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  1. #1
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    Building My First Trail, Suggestions to Avoid Rookie Mistakes?

    Hello all,

    So I have the pleasure of designing a trail with a good friend however we would like. He recently bought a house with an accompanying 30 acres of land we will be putting in a trail within it. It's really awesome as being it's private land, we can build exactly how we would like and won't have many outside of us stopping by to ride it. I was hoping to get some solid advice to avoid making common mistakes resulting in poor longevity and having to re-work sections.

    1. Facts:

    - Approx 26-27 acres of land to build on (30 minus the land for a small pond and his house).

    - Being the lot is longer than wide we were shooting for a figure-8 track with a "climb" and "descend" loop on each side. This is also due to the land being more of a valley that slopes downwards towards the pond/creek on each side of it giving the opportunity to climb and descend each side.

    - There is a small (3-8 foot wide) creek that runs through the middle to feed his lake which already has a well-constructed bridge from a 4-wheeler trail that was built on the land. This will be the center of the figure-8 as it's a choke point.

    - Most of the land isn't dense enough vegetation to warrant machines


    2. Prep: Here are the things I've done already to try to prep to start building in January (when hunting season ends).

    - Most of the way through the Forest Service manual for trail building

    - We went out and walked the property (soon to be followed by flagging) and mostly agreed on a route.

    - Have collected the necessary hand tools and got the chain saw ready for building.

    - Located rock / downed trees for building features using natural materials

    - Determined a purpose / intent for the trail. Super-D like descents (flow and features, such as a gap jump over the creek near the installed bridge) along with some cool uphill involving some man-installed tech features.

    - Mentally understanding that we will be lucky to have this completed in a couple of months and not expecting immediate results as quality takes time.

    I'm open to any comments with suggestions for making this a success versus a frustrating failure. Thanks for your time and I'll continue to read up on here so I am not covering things that have been asked / answered here several times.

  2. #2
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    Sounds like your on the right track! Good for you and your buddy, that's an awesome oppurtunity and it will be a fun and rewarding project.

    How are you planning on getting the tread nice and packed down? Without many of you riding this tires may take a good while to establish an easier rolling tread surface

  3. #3
    FatBike Fiend
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    People have written books on this so I'll try to condense. It's always nice to have a blank slate to work with.

    Spend lots of time scouting before you start hanging flags. Locate the best spots (control points) to run your trail: upper half of 15 - 60% side slopes that face the sun and breeze, with durable, well-drained soils, great views, cool natural features like trees and rocks that can be used to anchor your trail to the landscape, favorable vegetation (open vs. brushy), etc. Also identify flatter areas like spur ridges and benches for turn locations. Also locate crummy spots for trails (too flat/too steep, wet, muddy, ugly, granular or organic soils, etc.) Make sure you know where the property lines and any easements are.

    To avoid committing yourself to a lifetime of heavy trail maintenance, adhere to the basic sustainable trail design elements: 1. Contour/curvilinear alignment. 2. Controlled trail grades (based on soil durability and user types. Come up with a design grade for the ascending/descending segments:10% or less to play it safe, make sure the trail grade doesn't exceed half of the terrain grade). 3. Durable soils for the tread. 4. Integrated drainage features (crests and dips to coincide with site drainage patterns, tread outslope). 5. Full bench construction. And pay attention to Aunt Flo.

    The biggest rookie mistakes I see all the time are: ignoring the above guidelines (a user's sense of entitlement does not trump sustainable trail design standards), not getting permission, biting off too big of project, not maintaining the trail once built, not including features to check speed before turns, leaving berms and spoil piles on the down slopes that block drainage, and choppy trail flow. Use the right tool for the job (go mechanized when you can), work efficiently, and don't throw spoils and slash into your drainage features.

    Good luck, have fun, post some pics when you can.
    Last edited by Wildfire; 12-08-2013 at 10:18 AM. Reason: Added a choice tidbit

  4. #4
    I build my own.
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    For a rookie, I'd say you're doing great so far. The only thing I can add to Wildfire's post is that you are likely to find your timeline to be a bit cramped. 2 people working by hand for a couple of months in their spare time...

    Good luck, have fun, please post pictures. I if you have questions, you know where to find us.
    I'm living vicariously through other builders for a while.

    Edit: Nobody mentioned rain water erosion but the USFS manual covers that pretty well.
    I have a device that can access the total knowledge of man. I use it to look at pictures of cats and argue with strangers.

  5. #5
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    After you flag, try to walk it during a heavy rain to see where the water is flowing and check for spots where water may be pooling.

  6. #6
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    One thing I haven't seen mentioned: Get a clino. If you aren't actually measuring grades, you have no idea what you've got, and if you build too steep, you'll have a mess unless you take very specific steps to allow steep sections. One thing that I've never met anyone who can do it, no matter how long they've been building trail is eyeballing grade.

  7. #7
    FatBike Fiend
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cotharyus View Post
    One thing I haven't seen mentioned: Get a clino. If you aren't actually measuring grades, you have no idea what you've got, and if you build too steep, you'll have a mess unless you take very specific steps to allow steep sections. One thing that I've never met anyone who can do it, no matter how long they've been building trail is eyeballing grade.
    Good point, a clinometer is a must They cost about $130. Soon they'll be built into our Google glasses.

  8. #8
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    There are free/low cost clinometer apps. for smartphones. They are plenty accurate for trail layout. Making your own clino. is also an option (a piece of straight wire with a z bend at one end, a protractor with a small hole drilled at the center point, and a deg => %grade conversion chart).

  9. #9
    Keep on Rockin...
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    As the size of the trail system will be quite small, it may become boring to ride relatively quickly. Consider making it something like a dedicated "skills" loop trail. A section dedicated to jumps, then maybe skinnies (maybe across the brook), then berms, techy climb, no-dab boulder field, etc...

    I've done this on 15 acres or so in he past. Now am working on a 22 acre loop.

    Biggest two newbie errors made... Turns that are too sharp. Too much decline. On a perfect trail you never should have to use your brakes.

  10. #10
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    Thanks for all the advice. Should start building the first weekend in January as the deer season will be over here.

  11. #11
    Perpetual n00b
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    Figure 8? Like there is a possibility that 2 riders could crash into each other at the intersection?
    If you gorge yourself into morbid obesity, you can skip everyone else in line at Disney World.

  12. #12
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    The more frequent you put in grade reversals, the healthier your trail will be.
    Texas based trail builders: www.sstrails.com

  13. #13
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    Post some pictures of the landscape !

  14. #14
    saddlemeat
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    Think about rhythm and flow, make it interesting. Ride in the tread before doing a lot of corridor improvements.
    A Useful Bear is a handy thing.

  15. #15
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    One thing I find helpful when laying out trail is to imagine you are designing a dirt roller coaster. Manage the riders potential/kinetic energy using changes in elevation and banked corners where feasible. It is important to get a feel for how much speed a rider is going to have along all parts of the trail and to manage it accordingly.

    Have a section with high rider speeds going into a sharp corner? Take the trail uphill a ways to bleed off extra speed before the corner and then downhill out of the corner to help them accelerate again. This is really important when traversing terrain that has a lot of fingers and draws.

    This method of layout also minimizes wear and tear on the trail itself since riders will need to do less breaking and soil shearing forces will be minimized through the corners.

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