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  1. #1
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    Trail building questions: Switchbacks?

    I'm building a few trails on my property (which is a giant hill) and am having challenges building good switchbacks. Are there any general rules on how to build a ridable uphill switchback.... ie -- what is a standard curve/radius and max rise/run that is reasonable for a mtb? Since the slope is steep & consistent, the switchback will have to be built up so the rider doesn't loop out and spin when going uphill. It sounded easy until I actually started building and I created an uridable beast... thus, before I start moving dirt again I wanted to reach out for tips/thoughts/advice.

    Thanks!

  2. #2
    I think I can.
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    A couple thoughts

    Switch backs can be achieved many different ways.
    The first thing is try and visualize the line going up and down, the natural flow for a riders is to enter wide hit the short side of the apex then exit wide. If you try and build dirt up it will fail as fill is never a solid base.
    What we like to do is on the high side try an bench cut into the slope to minimize the effort needed to finish the corner, on the low side try and find the firm base on the low side and slope the trail accordingly.
    Remember wider entry and exit both up and down will be your best bet, you will find that the middle of your switch back will almost be a single line going up and down.
    Try and design trails for multi use to include horses which take up a wider section to navigate a corner, imagine how much space a large animal will need to make a corner and that may give you a better visual.

    Trail building is not a science, soil, slope, and topography change in every region so build it using the features provided.
    Every switch back we have ever built turns out to be twice the size as originally planed, so use all the space you can to make a sweet transition.

    Good luck

    Dam,
    Bikes are FUN

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by edenger
    I'm building a few trails on my property (which is a giant hill) and am having challenges building good switchbacks. Are there any general rules on how to build a ridable uphill switchback.... ie -- what is a standard curve/radius and max rise/run that is reasonable for a mtb? Since the slope is steep & consistent, the switchback will have to be built up so the rider doesn't loop out and spin when going uphill. It sounded easy until I actually started building and I created an uridable beast... thus, before I start moving dirt again I wanted to reach out for tips/thoughts/advice.

    Thanks!
    Pick the spot for your turns first then build the trail between them.
    For climbing turns, look for open areas that have less slope than the surrounding terrain.
    Build retaining walls when needed.
    Use rock armoring on the tread if you expect erosion.
    Build plenty of drains and grade reversals to get the water off the tread.
    Use the 1/2 rule until you get up the the base of the turn then increase the grade for the switchback and get back down to 1/2 asap.

  4. #4
    Inflexable...
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    The more rocky the climb the better!...
    Tact is for people not witty enough to be sarcastic...

  5. #5
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    Yo - this link has USFS specs for switchbacks and other trail features (including turn radius, etc.). Should be helpful.

    http://www.fs.fed.us/database/acad/d...ils/trails.htm

  6. #6
    I think I can.
    Reputation: JOEMTBR COLORADO's Avatar
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    Thanks Scrambler

    Those are great for ideas, I don't recommend Type II or III as they are designed for hikers only.
    Quick question, what do you do if your not able to maintain a 5% grade or less?

    Dam,
    Bikes are FUN

  7. #7
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    Pick up a copy of IMBA's Trail Solution book. It's a valuable how-to resource for trail construction.
    Last edited by casey; 01-31-2011 at 04:43 PM.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by JOEMTBR COLORADO
    Try and design trails to include horses.[/FONT]
    F that! More like create obstacles at the trailhead to deter horses. Let them on your trail and you'll be doing constant maintenance. Definitely worse than dirtbikes.
    Keep the Country country.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lelandjt
    F that! More like create obstacles at the trailhead to deter horses. Let them on your trail and you'll be doing constant maintenance. Definitely worse than dirtbikes.

    I saw that and was wondering whether horse people were allowed to ride on private property now without permission... I know the horse lobby is strong, but wow!

  10. #10
    I think I can.
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    Too Funny

    It only took 3 days for someone to notice, you guys are slippin

    Dam,
    Bikes are FUN

  11. #11
    STRAVA!!!!!!
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    I found a nice trick on my 29er on how to ride a switchback. Put your chest as close to the bars as you can when turning, makes it a bunch easier for me

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by topmounter
    I saw that and was wondering whether horse people were allowed to ride on private property now without permission... I know the horse lobby is strong, but wow!

    Yeah, no sh*t. Let them find their own trails. Oh wait. That's pretty much every other trail out there.

  13. #13
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    Good job! +1

    Quote Originally Posted by casey
    Pick up a copy of IMBA's Trail Solution book. It's a valuable how-to resource for trail construction.
    http://www.imba.com/catalog/book-trail-solutions
    -
    .And following our will and wind . . .
    . . .We'll ride the spiral to the end
    and may just go where no one's been.

