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Bull Mountain has been castrated. What used to be one of the last remaining bastions of technical mountain biking in the state of Georgia has been cut and bled of its virility. What was once a true man’s trail (or a true woman’s trail 😉 ) for those who wished to challenge themselves is now a trail fit only for eunuchs.

Examples

Don’t believe me? See for yourself:

This section of the trail needed some maintenance, so a trail machine was driven straight up through the bottom of the trench, making it even deeper than it was before.

Areas that used to be slightly challenging with a few rocks and ledges to play on are now more like a freeway through the forest instead of a true trail.

As another example, look at what has been done to one of the nicest little rock gardens on the entire trail. The recent trail work has removed any sense of challenge or difficulty. There is now a bulldozed path through the rocks that a beginner on their first mountain bike ride could navigate:

All of the rocks have been moved into two big piles, making it beyond easy to pedal up this short climb:

Sections of trail that used to be delightfully chunky and had not eroded in the slightest are now as smooth as a baby’s bottom:

As my final display, I’d like to present a short climb that is perpetually wet due to a spring right next to the trail. The slow erosion had created a challenging, rocky climb that, while difficult, was not exceptionally tough to clean. Easily over a thousand pounds of rock has been removed from this section:

The Problem

So why do I have my undies in a bundle over this?

Well, if quality reroutes had been built around some of these seriously washed-out trenches, I would have been fine with that. Much of the Bull Mountain trail wasn’t quality singletrack to begin with: it was old mining and logging roads that have naturally reverted back to singletrack. Rerouting the trail onto a quality bench-cut grade would have made sense in places.

Quality rerouting is precisely what has already done with several sections lower down on the same trail and over in the adjacent Jake Mountain area, and those new trails are fabulous! While they are very smooth and easy, they are designed astronomically better than the old trails were–you’ve got to take the bad with the good.

However, on the upper Bull Mountain trail, instead of spending the time and effort required to do quality reroutes, a mini trail dozer was driven straight up the mountain, blasting a freeway through the bottom of already washed-out trenches.

Newsflash: if you don’t do something to fix the underlying problem, your newly bulldozed section is going to wash out eventually too! And when you dig even deeper into the mountainside, erosion is going to be worse than ever before.

The Epidemic

What irks me even more than the bulldozed trenches are the areas where rocks were removed from a perfectly rideable, sustainable trail. None of these sections were what I would even rate as “expert.” They would have been rated as upper-intermediate to advanced at worst.

So what gives? Why were rocks removed from a perfectly good trail–one of the only somewhat challenging trails in Georgia, at that?

This “trail maintenance” is symptomatic of an epidemic that is sweeping the Southeast, and to some extent, the nation as a whole. Bike198 published a great article on the subject, and has referred to this epidemic as “dumbing down the trail.”

In short, today’s riders seem to have a sense of entitlement when they hit the trail. They seem to think, “Hey, it’s a public mountain bike trail. I should be able to ride this and have a good time, no problem.” Some of these people have only been riding mountain bikes for a couple of years, and have been so focused on fitness (or not focused enough, possibly) that they haven’t spent the time to develop any substantial bike-handling skills. When they ride a trail they can’t handle, they complain–and unfortunately, their complaints are often heard, and trails like Bull Mountain potentially get dumbed down.

Here’s the thing: not every person should be able to ride every trail. If every trail was a smooth, featureless path through the woods, we mountain bikers would become little more than road bikers with better scenery!

There should be trails out there that are challenging, difficult, and yes, dangerous. Sure, they should be built sustainably, too: but difficult trails can be very sustainable. And I’m not arguing that every trail should be insanely difficult: I’m arguing that we should have a good variety of trails, and from where I’m sitting it looks like we are most sorely lacking in difficult trails.

It isn’t the responsibility of the land managers to protect riders by making sure that trails are so vanilla that the chance of injury is virtually nonexistent. It is the responsibility of the riders to be honest about what their skill level is, and to be smart enough to get off of their bike and walk when they are in over their heads.

