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  1. #1
    occasionally good
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    Machine built trail - advantages and disadvantages

    We're getting close to breaking ground on a trail project here in NE NV - the first segment is 11 miles long with a finished project of 60+ miles. Very exciting.

    We are considering bringing in a contractor to do much of the work with a mini-excavator, primarily for cost-savings reasons.

    What, in your experience, are the advantages and disadvantages of using a mini-excavator for trail construction?

    A few defining points about this trail - steep cross-slopes, a few series of switchbacks but the majority of it will need to be bench-cut across a long traverse. It's in a desert area so anticipate dry, occasionally sandy soils. North aspect at about 7000', so it holds snow until May most years. Class 2 trail by USFS standards.

    Project info and maps available here:

    http://rubymountaintrails.blogspot.com

    Thanks for any insights you can share.

    MG
    Don't ask me a question unless you really want to hear what I think.

  2. #2
    Builder of Trails
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    I won't go into the excavator v. skid steer (think Sweco) debate; others can take up that mantle.

    Benefits of machine constructed trail:

    Faster - A skilled operator under ideal conditions in varying slopes can construct between 300 and 1,000 feet of trail a day. Hand built averages about 10 linear feet per man hour.

    Cheaper - Machine built trail can run between $2 and $5+ depending on many factors. The same trail built by hand runs more than $7 (I think.)

    Features - Having an ex to build the trails allows for placement of rocks and other natural and man-made features more easily on the trail.

    Disadvantages
    Impact - A less skilled operator might leave more spoils and a wider tread. One can use an excavator to build 18" singletrack, and that comes down to skill and attention to detail. Some might consider a three or four foot wide tread a disadvantage, but I think that comes down to preference. A wider tread allows for a more natural line (flow) to develop, whereas a more narrow line dictates more specifically where one's tire will go. Also, more spoils can equal more rollers if the soil is saved on the tread and not broadcast down slope.

    Environmental - If one is trying to be "green" using a lot of fuel and oil in a machine doesn't help that.

    Others will add to this list, as it's not complete.

    D

  3. #3
    Off the back...
    Reputation: pinkrobe's Avatar
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    I'd add to dburatti's comments, that we seemed to get more consistent trail using a mini-ex with one operator. With hand-built, we had a 20' section that was perfect, followed by 20' of so-so, followed by 20' of pretty good, etc. With the ex, we got 5 miles of very consistent trail in terms of width, appearance and "feel". We plan to use the mini-ex for all our significant trail builds in the future.

  4. #4
    Machine Trail Builder
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    I built trail by hand professionally for only 5 years.... and that was enough. I've been building machine built trail for close to the same amount of time and its a huge difference in end product and time spent. Machine built trails are the more cost effective route, in my opinion, one good operator who has lots of trail building experience will out build and deliver a better product than a crew of hand builders in almost every scenario. As far as the Sweco vs. excavator debate... I will only say this.... your extremely limited with a Sweco and the hand work involved to clean up after the machine is 10X what it is with an excavator. That is time and money better spent with finishing details....

  5. #5
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    We have been very fortunate in having a very skilled excavator operater in Rapid City for the last couple of years!--Research the company you hire and definately get recommendations from previous clients because of the reasons dubrattii states. I would add an experienced operater will also give you a finished product that will take less yearly maintenance! Also, if you can get the operater/company involved with design this could increase productivity throughout the construction phase of the project. Good luck on your project!

  6. #6
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    Machine tend to cut deeper and remove the roots that will usually surface with hand build trails. They will also remove rocks which can give the trail interesting trail features.

    SORBA-Chattanooga uses machines to build the majority of our trails, simply bypassing the rocky sections we wish to preserve for technical features, which we cut by hand.

  7. #7
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    One knock that I hear against machine made trail is that it will be too wide, or a "highway". This weekend, I rode some new machine made trail that Gravity Logic is building in New Brunswick and it was thread the needle thin. I saw the excavator they are using and I can hardly believe it was able to fit in there.

  8. #8
    Just roll it......
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    We used a 6 foot wide mini ex recently to build a new jump trail. No question that it was 100x faster and created a much better finished product in the end.

    In some places, it was left intentionally wide for safety (like jumps), but in other spots, it was brought in quite a bit with revegging. It's amazing what an experienced operator can do to narrow the trail tread as they work. We did do a LOT of handshaping of jumps/berms after the operator (Fletcher-Love here on mtbr) worked down the line with the machine in order to speed up the process and to get the shapes just right.

    Chest cam of the new trail when we opened it up a week ago.

