Pollard’s Complete Trail Building Guide

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——————2. General Trails—————

2.1 Tools

What tools you use is a personal preference but using the right tool saves time and more importantly, effort. Also, it always helps if you buy the best quality tools you can, and keep them nice and sharp. Rust proof tools are a must if you plan on leaving them locked to a tree in the forest, but if you can’t get it rust proof, you can just stick the affected tool in a rubble bag instead.

First of all, there is the good old spade, which you use for most things trailbuilding wise, very versatile. Use a round tipped spade if possible as it makes getting into tough ground easier, and a big head means you can move more dirt quicker, making you more efficient. Long handle also makes work easier cause you’ll have more leverage. This kind of spade is the general use spade. If you plan doing a lot of jumps and berms a short D-handle spade is helpful for ‘whacking-in’ jumps and berms. This kind of spade is the common gardening spade, short, light, d-handle, and a flat square head on it.

Then you have the mattock (a.k.a. pulaski, pick, adze) this by far the useful and time saving tool, which is mainly used for benching, berming, smoothing out bumps, and chopping roots and branches. Remember, when choosing the size of the head, bear in mind you’ll probably be swinging it around for 5 or 6 hours, so don’t buy a real heavy one.

Then, you have a rake, very useful, can clear the top soil, and smooth and shape berms and jumps with it. Fire rakes are the best, got tough pins and a long strong handle.

Sheers or similar tool(s) to clear foliage are essential if you are building anywhere that requires some defoliating.

Also, rubble bags are very useful for transporting dirt, saves a hell of a lot of time and effort, and when you work in a pair, you become uber quick. They are the main tools, and of course there are a few more specialist tools that are needed in some situations, for example, building wooden stunts (north shore), but I’ll go through that later.

Remember to also bring with you a phone, water, food and bug spray (more useful than you’d think).

2.2 Initial Clearing

This is the first part of the actual trail building process. This involves removing all branches that might get in the way, all logs and anything else that isn’t top soil or mud where the trail will be. Don’t do this to the entire trail, just the section you plan on building. Remember, build your trail one section at the time, don’t half-do bits, and skip bits without fully completing them.

2.3 Secondary Clearing

This is the stage where you get rid off the top soil, the organic layer, basically, the layer of rotten crap that is above the soil. You need to get rid of the looser topsoil for the general trail tread, and shift it completely before you start digging up the mud or for berms. Depending on where you building, the type and thickness of your top soil will be different, and therefore there are a variety of ways to get rid of it. Light stuff can literally be kicked away, heavier stuff can be raked, and heavier still (or if it’s rooty), will need mattocking, or digging up with a spade. Also, make sure you leave the shifted topsoil in a neat way, cause an ugly trail isn’t as fun to ride.

2.4 Berms

Berms are the essence of a really fun trail, built well, they can require no maintenance, and add an element of fun to a trail that without the berm wouldn’t be as good. There are loads of different types/styles of berms, but they all tend to follow the same basic principle, so once you understand the basic idea of how to make them, check out the various examples I’ve shown ya and make the berm to suit the situation. Also, one of the most important, if not the the most important thing to have your berm be like is having a smooth transition from the flat trail tread to the sloped tread of the berm. Above the ground this is simple to achieve, but because we’ll be digging the berm into the ground (easier to build, mud you get from the ground, you do half the digging, looks cooler, and lasts longer), this is much harder.

Examples of berms:

Pollard's Complete Trail Building Guide examples of berms image one

Pollard's Complete Trail Building Guide examples of berms image twoPollard's Complete Trail Building Guide examples of berms image threePollard's Complete Trail Building Guide examples of berms image fourPollard's Complete Trail Building Guide examples of berms imageFirstly, you need to completely visualize the berm, and where you need to dig into the ground in order to make it. The diagram I made shows where you have to dig in in order to make a berm that has smooth transition from flat to slope. Remember, it also helps to have an experienced builder, or at least an experienced rider, to help you make it look and ride ‘right’.

Now, there is a debate as to whether you should use wood as a retaining wall in berms (rocks are always good), and my opinion based on lots of experience and feedback from lots of other trails is, providing the wood isn’t gonna rot anytime soon, and used properly it is fine, but no wood is more reliable (but then takes a hell of a lot longer). You’ll just have to see what works. So, if you’re gonna use a retaining wall, make it along the outside of the berm, in the shape on the berm, and make sure it’s nice and strong.

Then, preferably with a mattock, although it can be done with a spade, shift the dirt from the shape we cleared, up onto the retaining wall (or just generally in the shaper of a berm), so that the hole that is made by this is the bottom half of the berm (see the idea yet? taking the mud from bottom, using it on the top, so the digging down bit is part of the berm). Make sure you’ve covered the retaining wall (if used), with at least 6 inches of dirt. (I repeat, never use topsoil).

Once the general shape is made work on the entrance and exit of the berm, make sure it is a smooth transition from flat to slope, and to understand if you think it’ll work or not, visualize riding it, would you like it (be unbiased, self-pride isn’t damaged if the answer is no).

Then, with a rake (or feet), smooth out the berm so it looks whisper smooth, then water (if you can), and ‘whack-in’. The water (this is why we like the rain now and again), is essential to a well packed berm. To whack in, use spade at first, then you feet. Your feet apply more pressure, so if done first, will just make huge footprints. Now the berm should be in rideable condition.

