Pollard’s Complete Trail Building Guide

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I found this guide in a forum post made on Pinkbike.com in January 2008.  It was not even the original link to the guide, as it now cannot be found. You can eye it up here: http://www.pinkbike.com/forum/listcomments/?threadid=15980

The original was posted by pinkbike user “Southern Freerider” on Mon Aug 07, 2006  and began with this disclaimer:

“Please don’t copy this and claim this as your own, you can copy and paste it however you like, just make sure you say it was written by me.
Also, you may see this elsewhere on the web, don’t slate me for this as I’m only trying to show as many people as possible and help their building.
Also, this guide took quite awhile to write, and it is all my own work, so if you don’t like the length, don’t complain, just read the section you’re into. “

The writing was both witty and informative an very soon I realized the value and effort of the work which he titled “Pollard’s Complete Trail Building Guide v1”.  Search as I might, I could not find version 2 any where on the web, nor could I locate the forum mentioned above in the afterword. I did however feel that I should take the author up on his permission allowing others to re-post his work, provided that he was given full credit for it, which he certainly deserves!

From what I could gather from information contained within the article, along with a little Google magic, I was able to reasonably determine that the authors name was in fact likely to be Adam Pollard of Camberley, Surrey, in Southern England and that he has been very active in his English locale as a rider and a trail builder.  I would like to thank the author for his hard work, both trail building and guidebook writing, and hope he has had great mountain biking and trail building experiences since writing this fantastic piece.  One thing is for sure, if this article is any indicator, the Freeride community of Southern England has been very fortunate to have your hard working ass out there building trails!

Thankyou Mr. Pollard! (AKA “Southern Freerider”)



///—————-Pollard’s Complete Trail Building Guide v1——————///

Pollard's Complete Trail Building Guide examples of berms image oneThis is my complete trail building guide to everything trail building. I made this because although there are some very good guides on the web there aren’t many that cover all the areas in trail building, comprehensively, in one guide. This is only version 1, I will make a version 2 after receiving feedback on this one, because there are many things I may have overlooked, or still do not know.

I have covered most aspects of trail building, including trail design, general DH trails, freeride stuff, dirt jumps and north shore. You may want to skip to the section that applies to you if you want, because the complete guide is quite long and some of it may not be relevant to you.

Here are the sections I will be covering:

1. Trail Design
1.1 Where to build
1.2 What to build
1.3 Understanding Trail/Tread Grade
1.4 Creating flow
1.5 Controlling Trail Speed

2. General Trails
2.1 Tools
2.2 Initial Clearing
2.3 Secondary Clearing
2.4 Berms
2.5 Benching
2.6 Drainage
2.7 Smoothing out tracks
2.8 Maintenance
2.9 DH Track Tips

3. Freerider Stunts
3.1 Drops
3.2 Booters/Gap Jumps
3.3 Stepdowns

4. North Shore Stunts
4.1 What wood?
4.2 Tools
4.3 How to make rungs
4.4 Ladders bridges
4.5 Log rides
4.6 Get creative
4.7 Ladder Tips
4.8 General Tips

5. Dirt Jumps
5.1 Location
5.2 Tools
5.3 Starting out
5.4 Building the basic shape
5.5 Shaping
5.6 Drainage
5.7 Maintenance
5.8 Get creative
5.9 General Tips

6. Additional Stuff
6.1 Soil Types, pros & cons
6.2 Tool Storage
6.3 Dealing with social defects (chavs, etc..)


—————1. Trail Design————-

1.1 Where To Build

Where you build your trail is one of the most important parts of building the trail, get this wrong and you will either make it difficult for yourself, or run the risk of getting it destroyed. There are various factors you need to consider when scoping for trail locations. Usually you won’t be able to get a good area that covers all the factors, but weigh out the pros and cons and see what would be best for you. The factors to consider are, how hidden it is, how easy to get to, the relief (the area in terms of what the land is like, e.g. steep, mellow, tree-y, etc..), soil type. There are other area specific factors, but they are obvious.

Firstly, in most cases, unless your trail is legal, you want it as hidden as possible, so random people, chavs and ramblers don’t unintentionally, or purposely destroy it. Also, if other mountain bikers find it, it’s usually good because sessions are funner and they might help maintain it, but sometimes it best to keep it completely hidden. Also, basic tip, never have it remotely visible from a fire road, because then the local ranger or warden is more likely to find it, and therefore more likely to destroy it.

