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  1. #1
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    Sterilized Singletrack: A Spreading Epidemic

    Good article for all "trail maintenance crews"/volunteers/DIY'ers

    Sterilized Singletrack: A Spreading Epidemic | Singletracks Mountain Bike Blog



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  2. #2
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    I read a lot of complaints like this browsing the NSMB board. A lot of these technical trails are only technical because of a lack of maintenance, they would have started out smooth. While I don't agree with how the work was done in this specific case, I'm guessing it is more about restoring these trails to their original difficulty than dumbing them down.

    I found a great post by Dave Muse on the SORBA forum about this:
    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Muse
    Per the USFS, there were three options at Bull/Jake: do nothing, do the work that was done or close the trails to all traffic, permanently. They have standards for the amount of degredataion that can occur on an inventoried trail over a period of time and for the level of impact that it can have on the environment and the Bull/Jake trails had never been compliant with either, so option number 1 wasn't feasable. That just left close them or rehab them and I'm glad they chose the latter.

    The few sections of Jake and Bull that were sustainable were preserved. Literally every bit that was rerouted was an unsustainable, fall-line trail that either required annual bulldozing or just continued to degrade every year. Sections of the Moss Branch, Black Branch and Jake Moutain trails had become so eroded that it took an expert horseman to ride them. For that matter, most mountain bikers avoided those trails for the same reasons.

    It's easy to point the finger at horses as they are heavier and if the trail is sufficiently steep then they overcome the shear strength of the soil if the trail isn't designed to withstand the traffic. However, the same is true of both bike and foot traffic. If the trail is sufficiently steep, then the force exerted by the traffic will overcome it's shear strength, the soil will crumble or become mud and water will wash it downhill. If downhill is off-trail then there's not THAT big of a problem. If downhill is just down the trail, then it will take more of the trail with it as it goes, rut out the trail and pile up at the bottom of the hill. As most of the old trail was fall-line trail, that is what was happening at Bull/Jake. It turns out that in the soil at Bull/Jake, about 18% is the maximum sustainable grade for bike traffic and 15% is the maximum for horses. Most of the trails that were rerouted exceeded that.

    ...[bit on horse impacts]...

    All that said, I totally understand the argument that the trails feel tame. They do. They are. But they are now maintainable and ecologically sustainable, which they were not before, and those are the minimum requirements for trails to exist in the NF. There are lots of trails in the NF that will probably get the same treatment over the next few years. They're doing it up in Pisgah too. Like it or hate it, it's the future of trails in the NF, if there is any future at all.

    I hope that what comes out of it is a better understanding of trail science by the mountain bike community and a better rapport with the hiking, equestrian and environmentalist communities who we have traditionally been at odds with but who now seem to be coming around to us, just as we are coming around to them. Time will tell.
    Edit: I'm also guessing that the USFS doesn't have the budget to cater to the full spectrum of mountain bike riders, so they make green trails that everyone can ride. Around here (B.C.) it is up to riders/volunteers to make they trails they want. I don't know the situation where you are, but if your local club has build nights I'm sure they will be happy to accept your suggestions if you want to put the work in (for go-arounds, features, etc.) This is often put pretty bluntly as 'show up or shut up.'

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by cerebroside View Post
    I read a lot of complaints like this browsing the NSMB board. A lot of these technical trails are only technical because of a lack of maintenance, they would have started out smooth. While I don't agree with how the work was done in this specific case, I'm guessing it is more about restoring these trails to their original difficulty than dumbing them down.

    I found a great post by Dave Muse on the SORBA forum about this:


    Edit: I'm also guessing that the USFS doesn't have the budget to cater to the full spectrum of mountain bike riders, so they make green trails that everyone can ride. Around here (B.C.) it is up to riders/volunteers to make they trails they want. I don't know the situation where you are, but if your local club has build nights I'm sure they will be happy to accept your suggestions if you want to put the work in (for go-arounds, features, etc.) This is often put pretty bluntly as 'show up or shut up.'
    We get this dumbing down and sanitising stuff here too. We don't want all trails easy, just the ones near the trailhead. In addition, every time we put in tough alternate lines, no-one uses them, or people who didn't help build rock gardens etc come and remove rocks. In addition, easier trails that flow are not easier if you ride faster. So in addition to ignoring the fact that there will be a progressive increase in surface difficulty over time, most whiners want to ride exactly as they always have because they really are not that great a rider. Rather, they know how to manage the trails they ride in a single-minded way instead of taking things as they come and having fun with it.