Mountain biking is about challenge. It’s about pain. It’s about getting outside of your comfort zone and seeing what you are truly made of. While other subcultures may be attacking personal responsibility, we are one of the few groups of people that should be upholding it as a fundamental fact of life.

So if you don’t want to challenge yourself, bust open a bag of potato chips, grab the remote, and hold down the sofa all weekend. If you do want a challenge, then do your part to stop the spread of sterilized singletrack!

Your Turn: Please voice your thoughts and opinions on sterilized singletrack in the comments section below.

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# Comments

  • trek7k

    This is definitely a trend I’ve noticed as well, though I don’t know if it’s intentional or not. In most cases the main argument seems to be sustainability – at least that’s what people say since no one will admit they want the trail changed because it’s too difficult for them.

    In the examples above, it seems odd that rocks would be removed to prevent erosion. I’m no trail building or maintenance expert but it seems like rocks are less likely to erode than exposed, red Georgia clay.

    In suburban areas there’s a better argument for making trails easier; after all, local governments can’t stomach the idea of injuries or lawsuits and these trails are more accessible to younger and less experienced riders. But for remote trails on National Forest land like Bull Mountain, I say keep things as natural (and potentially challenging) as possible.

    Several years back I complained online about a local trail near my house in Durham, NC that had several fallen trees blocking the trail. I thought the logs were too high off the ground and harshed the flow but others disagreed and said they liked them for the challenge. So I guess my question is, how far can you go in the opposite direction (in terms of not doing maintenance) before a trail is too challenging? Should there be a 10% rule or something (as in, 10% of riders should be able to clear it)?

  • element22

    I believe it is intentional I have areas around Toronto that have had the same treatment. It really kills the enjoyment of the trails. And the lack of natural rock does cause more erosion. The rock acts as natural armor to the surface, preventing wind and land movement. Some of those pics I can see them pool up and cause the soil to fall apart. I also think that some of the land owners have been scared due to some less that adept riders coming in and attempting a trail much harder than their ability, hurting themselves then attempting to sue. We also had that issue with a trial in Toronto.

  • dgaddis

    Those pics are terrible examples of how trails should be maintained. Every one of them the trail is in a trench! Of course it’s going to erode. And removing rocks is not the answer to erosion. Do you know who did that work greg?

    Hate to tell you guys, but those of us that like technical trails are the minority. Most folks don’t want to hop logs, or pick their way through a rock garden. In my local area our two easiest trails (FATS and Bartram) are by far the most popular. Our most technical trails (which aren’t that technical at all in the grand scheme of things) are the least popular. FATS might see 100+ riders on a nice Saturday, but Mistletoe or Modoc will only see a handful, if that.

    Here’s what it really boils down to: if you want your voice to be heard, to get your way, do something. Not just complain about it, but show up at work parties, talk with the people in charge of maintenance, get involved. We have a saying about which logs to leave on the trail and which to cut off, and it applies to everything really: the rule of the saw applies. And he who has the saw, makes the rules. It seems like the people most willing to get involved and do work are the ones who don’t want the challenging features.

    (not calling you out greg, I know you’re a worker)

  • ckdake

    This is such a tricky thing. For Bull Mountain, reading a bit of this thread on the SORBA forums is probably worthwhile:

    http://www.sorba.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=38456

    It sounds like something had to be done and while I’m as frustrated as anyone else about some things that were taken away from Bull Mountain, there is still plenty of epic riding to do up there.

  • schwim

    I would have never thought to blame the issue on the riders’ sense of entitlement. This would seem more an issue of either laziness on the part of those tasked with maintaining the trails or constraints placed onto the community by ignorant or uncaring FS managers that just want to get another paper out of their to-do box and into their finished pile.

  • trek7k

    @ Schell21, I was thinking the same thing! It’s interesting to note Big Creek, a highly trafficked, suburban trail system, hasn’t been dumbed down one bit.

