Bike Trail Connoisseurs Can Identify a Trail by its Builder

Bracken Preserve. photo: Leah Barber

Years ago I had a chance to ride several trails within the CAMBA system in Northern Wisconsin, and on that trip someone mentioned that many sections within the trail system were built and/or designed by different individuals. It was said that regular CAMBA riders could tell who designed each section based on that trail builder’s style. It was almost as if several local artists had been given similar, adjoining canvases, and each one painted in their own style. I found this concept fascinating at the time, and over the years I’ve found myself trying to connect the dots between the trails I’ve ridden.

Here in the Southeastern USA, a trail building company called Long Cane Trails has designed and/or built many popular flow trails, including the Forks Area Trail System (FATS) in South Carolina and Paynes Creek in Georgia. Of course flow trails are by their very nature fairly standardized, but Long Cane Trails, like other trail builders across the world, impart their own style to every project. While riding Bracken Preserve last year, our guide Wes mentioned that Long Cane had done work on the project, and all of the sudden it clicked in my mind: of course they did! While Bracken features more extreme climbs and descents than FATS, the similarities were uncanny.

This trail builder is known for packing miles of trail in a small space. He’s also known for keeping his lines clean.

Like the trails at FATS, the Bracken Preserve trails are well built and flowy, but the similarities didn’t end there. Perhaps it was the way the designers wove the trail into and out of each forest cove along the way. Or maybe it was the long sight lines on the lower loop, or the rock work on the National Forest connector trail. Admittedly I’m not always attuned enough to these details to identify the trail builder on my own, but once the connection is made it makes perfect sense. So for those who enjoy the trails at FATS, Sope Creek, and even parts of Allegrippis in Pennsylvania, it might just be because you enjoy the trails designed and built by Long Cane Trails.

Other bike trail builders like Gravity Logic are making a name for themselves in bike park design and construction. Gravity Logic built its reputation for excellent park-style trails as the builders and designers at the Whistler Bike Park in British Columbia. Now the company consults with and builds trails for bike parks around the world, and many bike parks tout their trails as being built by Gravity Logic–Steamboat, for one. In the golf world, courses often crow about being designed by Jack Nicklaus; now bike parks are using a similar tack, and it seems mountain bikers do appreciate knowing who designed a particular trail.

This trail builder clearly has a personality.

I ride regularly with a few different trail builders, and each one of them has a unique style–both building AND riding. Some like super tight, twisty trails with zero bar clearance between trees–and those are the types of trails they build! Others like riding fast and covering a lot of ground, so their trails don’t do a lot of doubling back and generally serve to get riders from point A to point B. Trail builders are almost always mountain bikers themselves, and within the confines of the project requirements, they will usually design the type of trail they enjoy riding.

Ethan Quehl is well-known for the jump line and gravity trails he’s designed and built in the Southeast, including the one pictured here at Blankets Creek. He’s also a pro DH racer. Rider: Ethan Quehl. Photo: Guest.

Some mountain bike trails are known for being designed by a certain class of trail builders: hikers. Hikers aren’t afraid to trek up steep grades or to plant their boots on stair-stepped rocks and roots, and trails designed by and for hikers often reflect this fact. Many mountain bikers prefer trails designed and built by hikers, as they typically present more advanced technical challenges.

Your turn: If you consider yourself a bike trail connoisseur, who is your favorite trail builder?