Secondly, how easy is it to get too, not too big of a factor, but especially if you always have to carry tools to do trail work, you don’t want an uber long ride or hard hike through the bushes. You can overcome this by locking tools to nearby trees. I generally have a 45 min-ish ride to trails which is fine, and have been known to ride for over an hour with a spade each way to do trail work, but any longer and it might not be worth it.

Next, the relief, it depends on what kind of trail you want as to what sorta shape land you want to build on, but bear in mind steep trails wear quicker and take more work benching and mellow hills can be too slow.

Then there’s, soil type, I’ll explain soil types in 6.1, but basically you need to bear this in mind when deciding where to build. Don’t just dig 6 inches in and assume that’s what it is all the way in. Dig at least a foot in, and take it from there.

1.2 What To Build

Before you start getting dirty you need to have a vague idea of what kind if trail you want to build. If you don’t, you’ll be unfocused, and the trail will seem thrown together and unnatural. You may also waste time rebuilding sections.

I can’t go through all the various options you have in terms of kind of trails to build, but the basic types are: DH track, generally bumpy, technical, and fast. This requires less work because you don’t have to deal with drainage or erosion problems because they add to the feel and technical side of the track. The DH track generally incorporates aspects of all the types of trails too, and requires a DH’er to help design because they’ll know the best way to keep speed and have a fun and quick track.

Then there are basic singletrack trails. Simply a 6 inches or so wide flat track with up and downhill bits, non-banked turns and no jumps. These are quick and easy to build, but long so take a while. Drainage and erosion has to be seriously incorporated into the design because of the high traffic and susceptibility to problems. Build it once, build it right.

Then there are general freeride trails. These are smoothed, buffed tracks from about 2ft to 4ft wide on average, all bermed up (banked turns), and usually with non-wooden stunts such as jumps, gaps, drop offs, hips, etc… These are the funnest because you can ride them over and over and still have fun, and trick some of the stuff too. Same as singletrack in terms of drainage and erosion, a poorly built trail will fall apart and become unrideable with medium traffic in 3 or 4 months. A well built track can still be in great condition with high traffic after 2 or more years.

Finally, there are north shore trails, basically general freeride trails with or exclusively with wooden stunts (ladders, skinnies, etc..), called north shore because this style of trail originated in the north shore of Canada. Also, be aware what you build influences who’ll ride it, how many will, and affect the chances of the forestry commission destroying your trail.

1.3 Understanding Trail/Tread Grade

Basically, the trail grade is the steepness of the slope on the trail. There are a few basic but essential trail building tips relating to this, that one must abide by in almost all situations. Firstly, avoid the fall line, never build a trail that goes down the fall line (the shortest route down hill directly, the way water flows), because water will funnel down the trail stripping the trail of soil, exposing roots, creating gullies and scarring the environment, and also means people will brake, exasperating this.

Secondly, avoid flat areas because water tends to collect on the trail if you build on the flat. To avoid collecting water on the trail, make sure the trail tread is outsloped and outslopes towards somewhere lower than the trail tread. The half rule (more appropriate for long lasting, high traffic XC trails), is where the steepness of the trail shouldn’t be more than half as steep as the slope it lies on. This rule basically, stops water running down , and therefore wrecking your trail. Finally, use grade reversals as much as possible (within reason). Grade reversals are when you reverse the tread grade for a bit before going back down again. This sheds water, and adds variety and flow to an otherwise straight and boring section.

1.4 Creating Flow

Flow is what a trail has when everything seems to ‘work’, and flow naturally together, and is the ultimate goal when building a trail. Hard to explain, but basically, the way to create flow is to be consistent throughout the trail in terms of speed and type of feature, or if a variety is opted for, don’t make abrupt changes between style and/or speed, because this wrecks flow. Also, contrary to the opinion of some, a bumpy and technical trail can still have flow, but flow tends to be easier to make in smooth trails. Also, a poorly built trail tends to wreck flow because it harder to ride and don’t make ya feel as good.

(Further Reading about Trail Flow – 10 Ways to Make Your Mountain Bike Trail Awesome – BikeFAT.com)

1.5 Controlling Trail Speed

Controlling the speed of the trail riders is a crucial and usually overlooked aspect of design the trail. For example, lets say you have a fast section, but then have to lead into a slower tight turn (this should be avoided anyway), you need to stop the rider slamming on the brakes right before the turn because this is how braking bumps occur and trails get wrecked. The best way it to use choke points. Basically you stick a few big rocks or logs along the trail, then make some gentle turns round them, getting progressively slower. This slows the rider down gradually, preserving the trail, and not wrecking trail flow. The big rock in the way of the original line stop people avoiding the slower line.

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