    After reading the SORBA forum thread ckdake shared it’s obvious the work at Bull Mountain was done for sustainability reasons rather than to make the trail easier. Still, an interesting discussion…

  • joetutt

    Dummying down trails bug the sh*t out of me! Here in Florida it seems to be a couple things. First, I think most land managers/owners are so scared of some douchebag with no accountability or responsibility for their own actions, is going get hurt and take them to the bank for putting a log across the trail. They’ll sue the land owner, the managers, the city, the county, hell, they’ll probably sue their car insurance too and they’ll likely win each case…it’s ridiculous! Plus, fixing trails require time and money, resources most don’t have. Seems like instead of taking the time to strategically plan a better and/or more challenging route, they’ll come in and doze it over. Quick, easy, and cheaper!

    When building a new technical feature on our trial, we make sure to build a clear, less technical go-around. Or, if we build jumps, we usually build tables instead of gaps so they can be rolled.

  • Jared13

    My first question is, who “fixed” the trail? To me it looks like someone had the right intentions, but completely missed on the execution. Hopefully someone is able to talk with this person/group and either steer them straight, or get in their heads to see what they were thinking…and then change their minds 😉

    I would agree that ride-arounds/trail rerouting are almost always the answer. It takes more work (both muscle and brain) to put the ride-arounds/reroutes in but I think it makes the trails so much better.

    Expert trails should stay expert, intermediate should stay intermediate, etc etc.

    We did some ‘dumbing down’ at my local trail. There was a root that crossed the trail at about a 50 degree angle. As riders hit it, it pushed them to the outside of the trail and was wearing away the benchcut.

    We took out the root, smoothed out the ruts, and opened the trail up a bit where the root was.

    Is it easier to ride? Yes.
    Is it faster to ride? Yes.
    Is this section of the trail now sustainable? Without a doubt.

    Had the removal of the root done nothing for sustainability, we wouldn’t have done it.

    One thing I dislike about ‘dumbing down’ a trail even when it is for sustainability is you are taking that challenge away from someone. Finally clearing that one obstacle that was kicking your butt is an AWESOME feeling. However, if it’s for the betterment of the trail, i.e. sustainability, and not for the betterment of the rider, i.e. clearability (it’s a word) then I see it as a good thing.

  • maddslacker

    Here in Colorado, land owners are exempt from lawsuits by people engaging in “inherently dangerous activities” on their land. I believe the law was first put in place for ski resorts, but it has been interpreted to cover biking, horseback riding, etc.

    A couple of trails here have had the fun “fixed” out of them, but for the most part technical trails stay as they are. (Think Dakota Ridge and Deer Creek) Recent trailbuilding work at the otherwise mostly tame Buffalo Creek system actually added some black diamond level trail.

    1) I agree that work should be done to mitigate erosion, BUT that does not mean turning it into something a cyclocross bike can handle. In fact, I would think that some well placed obstacles would serve the dual purpose of preventing erosion and making the trail more challenging.

    2) I also don’t mind a mix of technical and more tame trails. Some days I like to roll over the gnarly stuff, other days I like to spin and daydream while watching the scenery .. it just depends on my mood. But to take away all the gnar ruins 1/2 of that equation. 😀

  • mtbgreg1

    @Jeff, I think we should build trail systems that have trails that are difficult, and trails that are easy. And there should be a logical balance of both and those in between. With trails that are just one loop, though, it’s a harder balance to achieve.

    @element22, exactly. This “trail maintenance” isn’t going to help much in the end.

    @dgaddis, exactly. However, as far as I’m aware, the volunteers involved in this area weren’t consulted when the changes were made.

    @ckdake, Yeah totally a tricky issue. Dave Muse’s response was very enlightening (great guy, has his head on straight). However, I wonder if he’s even referencing this trail work up on Bull. Like I said in the original article, if some of these sections had been rerouted like the trails lower down, I would have understood that.

    However, as element22 and dgaddis have both pointed out, these are horrible examples of sustainable trail work. Much of the work they have done doesn’t improve the sustainability at all, and some of the work has no impact on sustainability either way. In the second to last picture, that is a section that has suffered no ill environmental effects, and was delightfully rocky and just a pleasure to ride. The only maintenance that was done to the section just removed the rocks, dumbing down the trail and making it “as smooth as a baby’s bottom.”