  9. #9
    humber river advocate
    Reputation: singlesprocket's Avatar
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    machine built all the way for my neck of the woods. just so much more versatile and quite easy on the back if you know what i mean.
    Support TORBA
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  10. #10
    Sheepherder/Cat Herder Moderator
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    Contour trails in steep, rocky terrain is what we have to build. We rented out a mini-ex with a track that adjusts down to about 40". As stated previously, it all boils down to the operator. We used the mini-ex for switchbacks and sections that required a lot of earthmoving. Volunteers did finish grading.

    All in all. It was a good mix. I do advocate for the mini-ex and a jackhammer. The switchbacks were tight because of rock seams...but hey, I'll work on those too...but not by hand.
    ...building wherever they'll let me...

  11. #11
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    I've started using an ATV with a winch when building trails. Not as good as an excavator, but I build very rough natural dh trails, and the biggest problem is getting rid of the dense undergrowth.

    Not gonna work everywhere, but it's an intermediate option.

  12. #12
    I build my own.
    Reputation: Trail Ninja's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by skatetokil
    I've started using an ATV with a winch when building trails. Not as good as an excavator, but I build very rough natural dh trails, and the biggest problem is getting rid of the dense undergrowth.

    Not gonna work everywhere, but it's an intermediate option.
    Video? I'd like to see that.

  13. #13
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    Really the only disadvantages to machine cutting are the skill of the operator machine maint and repair. Our club (www.tarheeltrailblazers.com) has a Volvo Mini Ex with the adjustable track width, a Bobcat MT50 and a Ditch Witch SK500. (Grants and donations are awesome!!) The guy that works the Mini Ex 95% of the time has mad skills (Bob) and has worked with Woodsman a good bit. The best combo of building for our area is having the corridor cut with the Mini Ex and then follow up with the Mini Track loader to spread the spoils and smooth and pack in the tread.
    The finish work always gets done by hand and usually grows back narrow by late Spring/early Summer. We usually put most of the good spoils next to trees to create grade reversals and rolling grade dips for drainage. Works great for steep switchbacks.








  14. #14
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    From what I've seen the machine built trails look too intrusive at first, but after the forrest grows back and the trail bed gets grown over a bit, the"highway" feel diminishes but then the trail lasts longer without additional maintenance. If done right.

  15. #15
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    Cat 301

    We have built several miles of trail with a 4' wide Cat 301 excavator. Our operator is amazing and we are blessed with soil that is a mix of clay and shale and packs down fast.

    Our operator can build 1/4 mile of 2-3' wide outsloped bench cut traversing trail per day. In terrain with lots of ledge he slows down to 100-200 yards per day. He builds the bench about 2 feet wide, outslopes it with the bucket, and drives the outside track on the materials he pulls off when building the bench. When we want it more skinny he can spin around and cut back the trail behind himself as he goes along. He has built bench cut traversing trail on slopes as steep as 45 deg and gone through ledge and rockfalls that would have taken humans weeks.

    Three years in the trails are stable, fun, and you can't tell they were done with a machine.

    Here's some pics:
    3 year old machine built trail-
    From Trails are in fantastic shape!

    More 1 year old trail -
    From Trails are in fantastic shape!

    New 1 week old machine built trail -
    From Trails are in fantastic shape!

    Berm piled up by machine and hand shaped -
    From Trails are in fantastic shape!


    As to fuel and the environment - our operator uses about 6 gallons per day of fuel and does a trail crews week worth of work in one day...the carbon footprint of the trail crews food is bigger than the machines fueld usage.

    Have fun - build trails - ride em!

  16. #16
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    You can build 12" wide single track and outslope it with a mini excavator...a little raking and lopping roots afterwards and you are good to ride!

  17. #17
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    Here's an update as to what the trail looks like in mid summer. Remember the machine cut was done in late October of 09 and the hand finish work was done late winter '10.







    I've had to mow twice already and spray the edges with Round Up to keep the growth from covering the whole trail. Plus the Kudzu is a MFer!

  18. #18
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    Kind of funny I found this thread. I am visiting a friend in NC and have been riding some of the tarheel maintained and built trails. They are great trials and I had no idea they were built by machines. Keep up the good work.

    What trails are those pictures from?

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cruzer75
    Kind of funny I found this thread. I am visiting a friend in NC and have been riding some of the tarheel maintained and built trails. They are great trials and I had no idea they were built by machines. Keep up the good work.

    What trails are those pictures from?
    Most of the trails that the Tarheel Trailblazers built are NOT machine built. Lake Norman SP and Phase III of Fisher Farm Park (pictures shown) WERE machine built. All of the rest were hand cut. You achieve almost the same thing but with a little smoother tread to start.

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