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  1. #1
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    How many years have you been building "Flow country Trails"?

    Bike magazine had an article in their latest issue about a "new" standard in trail building called Flow Country. Cross country trails with pumps, berms and a general flowy feeling. I don't know about you all, but I've been trying to make my trails that way for almost as long as I've been building trails, about 6 or 7 years. How about you?
    I know berms don't let water run off the trail the way it should, but I've never had a problem with it. The inside of them always get a collection of leaves which I don't bother to rake clean. That keeps the erosion down. Some of them will collect a puddle for a short time after a rain. Building in lots of grade changes is the key to a fun trail and getting rid of rain and melt water.

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by rfeather
    Bike magazine had an article in their latest issue about a "new" standard in trail building called Flow Country. Cross country trails with pumps, berms and a general flowy feeling. I don't know about you all, but I've been trying to make my trails that way for almost as long as I've been building trails, about 6 or 7 years. How about you?
    I know berms don't let water run off the trail the way it should, but I've never had a problem with it. The inside of them always get a collection of leaves which I don't bother to rake clean. That keeps the erosion down. Some of them will collect a puddle for a short time after a rain. Building in lots of grade changes is the key to a fun trail and getting rid of rain and melt water.
    I'm working on my 4 kilometers loop second year now. Alone. In last year i made main trail without any pumps, obstacles etc. In this year i start working on these things. I hope the nature will not take away all back from me

  3. #3
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    All of the trails I build are multi-use so I have never built a berm or a jump. The constant grade reversals are part of building a sustainable trail and that seems to have become the standard since IMBA began advocating for them 10-15 years ago.

  4. #4
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    I will have to check out that article !

    Here at Walnut Creek park in Austin, berms have been very popular with XC riders for a while now.

    When placed in strategic spots, they can add a TON of flow to a trail.

    For instance when you have a decline into a tight turn, you will see tons of skidmarks and braking ruts. The berm goes a long way to fixing that. Or, where you have a turn right before a climb, the berm allows you to carry speed into the turn and part way up the climb.

    These pics are from 2007:



    An S-berm that sends you slightly back up hill.


    This is from Winter Park Colorado near the bottom of Boot Camp:

  5. #5
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    When building trail you should always try to build for flow. But in my mind that DOES NOT necessitate building berms.

    For instance if you are building a multi-use trail where hooves will destroy the berms, instead you make an inslope with strategically placed mounds for wheels to catch if the "flow" of a turn is creating a sweep that has a tendency to drift the rider off the trail.

    There are just so many intangible things when building a trail that flow is simply a peice of the pie. There are various tricks to making a trail flow, and usually being strategic in your routing of the trail will help you avoid drainage issues and/or conflict issues.

    Duthie Hill a skill park being built by Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance here in the PNW have put a priority on flow for the trails in the park. But it's important to note that there are differences in that nearly every single trail are going to be one-directional. This makes it easier to build for flow. Also mt. bikers have the right away, hikers must yield to mt. bikers on the XC trails and they are not allowed on the Freeride trails for safety reasons. So again there is no reason to create choke points or worry about sight lines, there is more freedom to build faster trails as you don't have to worry about what's around the corner. And there is also an innovative use of a box with slats which acts like a segment of bridge in the center of berms that were places in low spots which is a no-no for drainage and sustainability. This "cheat" called scuppers are serving as drains, to keep the berms for holding water whenever they're not on the high side.

    As far as being a "standard" i disagree. Many trails have unique character that shouldn't be altered for the sake of something being the new "rage". Flow is all about the application of keeping the wheels on the tread so they don't wear it down just as much as making it pleasurable for most riders.

    Just because you can do something doesn't mean it's the best idea everywhere. And just because a trail might not look like it doesn't have flow because it is lacking in berms and bumps doesn't necessarily mean it's so.

    edit
    *this is kind of funny coming from someone whose next trail build will be exclusively bumps and berms and 110% achievement of flow... haha
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  6. #6
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    "Flow" is the main thing I keep in mind in my trail building. I'm very partial to pumps and berms, and they don't necessarily have render the trail directional. After all, that's the whole idea behind a pumptrack. In addition to these physical features, visual cues are equally important in maintaing a sense of flow and keeping riders on the trail. Simple stuff like trimming back branches, clearing loose rocks from the tread surface and avoiding start and stop and moves. Even when laying out techy trails, I think it possible to maintain flow. I hate trails that make you feel like you are constantly starting and stopping. But I don't have any published doctrine on this...