    Like element22 mentioned, rocks are natural armoring. They help hold the trail in place, help prevent the dirt from getting washed away. Removing rocks accelerates erosion in most circumstances.

    @schwim, That’s probably part of it. But trails around the nation are getting changed because they are too difficult, and the majority of new trails being built, especially here in the Southeast, are incredibly groomed, catering to the beginner and intermediate rider because many people don’t want to get out of their comfort zones and challenge themselves on tough trails.

    @schell21, Great point! I love that Big Creek has embraced the rock and has embraced all types of riding. I think Big Creek is a great example of a trail-system-done-right. I wish they had more trails there, but there just isn’t room.

    But like you said, Big Creek has tons of rock, some advanced riding, but they ALSO have some beginner trails and a pump track that is accessible to beginners. Great variety.

    @joetutt, Amen.

    @Jared13, great points. And I agree with you: when the trail is built unsustainably, then doing something to fix it is necessary. But as I’ve argued above (and I think you agree), most of this “maintenance” doesn’t actually address any of the environmental issues!

    @maddslacker, Amen! I love that there are a few places that seem mostly immune to the issue. Dakota Ridge is a beast of a trail, and I love it.

    I hear you on the variety: that’s exactly what I’m advocating. Like you said, removing the difficult trails removes half of the equation.

  • cubanchurchill

    One thing I dislike about ‘dumbing down’ a trail even when it is for sustainability is you are taking that challenge away from someone. Finally clearing that one obstacle that was kicking your butt is an AWESOME feeling.

    Jared said it best- Yeah there are parts of the trail that sometimes wins the battle- and then sometimes you win the battle. That’s what makes it awesome and fun to ride IMHO.I know when I get close to those tricky sections that the fun is going to start- and I love that. The feeling that I might not make it but I’m going at it full steam anyways. Even if I have to ride it all the way to the ground !!!!!

  • barrygxnz

    Seems to me that whoever ‘improved’ this trail needs to be sat down and given some advice on the meaning of ‘mountain’ biking.
    All you guys can do now is go back and build in some technical sections, with the belssing of the trail manager, whoever that might be.
    Did they leave all those removed rocks accessible? Or could new trails slowly be added to provide some more technical sections?
    Hope it works out for you locals.
    Cheers
    Barry

  • oneeyeredeye

    it is happening here in ohio also and i dont like it one d*@n bit. been told its because of personal injurys and lawsuites. wahhh. if you cant ride it stay off and ride where you can. gee whiz!! to me you can get hurt on beginner just as easy as you can on tech. like clint says ” a man has got to know his limitations.

  • mtbgreg1

    @oneeyeredeye, that’s EXACTLY what I’m talking about. MAN that just jerks my chain.

  • fat_billy

    Bull Mountain was as mtbgreg1 said great trails for great technical riding and it was. The guys with the bulldozers aren’t MTB riders for sure. Bull Mountain didn’t become awesome overnight. It was from years of riding on fireroads and erosion. Keep riding it and it’ll keep raining and the rocks will return. Yes it will take time. The other option would be to close the trail entirely or just let horses use it. We’d never get it back. Use Bull Mountain for extra miles and go more technical elsewhere. As said before Big Creek can spare some rocks but Bull Mountain has plenty if you “ride” down to ’em. Changing a mans favorite local trail is traumatic for sure but closing it would be worse, wouldn’t it? Bad trail maintience is better than than NO BIKES ALLOWED signs which is the usual result. Just saying. Later,

  • uekiya

    mtbgreg1 I agree with you. I for one am not a techinical rider. As a matter of fact I am an aweful technical rider. My preference is smoother trails and I don’t care for rock gardens and roots…I love steep uphil climbs (without roots). But this does not mean because of my preference that trails should be what I want. If I come accross a technical section…I will generally do it. I may fall or struggle my way through it but I am not going to complain and gripe about it. Actually I enjoy watching technical riders riding the challenging areas. Furthermore I have seen with my own eyes what happens when trail managers removed rocks to make the “trail more sustainable.” It erodes away. I don’t know the full story behind Bull Mountain but there are different bikes out there XC, Trail, All Mounain, Downhill and the reason for that is there are (and hopefully will always be) a variety of different trails for all preferences and skill levels. There should not be a one size fits all trail. To Steralize all trails is wrong and hopefully trail managers will consult with the riding community prior to taking any drastic “improvements.” Great conversation.