  4. #4
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    Re: Sterilized Singletrack: A Spreading Epidemic

    If you bring the money to the table, and do the project management yourself, you actually get more say you would expect. By doing so you are not held to some of the USFS' own shackles, like being required to take the low bid.

    By paying a contractor to do very specific, high quality work, and providing a budget for the right materials you can build bad ass trail. Then you can have educated (think trail building) volunteers polish it off with hand finishing. That is what is going to happen in Pisgah. Most of the trails here were old skidder trails that eroded into some thing great or heinous depending on where you are coming from. If you want to save steep eroding tech, then control the water and armor the whole thing, or make a entertaining reroute in the character of the old trail.

    The USFS has to obey the Clean Water Act. Their classifications and definitions allow for variations. You can make great trail within those perimeters. Don't expect it for low bid, by over worked land managers with no budget. Make the reroutes better, longer, and so they require less maintenance. If you finish what you start and play the game well, we win.
    He/she who works the trails does so in their own image.

    Speed just slows me down...

  5. #5
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    The author could have done so much better with that article. It reads like a whiny crybaby rant, rather than an educated counterpoint to what was actually done. Readers unfamiliar with the location have no idea who did the work the author is criticizing, or why things were done that way, for starters.

    I've heard all kinds of rants from people about trails that are ridiculous and completely off-base.

    "I don't know why all the hikers come over here to the bike trails." Well, first off, the trails are specifically labeled hike-bike multiuse trails. Second, these trails are better than the older hike-only trails in the same park. I'd rather hike here, too.

    "Mountain bikers seem to want to build a trail around every tree" (some hiker on the web speaking about a local trail system that gets VERY high marks from most who ride it). It's a concept called contour trails. It allows the water to drain off of the trails, which helps them dry out faster and prevents them from eroding. In terrain like is found here, building contour trails increases mileage in a relatively small area without needing things like switchbacks to get up a hill. It's the way it works.

    "These new trails are easier than the old ones, I like the old technical ones better" (same basic idea as this thread) The land manager said the old ones had to go. So, we could either have the trails we have now, with more mileage than before, or we could have zero trails in the park. The land manager also only wants beginner and intermediate trails here. There are expert trails at this park over here

  6. #6
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    People ride what is available. Trails change over time and over time people adjust and embrace the condition. It becomes a part of the experience you come to expect. Nasty bits and all cleaning such thing becomes a point of pride or the point of enjoyment for one or a group. The local culture builds around it.

    By that context sustainability, ecological integrity, or safety and such don't seem to matter much; they are, in spite of whatever administrative definition, beside the point. Pull the trail back into line with administrative standards (sanitized) and you piss people off. The challenge is that we lack any administrative body to support and sustain trails as entertaining as those so neglected.

    Administrative bodies which control land are our main adversaries/partners when it comes time to gain and retain access. Their standards are their standards. Effecting them requires a new relationship and active participation from mountain bikers.

    I wonder if the people who complain about "sanitizing" are willing to work to build what is needed to make the kind of trails they want.
    I don't rattle.

  7. #7
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    "I wonder if the people who complain about "sanitizing" are willing to work to build what is needed to make the kind of trails they want."

    No - but you already knew that. They are too busy whining and riding to help.

  8. #8
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    I have heard the phrase "trail building is a democracy and those who vote use a shovel." It may have even come from someones signature here. As others have already said: if you don't like what is happening, get involved to change it. Being a condescending buffoon on an Internet forum is only hurting your position.

    Locally, we have been accused of sanitizing trails after repairing badly eroded fall line trails that 98% of the users could not ride because of exposed roots, rocks, and ruts. These trails originally were not technical trails and only became that way because of soil erosion. We merely restored them to their previous state. That looks to be what has happened to the trails in that article.

    Even though some of the rock piles in the article photos were bulldozed through to create an easy line, can one not ride the harder lines that still exist or find even more difficult lines? I often find myself looking for more challenging lines if I think the main line is too tame. I have rarely seen trail braids form over more difficult lines, but the opposite seems to be a law of nature. So, why fight nature and just create optional difficult lines to begin with?

  9. #9
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    I have rarely seen trail braids form over more difficult lines, but the opposite seems to be a law of nature. So, why fight nature and just create optional difficult lines to begin with?