  7. #7
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    In flatter areas, berms may collect water, but in sloped areas, it's not very difficult to build berms that drain well and stay dry. IME, the biggest factor in erosion is water running into or along the trail. With the exception of heavy, heavy downpours, rain itself isn't enough to cause serious erosion (at least in the area I build in).

    That being said, if you can divert running water away from the berm/trail, then it will stay much drier and won't erode. Water likes to take the path of least resistance, so digging strategically placed drainage ditches and using rock boxes in the trail when necessary does a great job of keeping the water away from areas it would normally collect in.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails How many years have you been building "Flow country Trails"?-image-025.jpg  

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  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by hankthespacecowboy
    they don't necessarily have render the trail directional. After all, that's the whole idea behind a pumptrack. .
    No you are absolutely right, and i appreciate a builder who understand how to build for flow on both a descent and a climb, not everybody has that sense...

    and if this is inference to my post i just will say that the park i'm speaking of is in a suburb of a large populated city area, and the trail builds are really really fast so it makes sense. Also the thought of sustainability if you are building for flow in a multi-direction it means you have to work the tread in more places, so for 5 miles of XC track built in one year, it just made sense for this application.
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    ....~|____\
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    .\....FAILBOAT..../

  9. #9
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    Hans Rey, who coined the term 'Flowcountry Trails', was the keynote speaker yesterday at the IMBA World Summit, which I had the pleasure of attending. Even after hearing directly from Hans about Flowcountry Trails, there was some discussion amoungst us about the actual specs regarding this new classification. It's important to know / remember that these specifications have not been defined and will be at a summit in Italy in a few weeks.

    With that, after Hans rode the FATS trail system in Augusta, GA yesterday, Mike van Abel, IMBA Executive Director, asked him what he thought. Hans' response was that the trails are awesome and are indicative of Flowcountry Trails.

    I have to tell ya, this was the first time I'd ridden FATS and they are by far the flowiest trails I've ever ridden, and I don't recall any berms at all (tying this into the above discussion).
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  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by k2biker
    With that, after Hans rode the FATS trail system in Augusta, GA yesterday, Mike van Abel, IMBA Executive Director, asked him what he thought. Hans' response was that the trails are awesome and are indicative of Flowcountry Trails.

    I have to tell ya, this was the first time I'd ridden FATS and they are by far the flowiest trails I've ever ridden, and I don't recall any berms at all (tying this into the above discussion).
    Yeah... many discussions occured after everyone heard the "flow country" trails... Not so positive... because the "concept" is good... but the wording and definition will be a mess... But coming from Hans' perspective, old hiking trails in europe don't have flow... and building things that are more like the FATS is a great exemple of great trails built by riders for riders...

    Even tough the trails are awsome, there is still room for improvement... Some turns were blind, many turns were missing some form of berm to carry speed... Some transitions were too short... some landing were too narrow because the corridor wasn't wide enough and you could go as high as you would have wanted... And don't take this has hard criticism. I loved those trails. They are one awsome network of trails and you can see the effort put into those... Do they define "flow country"? Maybe...

    but maybe you'll never hear the "flow country" thing ever...
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  11. #11
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    Having ridden some of the old hiking trails in France/Switzerland, I can see where Hans is coming from with this. Many of our trails have been designed with bikes in mind and a lot of European's vast network were created to serve very different uses. Sure, a bunch of them still rock for riding, but I've ridden some trails that had terrible flow there and were terribly routed for our use.

    Flow doesn't have to mean fast or slow. The trail should be consistent, IMO. I've ridden lots of slow, techy trails that had flow if you have the skills to ride them. I've ridden faster, wide open trails that would come out of a fast zone into a corner and make you slam on your brakes. Sometimes that's necessary due to topography, but other times it's poor routing/design. I've had issues with this in the past. There are a couple of sections of trail I wish I could have a "redo" on and there are other sections where I was limited by the terrain.

    EB

  12. #12
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    seems like different people have very different ideas about what "flow" is. and that sometimes what some people consider "technical" others would say is a flow killer.

    to bring up an example, say you had a stretch of relatively flat trail approaching a straight climb up a hill. now, say that climb used to be relatively smooth but over years of erosion is pretty rugged with big roots and big rocks exposed, and deep ruts/craters/indents/ etc. (i'm not talking just bumps, but actually stuff that's relatively hard to ride over, even to skilled riders).

    normally, the strategy would be to crank hard on the flat and gain momentum to get up the hill (especially if you're on a single speed). however, in this case, because the bottom of the climb is so heavily eroded with physical obstacles like roots you can't really do the momentum approach.