  • davidmuse

    The work on Bull proper was done by a different contractor than Jake. I haven’t been up on Bull since the work was done. I meant to get up there on the last ride but we had to cut it short and I’ve been sick as a dog between then and last Wednseday.

    One thing that might be driving the rock removal and other smoothing is the trail classification. In the NF, trails are classified with numbers 1-5 and I think Bull proper is supposed to be a 3, which means when it was first surveyed, it was a 3. 5 is basically paved. 1 is like the Pinhoti up on Dug Gap mountain. I don’t know all of the details in between, but the contractors do. Reclassifying a trail is a big deal. The contractors may have been tasked with restoring it to level 3. I’ll find out though.

    The big cut in that first photo wasn’t executed well. It should at very least be outsloped with a channel on one side with rock in it and a nick at the bottom. Looks like something we’ll have to fix. Ditto for the second photo. It will be a lot of work.

    The work in the third photo at least makes sense. Water won’t follow the meandering trail, but will instead make its way into those rocks and slow down. That’s the photo that makes me think that they were attempting to restore the trail to a level 3 classification. Fully exposed rock would have done the same job re. erosion, but if the intended line was through the rocks, then it probably wouldn’t qualify as level 3.

    Same deal with the rock removal in the next photo, though they couldn’t meander the trail there because of the spring on the upslope.

    Bull was once an old timber extraction route and the roadbed had rolling dips up by the intersection with Lance Creek Road (babyheads). The majority of the work that was slated to be done up there was restoration of some of those dips. Anybody notice how successful that was?

  • fat_billy

    mtbgreg1, Is the old truck still past the smoothed out baby head climb at the top return trail? Just checking. Later,

  • brianW

    cut and paste from sorba forum:

    “Per the USFS, there were three options at Bull/Jake: do nothing, do the work that was done or close the trails to all traffic, permanently. They have standards for the amount of degredataion that can occur on an inventoried trail over a period of time and for the level of impact that it can have on the environment and the Bull/Jake trails had never been compliant with either, so option number 1 wasn’t feasable. That just left close them or rehab them and I’m glad they chose the latter.”

    this was from the second post and was only part of it.

    http://www.sorba.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=38456

  • jtorlando25

    One of my local trails was recently awarded a lot of money for rebuilding the existing trail system and this topic has recently come up on their facebook page. There are a few step ups on the trail maybe 6 or 7 inches tall that you have to hop over while going up hill. People have been bypassing these step ups and ruining the fresh (still not settled) trail. So the trail builders were asking if they should stop with building “more technical features” as they finish up the trail build or if they should continue. Of course, the general consensus of the avid mountain bikers who ride there is to add MORE of the technical stuff. I myself suck at clearing those step ups but I would never want to take away from the trail…I want to eventually be able to get up those damn things!

    I think a good alternative to dumbing down trail systems is more signage warning riders of what they are getting into and stating rules telling new riders to not make their own reroutes and get off their bike and walk over the obstacle if they cannot ride it.

    Whenever I ride in Southern VA (Richmond and Williamsburg mainly) their trails have such good signage that you never know if you are biting off more than you can chew before entering each loop. This should be in place at all high traffic mtb trails. And yes, I understand it costs money…but so does renting the equipment or paying a contractor to turn that awesome rock infested downhill into a boring gulley.