    Exactly

  10. #10
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    Every time the word "sustainable" comes out of someone's mouth, the word "sanitized" will come out of someone else's. Some people have no idea that you can build a technical trail that is also sustainable. Those people think "technical" means it goes straight up a hill and is washed out, rocky, and rooty. Those same people will whine constantly when they ride a tight, old school technical trail, with some run ins on it, as they huff and puff out of breath, about how slow the trail is, and it shouldn't climb so much. And I will ask them, 100 feet of climbing in a mile is too much?

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cotharyus View Post
    Every time the word "sustainable" comes out of someone's mouth, the word "sanitized" will come out of someone else's. Some people have no idea that you can build a technical trail that is also sustainable. Those people think "technical" means it goes straight up a hill and is washed out, rocky, and rooty. Those same people will whine constantly when they ride a tight, old school technical trail
    Yep, 29er riders are a pain for sure. They buy the ultimate trail sanitizer and then complain the trail is>>>>>>>>>>sanitized

  12. #12
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    Build MTB Trails for Everyone

    Hey guys, thanks for reading this article! While it's a couple years old now, and I might write it differently if I wrote it today, it is what it is.

    In response to all of the insinuations that all of the "whiners" don't do trail work... well for starters, you're just plain wrong. I've spent plenty of time clearing brush and swinging a mcleod and a pulaski on my local trails. Also, I don't feel the need to get into all of the inner workings of the local Dahlonega trail development situation when this article was written back in early 2012, because since that time the dynamic has changed drastically--and primarily, for the better.

    Mainly, I'm just dropping by to post a link to a follow-up article that I wrote. This article presents what I would see as the ideal trail development scenario. Granted, this is an best-case scenario, but I think it is achievable. The article is titled:
    A Modest Proposal: Building Mountain Bike Trails for Everyone

    Happy trails!
    GregRidesTrails.com--An informational and instructional mountain bike blog.

  13. #13
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    Greg - You're dealing with a curmudgeony bunch here who probably build as much as they ride (and go to planning/Land Manager meetings when other riders are out and about), so its going to be a bit less forgiving crowd here than other forums to this type of blog post.

    For some reason the 2012 gig is making its rounds (here and on facebook) so folks here probably looking to address it/pick a bone.

    I read the article (original and linked) and I think something big is missing in the assessment. Builders all work with Land Managers and they dictate what is built, and in many cases how. They DO limit our imagination and that is sometimes reflected in trail characteristics.

    There are bad builders. But sometimes your LM wants something very specific done. You do it and to keep access/trail mileage. You get complaints from all sorts, it gets your blood pressure up.

    Regarding Stacked Loops, if you're lucky enough to start from scratch, they're great and make a bunch of sense. If you have legacy trail, you're stuck with what you have to work with (i.e. reroutes).

    YMWV depending on Park Size, Geography, Land Manager, User groups (who also have input), etc.

    Lots of variables there beyond good/bad/mediocre builders.

  14. #14
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    Re: A Modest Proposal- I agree pretty much, although location may not allow for those exact divisions. Terrain dictates how flow will be achieved through it, and as long as flow is achieved, riders will enjoy the trail.

    We have a lot of similar trail terrain, so it comes down to describing a few easier and a few harder. The current ratio is 20 beg, 70 int, 10 adv. As a whole, our easy trails are hard and our hard trails are easy. They are almost all black on the imba scale based on width, height of obstacles, degree of incline, length of climbs, etc. Fortunately they were designed as stacked loops from the beginning, and there are enough canyons, mesas, and big western views to keep it interesting for all riders.
    A Useful Bear is a handy thing.

  15. #15
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    Can't say I disagree with much in the original article. The main complaint was that "cleaning up" a rutted fall line trail by removing rocks does nothing to fix sustainability.

    Hard to argue with that assessment.

    "Trail sanitizing" is a pretty entertaining bone for people gnaw on, but I'm not sure it gets us much farther along in determining what to do with regards to trail maintenance. I lean more toward looking at sustainability, mostly because there aren't enough hours to do everything that needs doing.

    My $0.02 is the most difficult trail system in an area that has a lot of easy trails (as is implied in the article) is going to come under pressure to conform to the average. Riders get used to going fast, don't cultivate the skills involved in going over stuff, and see the alternative as inferior. Those who do make a point of getting good at the tough stuff are invested and don't want change.

    Back to the original point about the removal of rocks from a fall-line section. I would avoid doing that. I'd probably look at a reroute on a more sustainable grade as the author suggests. However, it's pretty easy to make that call not having to deal with the whole list of things that may need doing on that particular trail. It may have been a bad decision made out of laziness, or it may have been a temporary fix to free up time to deal with more pressing issues. Hard to know from a distance.