    to me, that spot is technical, but not at all flowy. i think a possible solution however, is to re-pack the dirt/clay that has eroded down, back onto the first 5-10 feet of the climb. so you have a relatively rideable section at the bottom. then leave all the roots/rocks etc. exposed higher up the climb. this way the rider can mash at the hill, hit the incline, get the upward momentum, then have to deal with getting over the technical stuff. (sometimes i use the bottom of the hill like the transition of a jump and then float up the bumpy stuff the rest of the way).

    i'm guessing some of you might say, well that is the penalty for riding singlespeed. other riders would just start the climb at a slow speed, then do a slow-speed techy spin the rest of the way up. is that tech? or just non-flowy trail !?

    i will admit, as a bmx-er turned 26DJ rider (and more recently a singlespeed 29'er), i'm really not into slow-speed climbs. other riders seem to love them. but i try to keep an open mind.

  13. #13
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    One riders flow is another's struggle

    I just rode on the Michigan Trails last night with my 20 year old daughter, 18 year old son, a friend, who has built much of the newer trails, and my wife. Many of the trails have nice flow to them and others were just a struggle for my wife and me. In both cases, our friend and the kids had to wait for us at regular intervals, so I'm sure the faster three felt that more of the trails had "flow". I noticed that many of the older trails were badly eroded with stretches of accumulated sand alternating with stretches of exposed roots. A few could use some filling in and water diversion. The newer trails had areas of accumulated sand, but not too deep.

    I agree that berms are not essential for flow, I just use them on curves that make it easier for me to keep my speed since I'm a little slow on twisty singletrack. I seems strange to hear that berms are a problem with multi-use trails. I would think that a horse would just naturally walk on the inside, more level part.

  14. #14
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    nice pic from SLC. pretty cool when the natural terrain offers "flow country" itself....



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  15. #15
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    I've been working with the general idea ever since I started building trails 12 years ago.

    The concept of "flow" is a big part of the art of trailbuilding. It's so hard to define flow, you have to "feel" it.

    I've ridden fast and swoopy trails with flow and I've ridden technical trails with flow. Part of the key is to blend the trail features into each other. I've ridden trails in the past where the trail is fast and swoopy and then you have this really hard 90* or tighter turn and then suddenly you're dumped into a slow and technical section. That's hard, yes, but that's terrible flow.

    I've tried to put little jumps or kickers where appropriate on every trail I've worked on. They're good where the flow allows for speed. They aren't so interesting where the flow is more technical in nature.

    the term "Flowcountry" sounds like it more specifically identifies the fast and swoopy stuff. Most of the ones I've built/ridden over the years worked with the existing terrain features to implement things like berms and stuff. Only recently have I worked on any trails to incorporate these ideas in an area where the existing terrain doesn't lend itself so easily to this design.

    To be honest, I prefer the trail to blend with the surroundings more. I prefer to limit wood constructions to areas that need the woodwork to get the trail off the ground in areas with poor drainage, poor soil conditions, sensitive plants, whatever. I have come to not like big constructed wooden structures "just because". I would rather create riding features with downfall in place and modified.

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    It's all about the transitions. A trail with good flow generally has nice rhythmic transitions from fast to slow and slow to fast sections. Side to side and up and down. Like rocking to AC/DC and them hitting some Mozart and back to Talking Heads.

    Know what I mean?

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by cmc4130 View Post
    seems like different people have very different ideas about what "flow" is. and that sometimes what some people consider "technical" others would say is a flow killer.

    to bring up an example, say you had a stretch of relatively flat trail approaching a straight climb up a hill. now, say that climb used to be relatively smooth but over years of erosion is pretty rugged with big roots and big rocks exposed, and deep ruts/craters/indents/ etc. (i'm not talking just bumps, but actually stuff that's relatively hard to ride over, even to skilled riders).

    normally, the strategy would be to crank hard on the flat and gain momentum to get up the hill (especially if you're on a single speed). however, in this case, because the bottom of the climb is so heavily eroded with physical obstacles like roots you can't really do the momentum approach.

    to me, that spot is technical, but not at all flowy. i think a possible solution however, is to re-pack the dirt/clay that has eroded down, back onto the first 5-10 feet of the climb. so you have a relatively rideable section at the bottom. then leave all the roots/rocks etc. exposed higher up the climb. this way the rider can mash at the hill, hit the incline, get the upward momentum, then have to deal with getting over the technical stuff. (sometimes i use the bottom of the hill like the transition of a jump and then float up the bumpy stuff the rest of the way).

    i'm guessing some of you might say, well that is the penalty for riding singlespeed. other riders would just start the climb at a slow speed, then do a slow-speed techy spin the rest of the way up. is that tech? or just non-flowy trail !?

    i will admit, as a bmx-er turned 26DJ rider (and more recently a singlespeed 29'er), i'm really not into slow-speed climbs. other riders seem to love them. but i try to keep an open mind.
    This is a really good example of improving flow where it would not normally be thought of as such. We spend a good deal of time doing just this sort of maintenance - hammering exposed rock into the ground (when soft after rain) or armouring between obstacles to open up lines.

