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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
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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 11:18 AM. Reason: Added a choice tidbit

  4. #4
    Terrain Sculptor
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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.
    Quote Originally Posted by Trail Ninja's Son
    You may be happy to hear that my dad has kicked cancer's ass. Now he's looking for whoever sent it.

  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
    WillWorkForTrail
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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
    Dirt Monkey
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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?
    The leg bone's connected to the Cash Bone!

  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.
    I ride with the best dogs... Roxie, Calli, Ocee, Violet, Wiley, Sable, and Jet.




  15. #15
    Dirt Monkey
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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.

  16. #16
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    BUMP...

    I have done all the reading, own equipment, got permission and been busy walking the property. This is my first true build from start to finish with no existing trails. Is there anyone or any website that helps you plot or plan trails? I am open to any and all help or tips. That you for your time. I can post my property once I find out how from google earth.

    Clark

  17. #17
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    My background before mountain biking (12+ years ago) was skateboarding and BMX.
    In those sports, you flow between featuresóand each feature has a bike skill that is exciting at least or mentally fun.

    Sometimes I realize that the ďDirt RoadiesĒ have no concept of this. Theyíre composing long endurance loops. Other XC riders might be climbing geeks. They design a trail to have a technical but basically safe descent to a brutal lung straining climb. They want trails a certain way.

    Designing for riders requires an understanding of who the riders will be and what they will want.

  18. #18
    WillWorkForTrail
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    Is there anyone near you who has experience building trails? If so, I would come up with a plan, then before you actually DO anything beyond that have them look at it. Be open minded and if they advise changes, ask why, and try to understand if it's a critical problem, or a preferential problem, and you'll understand if you need to change something or if it's just how they would have done something different.

  19. #19
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    [QUOTE=cmc4130
    Designing for riders requires an understanding of who the riders will be and what they will want.[/QUOTE]

    Myself, friends and family will be the riders since the property is private. I tend to ride a little of everything from park, road, xc and DJ. My family is all xc riders and runners. The trail would be ran as much as ridden with potential for jump lines, slope style and skinnies. I hope to get wood and dirt Jumps throughout with a solid flow and maximum distance. Is there too many turns or trial connections if you donít have to hit brakes to navigate or ride smooth? I shouldnít have to worry about too much traffic.
    Last edited by Fertilizer; 12-09-2017 at 11:41 AM. Reason: Spelling

  20. #20
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    The property is outside of San Marcos Texas. There should be someone nearby between San Antonio and Austin that might want to help me. Iíll try a few local forums. I am always open to hearing from professionals with much more experience than myself. Willing and able to listen and learn. I would like to build and ride these trails with my kids for years so want them as close to finished layout as possible.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fertilizer View Post
    The property is outside of San Marcos Texas. There should be someone nearby between San Antonio and Austin that might want to help me. Iíll try a few local forums. I am always open to hearing from professionals with much more experience than myself. Willing and able to listen and learn. I would like to build and ride these trails with my kids for years so want them as close to finished layout as possible.
    Have you seen the Seguin pump track? My bros built that.

  22. #22
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    Keep in mind that a fresh trail will ride significantly slower than a well established/burned-in one. I think this is why a lot of pirate trails tend towards fall line; they feel fun & surfy for the first few rides, but as they get more traffic, they become chundery, brake-bump fiestas. Trails that stay at a sustainable grade often feel slow & sluggish for the first couple dozen laps, but gain speed & flow once they are packed in by traffic.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by cmc4130 View Post
    Have you seen the Seguin pump track? My bros built that.
    I just watched a few YouTube videos. I will for sure be stopping by there on my next drive. Looks fun. Iíve joined freeride512 also but havenít made it there. With two kids under 2 itís been hard finding time. Would also like to check out rough riders trails in El Paso and the Dallas pit bull something trail.

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by hankthespacecowboy View Post
    Keep in mind that a fresh trail will ride significantly slower than a well established/burned-in one. I think this is why a lot of pirate trails tend towards fall line; they feel fun & surfy for the first few rides, but as they get more traffic, they become chundery, brake-bump fiestas. Trails that stay at a sustainable grade often feel slow & sluggish for the first couple dozen laps, but gain speed & flow once they are packed in by traffic.
    Thatís great advice. I havenít thought about that but another possible easy common sense mistake. From what Iíve read i plan to stay under 15% for maximum grade excepted for existing Jeep road that will be the main downhill line and all ready destroyed. Figured i could build it right add drainage and have it running year around.

  25. #25
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    Build under shade, and north of trees. Have building parties. Keep the gnar. Involve 512 then let others build and ride there.
    Keep trying to do the awesomest thing you've ever done.

  26. #26
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    Instead of a figure 8, consider a very convoluted loop.

  27. #27
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fertilizer View Post
    . . . I am always open to hearing from professionals with much more experience than myself. . .
    Does that mean you have a budget to pay someone/crew?

  28. #28
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    I'm all about Gnar and work parties but the land is my fathers property and he wouldn't be open to strangers coming around without me there to manage. If pop;le want to help and ride/biuld when I'm there weekends would be huge though. I would supply the provisions.

  29. #29
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    I wish. I'm poor but have drive and willingness to work. I do labor all day every day and enjoy it. Plus it can be time for me and kids to work, enjoy the outdoors and nature. Out of curiosity what is the rate for something of this nature please and what does it get you?

