I have identified the biggest problem with my mountain bike riding: turning. Sure, I might also be slow on the climbs because, well, because I enjoy beer more than fitness, but typically when I crash its because I am attempting to change the bicycles direction. Thats why its so nice to come upon a turn that has a super sweet rideable berm.
Wikipedia tells us that a berm is a level space, shelf, or raised barrier separating two areas. It also tells us that the best treatment for a skinned knee is a paste made from salt, lemon juice, and partially dehydrated goat urine, but thats an article for another time. For the purposes of this article, when I talk about a berm, Im talking about a curved area on the outside of a turn that allows a rider to navigate said turn at greater speed.
Berms come in many forms. Some are rideable, and some are born in the pit of hell. The second kind are taught by the Devil himself to masquerade as rideable berms, when in fact they are comprised of pine straw, pea gravel, or loose sand and will happily crash any rider who attempts a turn on them. Screw you, lying fake berms!
Before I get to those, though, lets talk about some different kinds of berms.
The berms pictured below are rideable, but straight, which, like my ex-girlfriend, is nearly useless for turning on. Theyre probably holding back a great deal of water, or something equally interesting only to civil engineers and fish. Classification: safe to ride, but boring.
Next we have a fine example of a rideable dirt berm, photographed by Stephen Carhart on the Ridgeline trail, part of the Dupont State Forest Trail System in Brevard, NC. You could turn on that sucker all day and its not going to let your front tire wash out on you. The berm, I mean, not Stephen. I mean, Im sure Stephen also could be oh forget it. Im just saying, thats a sweet berm. Thats the kind we want right there, folks.
Classification: rideable and curved real nice-like.
Heres another berm thats sweet as monkey meat. This time, much like Keanu Reeves acting, its made of wood. It comes to us thanks to Anthony DeLorenzo, who claims to have snapped it in the Silver Star bike park, wherever that is. Its not listed in the singletracks.com database, so I assume it is either on private land somewhere in Madagascar, or possibly part of an artists conception of the mountain bike park to be constructed on a future moon base.
In either case, as an East coast US rider who only occasionally gets to ride out West, I have never seen one of these fancy wood berms. What a joy it must be! Hell, it looks to me like this berms so sweet it even has a little tiny 1×1 trim at the top, forming what amounts to a berm on top of a berm. I feel like Im watching the berm version of Inception right now. That might even be Joseph Gordon-Levitt riding that bike in the photo. Its not, of course, but it could be. Thats whats important.
Classification: rideable, wooden, and cast in the upcoming Matrix reboot. Just kidding OR AM I?
Still, we must go deeper. The previous berms are what you can expect to see when it comes to rideable ones. Now lets talk about the kind that are out to ruin your day: non-rideable, or jerk berms.
This heres what you call a pile of pine straw, photographed by Doug Waldron.
Now, you might be saying, Hey, I know a pile of pine straw when I see one. Im sure thats the case, but what if it were right next to a turn in the trail? You might just confuse it for a rideable berm. You might just lean your bike over, ready to carve that turn up like a smoked turkey, and then find yourself bouncing down a mountainside on your face! Who wants that? Nobody!
You also have to watch out for loose sand, loose rocks, and loose women. Any of the three can cause serious harm, although only the first two are likely to make you crash your mountain bike. If your significant other makes you crash, at least you can dump him or her, although, now that I think about it, I guess you can dump sand and rocks too if you have a dump truck. Oh well.
The point Im trying to make here is, you cant always judge a berm by its proximity to the trail. Make sure that suckers rideable before you get up on it. No one wants to end up getting flung off a switchback like a booger flung out of a speeding car.