    It is also a good reason why every team needs a single speeder as a digging buddy. They ride by using flow. This week I am sad because my SS digging partner had his finger splattered by a rock thrown his way when we were building the downhill side of a creek crossing up to catch and hold silt. After a night in hospital, surgery to wire the shattered bone and make the tendons work, I guess I am SSerless for a while. And, no I did not throw the stone, but did get to watch it land just as he grabbed a large rock to reposition it. Not a nice sound or look.

  18. #18
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    I think that "flow-country" sounds a lot like what we have been making "All-mountain bikes for". Cross country trails with jumps and berms are what we call mountain biking here in British Columbia. Myself, I have been building a trail for the past three years that I believe fits the description. Wide, and Flowy with bermed corners. My goal was to achieve what I like to think of as a "Chainless. Brakeless." trail, with natural speed checks on the downhills, and short flat or slightly downhill rests to break up the climbs.

    If you are interested check out my Blog BikeFAT.com and check out the article on building "flowy" trails.

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  19. #19
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    When I am building a bermed turn, it is because it is too tight for the available speed. I've found that I can avoid berms by building wider turns or putting a grade reversal right before the turn to eat some of the speed.

    On descents I like my trails to be 'no brakes needed' The grade reversals and other features are designed so that I can get from the top down without the brakes, while coasting the whole time, pinning it on the edge. It is especially good if that state is only achieved in the right conditions combined with a well picked line. I think that it gives the trail a challenging aspect and an opportunity to build skill.

    After reading what matbar20 had to say, I'd say me an him need to hang out.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by boostin View Post

    After reading what matbar20 had to say, I'd say me an him need to hang out.
    It could be fun, if you are ever around Fernie, British Columbia, look me up! Can always use some good help building. Or could just ride bikes.
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  21. #21
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    i guess you could call this a "pump trail."
    one of my spots, 4 years ago. i deliberately stretched out the 4th roller into a roller-table, and then the spacing to the 5th one is lengthened out because of the increased speed you have coming down the decline... #6 is a tabletop.


  22. #22
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    First off i'd like to say that i haven't built a lot of mountain bike trails but i've been riding mountain bikes and motorcycles since the 70's. With that said and thinking about what i've read here and read receintly in dirt rag (new school trail design: have we gone too far) I think that the trails should have a new category of speed which would tell everyone what type of trail to expect, example 20mph trail - down hill, 2 mph trail- very tech you know what i mean? The pic by cmt4130 i wouldn't call a trail but a track. Here in the northeast pa i ride a lot of what can best be described as deer trail singletrack which is very rocky and has little flow. I think different parts of the country with all the different types of soils allow for many different types of trails but when we talk about them it means different things to different people. Berms for example don't really need to be that high to ride fast if there is good grip and you can hold your line, but a new rider skidding along can destroy a small berm with out even realizing he did so. So i think we all need to step back and think about terminology and the people who will be riding the trails. according to the article i mentioned less than 1% of the people out there riding mountain bikes can ride the tech lines.
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  23. #23
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    building that way for years...
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  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by matbar20 View Post
    My goal was to achieve what I like to think of as a "Chainless. Brakeless." trail, with natural speed checks on the downhills, and short flat or slightly downhill rests to break up the climbs.
    This... and it can work with tech or with out tech in it and still flow like woah!

  25. #25
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    there are a lot of interesting things to be learned from rollercoaster design.

    when you're looking at raw land, look for the types of natural rises and falls where you can use these shapes.... or when building wood features, think about how they can work into the terrain to exaggerate the "rollercoaster" flow of the trail... too many people think of wood features as something you put in a boring flat area called the "skills area." no!! work them into the landscape !

    even really simple shapes like this banked roller turn:













    World Class Bike Park Design, Development, and Construction

    I think sometimes people build lumber banked turns only winging the physics of the shape of the turn....



    as i noted in another thread . . . . . the shape of a few of the trestles at Keystone seemed totally off, in terms of radius of turn, slant of banked turn etc... i'm not criticizing, i'm just saying it's really interesting to figure out exactly how to do the physics right....



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