    /rant 8)

  • bonkedagain

    Around here the dumbing down usually occurs for reasons mentioned by DavidMuse, that is, it depends on the trail classification. I’ve seen lots of fun obstacles removed because the trail was rated to be accessible to all users. The local agencies go around and determine who the “typical” user for a trail is and start digging out or burying anything that doesn’t match that profile. Very frustrating. I would prefer to see alternate routes where feasible, but people don’t often think in those terms.

    Just another example of the payback you can get when you get in tight with land agencies. Around here there are lots of bikers who spend lots of time with the parks people making sure they understand what bikers like or don’t like and we coddle and cajole them into keeping us in mind when there is talk about changing existing trails or creating new trails. I can’t say that we are successful all the time but I know that it is a lot better than it would be if we weren’t engaging those people on a consistent basis. Bottom line: Get involved in the process. That is a lot more effective then whining about it after the fact.

  • rmoon

    If you are still reading this tread this deep you must really care about the state of mountain biking today. I came into mountain biking from white water paddling. I believe a trail should be as natural as possible. Ride it as is, learn to ride it, or walk it. If a chain ring has been in a root or log leave it. Jake and Bull did need work just like a lot of the old classics. It is better to work with the USFS than against them. It has been my experience that they are good partners and stewards of the land. I have been on the BOD of the Georgia Pinhoti Association for over 10 years and the President for the past 3. We actually had some mountain bikers that were going to take sledge hammers up on the Pinhoti on Dug Gap above Dalton and smooth out those rock gardens. We stopped that attempt. Technical trails are special. The good thing about that section of the Pinhoti is it is right on the crest of the mountain. Erosion is not a problem up there, riding the rocks is the challenge as it should be. I have never cleared the entire section and at this point I never will but I still marvel that people can. The more smooth trails that are built the more special the old school will become. All trails are good. Deal with them smooth or technical. Get involved with advocacy but not just mountain bike groups. Broaden your outreach and look for other ways to influence trail development. You can do a lot with IMBA and SORBA and other bike groups but other trail groups and local governments can have a big impact. Heck run for mayor, I know there is one mayor that rides and builds trail in West Point Ga!

  • delphinide

    I have ridden Bull Mountain a few times, but all of them have been since the trail was neutered. I still enjoyed the trail as it winds through the GA wilderness, but I agree that it lacked a lot of technical features.

    In my own backyard, I have seen this phenomenon in what is still probably one of the most technical trails in the US: Santos. Recently earning a Bronze IMBA medallion, the OMBA does a fantastic job at maintaining the trails, with one very notable exception: over the past year I have noticed subtle changes that make this tech-lovers delight easier and easier.

    At first I thought I was just getting better…well, I was, but I have filmed a lot of the trails such as the John Brown and Anthill sections with my GoPro camera so that I can use them on the trainer when I am deployed. There are several places on both of these ‘red’ level trails where large obstacles were removed or smoothed over and it is undeniably disappointing. For example, there once was a large rock at the end of the Anthill section that required a lot of finesse and poise to negotiate. It took my friends and I several trips and attempts, but we finally mastered it, and now is has disappeared as if Gandalf himself obliterated it with rock dissolving incantation.

    What is sad is that there are yellow trails which are easy, blue trails which are intermediate (but are really more serpentine yellow trails), and the red trails…which are several steps (thankfully) above the others. I don’t understand why the blue trails can’t be harder and leave the red ones alone.

    A similar trend is occurring at both Alafia and Boyette, though I will say that the admirable SWAMP club has offset this by building more trails, and many of them are heavenly.

    We are lucky that we have trails at all, but we are unlucky in that many of them take for granted. These trails do not neuter themselves. Quite the opposite, when left to the forces of entropy, nature will make them more technical and un-ridable. The only solution I see is for all of us to take a very active part in trail maintenance and building…and if that doesn’t work, start throwing a few rocks on the trail every time you go. Eventually, you’ll have your own little garden o’stones.

  • mtbgreg1

    Thanks to everyone for the responses. Great discussion, keep them coming.

    Yes, there are some issues up there on bull mountain. But the main point of the photos and the commentary on the current changes was to segway into a discussion about the broader issues at hand. Thanks everyone for weighing in on the topic.