  14. #14
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    I have an out of the box theory on switchbacks that you won't find in any publication and you will enjoy riding if you build them right.

    http://www.singletracktrails.com/contact/index.html

  15. #15
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    Just don't build those stupid 150 degree switchbacks you need trials moves to get through. What's the fun if you have to practically stop to get around them, or even get off your bike. There are some trails I won't mention that have just stupid switchbacks. They're not even fun to ride.

    I wish every switchback didn't have a giant water bar either. I know it helps with drainage, and I'm sure some people like em, but it just interrupts my flow. =/
    Gotta get up to get down.
    LMB

  16. #16
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    Thanks for the input -- so 5% grade is max according to the USFS site. The min radius isn't specified but looks like 10-15 feet (which is really tight, but probably feasible if the grade is 5%).

    Almost peed myself when I read JoeMTBRs multi use comment... I'll be sure to design my trails for horses... I was thinking a hitching post and horse trailer parking in my driveway would be a good start :-)

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by edenger
    Thanks for the input -- so 5% grade is max according to the USFS site. The min radius isn't specified but looks like 10-15 feet (which is really tight, but probably feasible if the grade is 5%).

    Almost peed myself when I read JoeMTBRs multi use comment... I'll be sure to design my trails for horses... I was thinking a hitching post and horse trailer parking in my driveway would be a good start :-)
    <5% is ADA specs. Real world is avg. grade < 10%.

    I'm sure the 5% is just a CYA.

    Actually... now that I'm thinking about it the radius might be ADA also....
    everything on those drawings is ADA...
    Last edited by UncleTrail; 02-03-2011 at 11:15 AM.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by splitter_66
    I have an out of the box theory on switchbacks that you won't find in any publication and you will enjoy riding if you build them right.

    http://www.singletracktrails.com/contact/index.html


    Ok Splitter, you've peaked my interest. I'm dying to hear your OTB theory regarding switchbacks. Is it something simple as "avoid using switchbacks at all cost"?

  19. #19
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    You can ask my crew, I don't go out of my way to avoid them. I like to remind people that they are a technical trail feature.

    My theory is more on how people, horses, and bikes corner or just use the space. I use the same guidelines as the FS and IMBA, but I move the location of the center radius.

    The next time you need to build one at BC let me know. If my travel schedule permits, I will show up and show y'all.

    Greg

  20. #20
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    [QUOTE=splitter_66]The next time you need to build one at BC let me know. If my travel schedule permits, I will show up and show y'all.

    Thanks GM. If we ever need switchbacks in BC, I'll be in touch.

  21. #21
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    I'll pipe in, since I am an expert at switchbacks - on what doesn't work! Man we've built a few (with FOMP) and we always are going back and making the radius larger, and fixing the drains, and elevating the lower side more. Being a private trail, you aren't dealing with a mass of traffic which will magnify the deficiencies of your work, but still better try and prevent issues with it.

    If at all possible, ensure there are grade reversals immediately above and as soon as possible below the switch. Do not count on outslope trail to drain - skidding around the corner will channel water and take the outslope right out of the trail. Also, if you "go uphill" just prior to a switchback, it prevents skidders as it slows the user, and it gives the opportunity to open the radius quite a bit. On steeper slopes, this involves a lot of digging into the sidehill - use the material to raise the downside of the switch.

    On the downside, be sure and "finish the corner" so it ends up going uphill just a bit too. They tend to last through traffic a bunch longer. If possible, we try to drain above and outside the switch as well, so no water ever gets in it. It works sometimes to inslope the approach to the top of the switch if the terrain and drain warrant that kind of design. Use massive rocks to hold trail material, dig the first layer of them halfway in to anchor. 100pounders if you can, and make sure they all fit and touch each other (whoops, that is for horses....) We like to find spots where boulders are already in place for the down side, then fill in material to elevate the bottom of the switch if the terrain is steep.

    Make the switch only as difficult as the trail. Don't spend your time putting a large radius 0-drop switch in for a non-beginner trail, and likewise, don't put a butt-kicker tight switch with lots of drop in it on a beginner trail. You have the luxury of building it how you want it - likely as a challenge for your skill so you improve as you use it.

    Have fun - share a photo and how it rides when you are done.

  22. #22
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    Switchback take one: I started by building a stone retaining wall and putting in a small bench cut.





    Still way too steep and only ridable in the down hill direction. Since prying up rocks was too time consuming I started sculpting it out of logs with 8 inch thru bolts and metal straps.





    I've still got a ways to go, but I'm learning as I go. jnordby and other advice has been spot on.... I keep expanding the radius and it's still too tight/steep so next step is bigger bench cut and more logs
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Trail building questions: Switchbacks?-img_1061.jpg  

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    Trail building questions: Switchbacks?-img_1071.jpg  

    Last edited by edenger; 02-28-2011 at 09:01 AM.

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