  30. #30
    saddlemeat
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    ^$10,000 per mile gets you a corridor. Depending on the terrain, it could cost three times that much, or considerably less. I wouldn't start building larger constructed features without some knowledgeable assistance, but start playing with a route and see what develops. Maintaining features can become a headache after a few years, I would go for as natural and undisturbed as possible on my own land.
    I ride with the best dogs... Roxie, Calli, Ocee, Violet, Wiley, Sable, and Jet.




  31. #31
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    Quote Originally Posted by bsieb View Post
    ^$10,000 per mile gets you a corridor. Depending on the terrain, it could cost three times that much, or considerably less. I wouldn't start building larger constructed features without some knowledgeable assistance, but start playing with a route and see what develops. Maintaining features can become a headache after a few years, I would go for as natural and undisturbed as possible on my own land.
    Ouch. Paying for trails is way out of budget. As for the trail and features. Thatís kinda what i was thinking. Get a solid trail that has flow and then start to figure out some areas to add natural features. Thereís already a nice creek bed for drops and rock slabs for jumps.

  32. #32
    saddlemeat
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fertilizer View Post
    Ouch. Paying for trails is way out of budget. As for the trail and features. Thatís kinda what i was thinking. Get a solid trail that has flow and then start to figure out some areas to add natural features. Thereís already a nice creek bed for drops and rock slabs for jumps.
    Sounds like a nice site, wish you weren't so far away, I would like to see it. Always fun to brainstorm a new trail route.
    I ride with the best dogs... Roxie, Calli, Ocee, Violet, Wiley, Sable, and Jet.




  33. #33
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fertilizer View Post
    Ouch. Paying for trails is way out of budget. As for the trail and features. Thatís kinda what i was thinking. Get a solid trail that has flow and then start to figure out some areas to add natural features. Thereís already a nice creek bed for drops and rock slabs for jumps.
    You could also contact a friend of mine, Jake at dirtdojo.com who has done trails in Central Texas as well as Colorado, Michigan, Arkansas, Europe, etc etc I have no idea what his rate would be. Then again, you already said youíre poor! So never mind!

    But, some landowners do decide to come to an agreement with for example the Austin Ridge Riders, where Land is opened up for recreational easement. There are ways to do it where landowners can limit their own liability. ARR has built trails with volunteers on private land if there is a solid agreement that itíll be open into the future for riders. The bad scenario is where volunteers help a landowner who later revokes access.

    But, it sounds like you just want to do personal/private trails. The most affordable thing might to hire someone to flag the loops/routes, then you do your own labor (or hire basic labor) to cut in the actual trail.

  34. #34
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    If i can figure out how to. Iíll post a topo pic of the property with some photos. Iíll be there planning and scouting more the next months. Iím having my birthday party there with Bike friends in February to finish clearing and hopefully riding in all trails with motos.

  35. #35
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    Yes. This is what i am interested in. Having someone who can confirm flagging trails for layout maximum length and flow with lines for trick jumps, mulch jump etc.. for the land available. Pretty sure Iíll figure it out with mistakes along the way but mightíve my only option. Itís really just my parents property that they will allow me to build and rise with friends. Not really a public thing but i could host group rides every few weeks.

    Quote Originally Posted by cmc4130 View Post
    You could also contact a friend of mine, Jake at dirtdojo.com who has done trails in Central Texas as well as Colorado, Michigan, Arkansas, Europe, etc etc I have no idea what his rate would be. Then again, you already said youíre poor! So never mind!

    But, some landowners do decide to come to an agreement with for example the Austin Ridge Riders, where Land is opened up for recreational easement. There are ways to do it where landowners can limit their own liability. ARR has built trails with volunteers on private land if there is a solid agreement that itíll be open into the future for riders. The bad scenario is where volunteers help a landowner who later revokes access.

    But, it sounds like you just want to do personal/private trails. The most affordable thing might to hire someone to flag the loops/routes, then you do your own labor (or hire basic labor) to cut in the actual trail.

  36. #36
    saddlemeat
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fertilizer View Post
    If i can figure out how to. Iíll post a topo pic of the property with some photos. Iíll be there planning and scouting more the next months. Iím having my birthday party there with Bike friends in February to finish clearing and hopefully riding in all trails with motos.
    If you ride in with motos you will have moto trails. Ride them in with mtbs. Just saying...
    I ride with the best dogs... Roxie, Calli, Ocee, Violet, Wiley, Sable, and Jet.




  37. #37
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    On a small piece of land, you are bound to have many climbing turns. One thing I would suggest is to learn how to build a very good climbing turn. Grade reversal before and after the turn. Use a string line to lay out the turns in a clean arc. Bermed turns with a bottom drain seem to hold up well. Good outslope to the approach and exit. I would still say ditch the figure 8 and make a tight convolulted loop.

  38. #38
    Barely in control
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    Fertilizer, I'm in the same boat you are. I've been hacking away at my trail for about a year now and I have a little over 3 miles done. My strategy was as follows:

    1. Read the published literature on trail building: This forum and the books out there. It's a good foundation.
    2. Go out to Flat Rock Ranch on their trail building days and build/learn. I learned a ton.
    3. Form objectives on the purpose of my trail.
    4. Make a list of features and styles from other trails that I wanted to copy.
    5. Scout and build.

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