    @delphinide, thanks for the thoughtful response! This really is a wide-spread epidemic.

  • azaficionado

    I think the problem in Arizona is just more and more folks riding the trails. i know in Sedona some very cool single track (Soldier Pass, Teacup, Secret Trails area) has been way smoothed out by the volume of users wearing down the obstacles (and in many cases cutting corners and creating bypasses to what used to be a super technical sections)…the increased popularity of the sport can be its own worst enemy…

  • lsuche1996

    The best way to prevent “bad maintenance” on the trails is for riders who like technical, sketchy trails to SHOW UP for trail maintenance days. Maybe you guys and gals have it better where you live, but in my neck of the woods only a handful of riders will show up to work on designated trail maintenance days that are published well in advance, with tools provided, etc. The “hardcore” riders who relish their rock gardens seem to be too busy riding to lend a hand to work on building and maintaining trails but then complain when “the other people” ruin their fun.

  • davidmuse

    I rode up there this past weekend and got a good look at the work that was done. Yep, it’s sterilzied, castrated if you will! But there appear to have been good reasons for doing it.

    It’s too long to post directly here, but in and amongst the rest of this blog post, extensive, though possibly somewhat amateur analysis can be found…

    http://davidleemuse.blogspot.com/2012/02/bull-mountain.html

  • rmoon

    We are currently hand building some new single track for a Pinhoti reroute to get the trail off of Peeples Lake Rd on Ft Mountain in Ga. While building trail this weekend it occured to me that part of what your are seeing with the “dumbing down of trails” is the result of trail advocacy groups pushing for grants to hire professional trail builders with machines to build trials rather than doing it the old fashion way. The new fashion way gets more trail built faster and they are sustainable but nothing beats old fashion hand built single track I would submit to you that mountain bikers have a radical streak in them and if the groomed out trails don’t satisfiy them they will take matters into their own hands and build bandit trails on land they don’t have a right to build on.

    I see a lot more man made obticales on trails like skinnies on logs and board walks. This stuff just dosesn’t seem real to me. Real or Fake, it is all in our heads but I prefer real.

  • skibum

    Involvement is definitely key. I have recently become involved in both planning efforts and maintenance and have hade some positive impact. I’m doing what I can to keep the Pikes Peak region gnarly–hope the rest of you are doing the same in your neck of the woods!

    While doing this, some interesting things have happened. In one case, a bunch of hikers just took it upon themselves to install railroad tie steps at the bottom of a favorite technical descent. There was no trail sustainability issue there, they just thought it would be better. We seem to have been able to convince the various management agencies that simply allowing any group to go do whatever they want is not the way to go (they are always happy to get any volunteer work in the current time of declining budgets for things like this). So, while many are good-intentioned, they still need to be intercepted to prevent the travesty that is now the bottom of the Section 16/Intemann trail. Ironically, the equestrians were even more upset about the railroad ties than the bikers–it seems going down stairs is not a good thing for horses. Another good reason to not alienate other user groups–you never know when you’ll have something in common and need their help! I don’t know if MTBs alone could have had this impact.

    The most satisfying thing is being able to affect the exact path of a new trail, reroute, or simply save an existing route when it rocks as is. When you’re out in the woods and see a feature that you can incorporate rather than avoid, and get others to buy off on it as well, that’s a good day’s work! I definitely agree with rmoon; I love natural features but really don’t care for man made ones. For me, the man-made ones are best applied where they are necessary (skinnies to cross boggy areas) or where no natural features exist. Fortunately, I live in a semi arid environment with plenty of natural gnarlyness.

  • mtbgreg1

    Thanks for the informative blog post, Dave. Very enlightening.

    So you didn’t descend back down Bull Proper?
    One of the issues that I foresee with this trail work is that people will be coming down off the mountain with so much speed that they fail to slow down and navigate through the new “meanderings” in the old trail tread. Some of the new work could really harsh the flow, or people will end up blasting over it unknowingly.

