business. This is bad style (see Part 1 – Be Consistent).
The best practice is to move on from one section of trail only after it has become a finished product. This prevents inconsistency from becoming a theme in your trail, and also keeps people and animals from packing your trail for you, which almost always means water issues somewhere down the line.
There are however some times when I work by myself that I skip over large, difficult-to-build trail features, such as switchbacks or berms, and save that work for when I have some helpers. I don’t want to be impractical! You will know what you need to do to get the job done, but next time you feel the urge to skip ahead, just be honest with yourself and consider if you really want to come back to that spot to fix it up later. It might be better to just get it out of the way while you and the tools are there. “Build it right, build it once” (excerpt from: Trail Solutions: IMBA’s Guide to Building Sweet Singletrack)
We have looked at nine ways to make your mountain bike trail awesome. Some of them overlap, and I think some patterns and common themes arise. I hope that this article has planted the right seeds in your mind and will really help progress your inner dirt artist. I believe that inside every mountain bike rider lives a trail builder. And it is the best riders that build the best trails.
The tenth and final way to make your mountain bike trail awesome is to follow through with the trail’s maintenance. I wasn’t joking when I likened trail building to having a child. You can’t just make one and then neglect it, expecting that everything will be okay. It is an entity that remains a part of your life into the future. If you are lucky, your trail will be adopted by your local mountain bike or trails club, and much of the long term maintenance will be taken care of for you. Popular trails will have no shortage of people willing to volunteer their time to cut out a few downed trees, or patch up the odd drainage issues. But In most cases you will have to do much of the maintenance yourself, and it is common for many sustainability issues to crop up that were not apparent until the trail has weathered a few seasonal cycles and seen some real user traffic. The perfect trail is not finished until after a few years of being ridden. For the perfectionists among us, the trail will probably never be finished!
For me the fun begins when the trail is complete and being ridden and I can just go for a ride and stop at the tools if i feel like something should be done. I can gain so much enjoyment from just working to make a single corner better, removing just one root, or filling in a couple of holes. Riders pass by throughout the day and some are willing to pick up a tool and work with me. I can bask in the satisfaction of having brought something into the world that makes people happier, and most importantly, has made me happy!
I hope that more will be encouraged you to do the same for their community.
Thank you to all the trail builders among us. We wouldn’t have this sport without you. I would like to encourage everyone who has read this far to stop the next time they see their local trail builders out on the trail, and out of gratitude, offer them a hand, or at the very least a warm handshake. (Most of them will accept beer too!)
Have you built, or are you planning on building a trail of your own? Leave a comment and share your trail with us, along with any advice you have for other aspiring trail builders. I love hearing from fellow trail builders, and riders.