You’re not finished yet though, you need to smooth out the backslope. This is inside bit of the berm, smooth it out so you pedals don’t hit it, and it looks better. Now you should be good to go, ride it a few times and then if it doesn’t ride perfect, go back and fix it now.

Tips: make as many as possible because you get better with experience. Build it once, build it right. Take your time, don’t rush it. Common Mistakes: Not enough mud on retaining wall. Used topsoil. Too abrupt transition. Too steep.

2.5 Benching

Benching is where you turn a steep (or not very steep) slope, and make a flat trail tread. A good full benched trail is the sign of a good long lasting trail. I’ve seen so many trails that are ruined cause the builders couldn’t be arsed to bench the basic trail, I think because they don’t look at it as a fun aspect of the trail, they don’t bother.

The first thing to do, is to shift the layer of top soil. Using a mattock makes quick work of this.

Then you need to cut away into the mud, until you have a flat trail tread (don’t use mud that you dug up for the trail tread, it renders the trail not as strong and long lasting). Remember to slope the tread very slightly outwards, so any water trails over down the slope.

Then, you need to smooth out the backslope, to make it blend in with the landscape properly.
IMBA made a good pic showing this:

A full-bench trail is the best method of creating a sustainable trail treadThen you’re done. But to gain style points, cover the mud you dug out in the topsoil you dug out (and bracken or whatever too), that way you ain’t scarring the landscape and your trail blends in, it also looks neater. Benching takes a lot of work, but once you have a mattock, and good mattock technique, it’s quite quick, and certainly saves time fixing afterwards.

2.6 Drainage

There isn’t really drainage to be dealt with in general trails, more avoiding drainage issues that could come up. Here are some basic ideas to follow in order to avoid drainage problems: Outslope the trail tread to shed water, follow half rule (see 1.3), incorporate grade reversals, make sure water can always escape from the low bit of berms. Also, use your common sense, water goes downhill (due to gravity), so make sure it can get off your trail.

2.7 Smoothing Out Tracks

Not always wanted, but it generally makes for a nice track buffing it smooth. Not too much to really explain here, but its easiest with a mattock, and get rid of any annoying roots too, cause they come through eventually. Smoothing out tracks is generally common sense, but remember the phrase, build it once, build it right.

2.8 Maintenance

Trail maintenance is an absolute must, unless of course no one rides it and it’s completely isolated from the elements. So basically, you need to maintain your trail, otherwise all that time and effort you spent would be wasted. The time vs. trail longevity involved in trail maintenance means a couple of hours every month or so keeps the trail alive and kicking. Another thing to bear in mind is the more you procrastinate and put off fixing a part of trail takes longer than in the end than it would if you did it earlier, so just get on with it.

Firstly, you need to look at the trail very carefully to discern what needs maintaining. This involves getting off the bike and walking the whole trail, looking for quagmires (marshy muddy patches, caused by bad drainage), pools of water that will have formed by bad drainage, ruts, bumps that weren’t there when you made the trail, anything that has been damaged in some way and anything else that you can think of that’ll need maintaining.

Before you go ahead and fix the problem, work out what caused it and fix the cause, don’t just fix the problem because the cause will make the same thing happen again, leaving you more work.

Drainage problems are easy to fix, most people can clearly see where water will go (downhill), so make sure it doesn’t collect anywhere or run down the trail.

If braking bumps or ruts appear, you are either building on too steep ground and people are over-braking, not obeying the half rule, or even close to it, you have bad flow and have a fast section leading into a sharp corner (you starting to see how following my guidance makes good long lasting trails yet?). Basically, you need to redesign that section of the trail, and clearly close off the old route.

Also, one aspect of maintenance that most people neglect to do is get feedback from a wide range of people using it. Because for example, the berm entrance may suck leading to bad flow, or that section is too tight and slow, or only you and this pro are hitting that stunt and everyone else is going round it, or people are walking this stunt as there’s no alternate route. All these things will need to be addressed as a lot of the time you’ll be able to pin the trail (because you built it, duh), but some weaker riders can’t even get through the sections. This ain’t right, just about everyone should be able to get to the bottom of the trail. The way to do this is the make you doubles tables (apply concept to northshore), or make an alternate, route. Where, lets say, the trail temporarily splits, one way is a high skinny and the other, an easy low ladder. You can predict where alternates will be needed, but it takes experience to know where.

2.9 DH Track Tips

Involve downhillers, there input is essential as they know how the track should look feel and ride. They’ll also know how best to design the track.

Make sure you include as much vertical drop as possible, the longer the trail the better, and make best use of what drop you have by building across the hill, not straight down it.

Plan for shuttling if possible, as some people especially, in Canada (haha, jokes!) are lazy and don’t like walking up hill to the top, whereas us english always have too, we’re not aloud cars in our forests.

Don’t criss-cross fast DH runs, the only time you can criss-cross is when the trail is slow and you can see other riders around you. Include a variety, e.g. maybe slow and techy at top, then open up the fast and smooth (made the transition smoothly).

Rock is good, rock is your friend. Include as many rock gardens as possible as us DH’ers love it.

Berm it up baby, berms help you keep speed, and of course don’t berm everything on a DH track as over camber turns and shit eliminate the good from the bad but berms enable speed to be carried through turns.

Include jumps, drop-offs and alternate lines, and don’t build wooden structures (north shore), unless it’s uber wide, rollable, isn’t technical at all, use it more as a solid booter or landing ramp.

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