    Ah well, time will tell.

    I loved this paragraph, I think this is key:

    “What we really need are trails that are technical but ALSO sustainable as opposed to trails that are technical because of their unsustainability. Currently, the only reasonable way that I know of to do that is to find naturally technical terrain and run the trail through it a la The Dug Gap Pinhoti. I would argue though, that that’s the “right” way to do it. I’d like to see trails that aren’t much more than a representation of the surrounding terrain that’s negotiable by whatever mode of transport it’s designed for. I wouldn’t expect the trail to be chunky and technical if the terrain around it isn’t. Similarly, I wouldn’t expect to find a clean and easy trail through rough and rocky terrain. In the long term, I suspect that the solution will be to have more trails in better locations, and if we want technical trails, build them in naturally technical locations. It will take time but we’ll get there eventually if, as a community, we do the right things. I’m certain though, that we won’t get there if we don’t first make what we already have sustainable and demonstrate that we can manage it.”

  • mtbgreg1

    @rmoon, I totally agree with you on the machine-built VS hand built issue. I think we had a lengthy discussion on a blog here about a year ago on that.

    The thing is, machines really do get the trail built SOO much faster than you can do it by hand. Building trail by hand is hard work… but it’s rewarding!

    @skibum, great insights! Thanks for sharing.

  • marin29

    cant we just go put the rocks back if they are still in piles? And what about adding some true ST to go around a few of the sterilized spots? There’s not room on all those areas, but the red clay spot above in particular would work. Another idea for that spot: take some ideas from the Olympic course near London for good use of rock armoring that would actually make spots like that better than before. (I’d still like to be able to ride up the wall on skier’s right as I bank around myself)

  • jeff

    Interesting to see this topic revived…

    I was talking with the CAMBA folks in Wisconsin and someone asked me what the trails were like in other parts of the US. I thought about it for a minute and said, “actually, a lot of them are like the trails here.” Of course the topography and flora changes depending on where you are but the trails being built today are becoming quite standardized.

    Standardization is a good thing in terms of sharing best practices but it also leads to homogenous trail systems that start to bore riders after a dozen miles or so. I think the trend toward standardizing mountain bike trails deserves its own article…

  • raaiken

    i can see the disappointment but come on really complaining about trails being made cushier is counterproductive when everybody here knows they covet the new products out on the market that makes your bike lighter, smoother, faster how bout this if things are really getting to easy for ya get rid of the FS 29er the 140mm travel fork with lockout and the 1×9 drive train the uber updated hydration pack from osprey and the god forsaken bike specific spandex ass padded sorts. Now take out that old rigid 26 inch bike that you’ve converted to SS take the front brake off and ride that from now on. You want tough trail well there is nothing tougher than a full day with one water bottle on a nut busting rattle you to death frame

  • engineer1984

    This is why I volunteer at trail building events. All of us seem to have a sense for keeping the trails as is, not sterilizing them.

    Like someone said earlier, if you aren’t there, you don’t get to have an opinion.

  • Andrew Mesesan

    Hello Greg and all. I’d just like to invite ya out to our build sites if yall have the chance. The nitty gritty of contract trailwork is often risk management, its a fact of life in the States. It actually IS the land manager’s, and contract trailworker’s, responsibility to mitigate risk. Now, given that, we personally love when our clients say, “be creative”, and “spice it up.” I mean, I learned to mt bike in west PA where you had to know how to bop over down trees, simply because there are way more trees down than people interested in clearing them. Personally, we like to build rowdy stuff, but our client calls the the ball as far as difficulty goes. That client might be the Forest Service, or a county parks program, or a housing developer on the front range. I guess my point is, what drives trail standards are the people who show up to those dang meetings and otherwise make themselves heard. In short, it can be complicated.
    Anyway, we are on the dirt everyday trying to make awesome happen, and we sure dont mind if you stop by and give input. Currently on Green Mtn, Denver area. Thanks yall!
    Andrew M.
    -Tango Trailworks
    and Tony Boone Trails.

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