    The only certainty in trail work is someone is going to be unhappy with the results. The more vocal they are, the more certain it is they will never lift a hand to do anything about it.

    Walt

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by mtbGreg View Post
    Hey guys, thanks for reading this article! While it's a couple years old now, and I might write it differently if I wrote it today, it is what it is.

    In response to all of the insinuations that all of the "whiners" don't do trail work... well for starters, you're just plain wrong. I've spent plenty of time clearing brush and swinging a mcleod and a pulaski on my local trails. Also, I don't feel the need to get into all of the inner workings of the local Dahlonega trail development situation when this article was written back in early 2012, because since that time the dynamic has changed drastically--and primarily, for the better.

    Mainly, I'm just dropping by to post a link to a follow-up article that I wrote. This article presents what I would see as the ideal trail development scenario. Granted, this is an best-case scenario, but I think it is achievable. The article is titled:
    A Modest Proposal: Building Mountain Bike Trails for Everyone

    Happy trails!
    Greg, your concept is fine. Except where it isn't.

    At a blank-slate starting point, designing a trail system to have beginner-intermediate-expert sections is a good idea. Stacked loops are excellent. But they don't work in a lot of places for many different reasons. 7-10 mile loops aren't easy to come by in a lot of places. Sometimes the topographic features that lend themselves to development as advanced trail features come close to the trail head. Sometimes areas of the land being developed are closed to trails. In a lot of cases, building alternate lines so advanced riders and beginning riders can enjoy the same trail make more sense.

    Like so much in life, trail design depends on a lot of things that can't be distilled into a small set of ideas.

    BTW, having an opinion doesn't put you in the "whiners" category. We reserve that for people who don't contribute!

    Walt

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Walt Dizzy View Post
    BTW, having an opinion doesn't put you in the "whiners" category. We reserve that for people who don't contribute!

    Walt
    Haha, thanks!

    And yeah, I totally get that so much of trail design is dependent on topography, legal and political geography, and even the ecosystem and geology present in the area where the trails are being built. That second article is definitely an best-case scenario, when the possibility of building trails that way is available.
    GregRidesTrails.com--An informational and instructional mountain bike blog.

  18. #18
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    "Sustainable," says the person with no good design ideas and the urge to sanitize the trail.

    "Technical," says the person with no good design ideas and the desire to leave the eroded trail as is.

    "Fun" says the designer who can both think about what is fun to ride (for different people) and works for the environment/goals of the trail.




  19. #19
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    (moved to other thread)

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by cmc4130 View Post
    "Sustainable," says the person with no good design ideas and the urge to sanitize the trail.

    "Technical," says the person with no good design ideas and the desire to leave the eroded trail as is.

    "Fun" says the designer who can both think about what is fun to ride (for different people) and works for the environment/goals of the trail.



    I like the concept of "fun" as a guideline for trail design! It suffers even more from being vague than "technical" or "sustainable", but it brings in elements that neither category seem to cover.

    The idea of "fun" in trail design has come up repeatedly with my trail building partner and me.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by cmc4130 View Post
    "Sustainable," says the person with no good design ideas and the urge to sanitize the trail.

    "Technical," says the person with no good design ideas and the desire to leave the eroded trail as is.

    "Fun" says the designer who can both think about what is fun to ride (for different people) and works for the environment/goals of the trail.



    Well said! Fun is the umbrella I work under... only way to create a fun trail.
    A Useful Bear is a handy thing.

  22. #22
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    In graphical form:
    Attached Images Attached Images  

  23. #23
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    I think I'd be happier sterilized if it was always like this

    Sterilized Singletrack: A Spreading Epidemic-p1120826.jpg

    However this bit of trail was sterile from the start, so I guess it is just sad trail

  24. #24
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    Before I read, or even listen to a single word complaining about a trail, or modifications to it, I always ask "how many hours have you spent working on trails this year"
    If the answer is less than... about 15 hours, then the complainer gets to shut the fvck up - they have nothing to say on the subject, period.

    The author of this article didn't establish himself as someone who gets to speak about this subject, as far as I can tell.

    Now if you dig and try to build stuff you want to ride, and are steered by some external political or environmental factor away from the best trail you think you can build, fine, complain away. It happens where I ride/build all the time (95% of our trails have to have a pretty beginner-friendly line down the middle).

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by Walt Dizzy View Post
    In graphical form:
    Nice !!


    Note how IMBA juggles those three balls (circles) in this:

    Fifteen Tips for Building Excellent Downhill Trails | International Mountain Bicycling Association

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