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  1. #1
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    The McDonalds of Trail Building: Standardizing Mountain Bike Trails

    http://www.singletracks.com/blog/mtb...n-bike-trails/

    FYI- a good, thoughtful article on a frequently discussed topic around here.

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    The McDonalds of Trail Building: Standardizing Mountain Bike Trails

    Don't get me wrong. I like flow trails - a lot. I also like nasty, gnarly tech trails - a lot.

    But what I really value most is variety - a wide variety of trail styles, and uniqueness in the areas I ride.

    I've ridden a few of the new flow trails on Seymour and Cypress, and they provide a nice occasional change of pace there. But if all the trails at the Shore were suddenly to become flow trails, it would be devastating and sad. Rocky tech/gnar is the heart of the Shore's DNA and obviously what made it so special over the years. If I want flow in BC, I'll gladly go ride Half Nelson, or something else in that zone.

    Closer to home, I like the variety that the new East Summit and Silent Swamp trails now give to Tiger. But if 100% the new trails ultimately built there are new school flow trails of very similar rolly machine-built character, and the new ones on Hansen Ridge are the same, etc, etc, then I will be disappointed and less supportive of future trail building efforts.

    What the first article really advocates for is balance, and I think it's spot on in this regard. The opportunity to ride both styles of trails is I believe something we should preserve, and I would also strongly advocate that we should strive to make new trails unique and reflective of the terrain within which they are carved.

  4. #4
    FM
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    Some really good points in both articles. I know I'm not alone in appreciating both perspectives.

    Not a fan of using the word "Homogenized". Current trail building standards do tend to feel more like a "track", easter tiger summit is a great example, it caters to BMX style riding (which I enjoy).

    And my favorite trails tend to have natural features, specifically steeps and rock, but we just don't have a lot of rock close to Seattle. Likewise I've noticed that fun steep trails that don't have rock don't tend to hold up well.

    EB, can you send some rock down? I notice you have plenty up there.

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    Hey FM, You can find rock on Sqwak Mt. and Grand Ridge (well not any more trails have been rerouted in the rocky areas)..Tiger has some rock face areas rivaling Gold Bar for traction and steepness.Taylor and Rattlesnake also has some nice boulder areas. You just need look for it..

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    Seems like these subjects will never end.... I was telling Slop while out digging (legally) in the woods this weekend that I really do miss the days when you could see who was on your trails or out that day by the tire combinations they used. (You all know who you are.) Even in my usual haunts I see less and less people I know or even recognize. What does this have to do with the subject line? More and more people are getting out. Plain and simple. More riders means trails with more sustainability if you plan on maintaining the stuff you built anyways. A few of us here learned that painful lesson at Duthie when side country trail building techniques for fewer and more skilled riders were the clientele, failed miserably with the hordes of new riders to the sport. Seems like the pattern is simply this, the farther out you are, the less you have to cater to sustainability or homogenization or what ever you call it. Simply due to skill level and rate of usage. The closer to civilization, the more you need to think about it. But, that wave is expanding farther and father out as well. Which, in the end, is a good thing. Maybe trail building should be planned, rated, etc by estimated rider usage? Higher the volume, the more "sustainable" it needs to be? Just a thought....

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    The McDonalds of Trail Building: Standardizing Mountain Bike Trails

    All good thoughts

  8. #8
    Justin Vander Pol
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    A couple more thoughts on this from someone who has done some trail design, loves the flow, and also loves nasty tech trails as much as the next guy (I heart Cypress!).

    Give the trails some time. New trails usually start out buffed and groomed, but they'll get more tech as they age. Ferns will grow in and narrow them, and tires will bring roots and rocks to the surface. Lots of new trails around here right now, so it feels more flowy.

    You gotta build to the terrain, and most experienced riders and builders agree on that point. Like FM said, we don't have as much rock to work with (but I also know some spots further out that I'm working on for a few years from now). Tiger, in certain spots, is a really tough place to build. I'd guess there's 100"+ of rain a year, and the water moves around, squirting out from a new spot each year. Because of this you gotta build rolly, pumpy trail if you don't want to be riding in a creek. Those rollers aren't just for riders, they're also for water.

    There's also new non-flowy trails planned, even on Tiger. Silent Swamp will be somewhat flowy because of the high use it'll get and massively difficult build conditions. Crazy hard to build even with a machine. Off the Grid will be more natural, less flowy, though I'd imagine it'll feel somewhat flowy for the first 2 years. Fromme trails used to feel a lot smoother when they were new, I'm told. Then there's ANOTHER new trail being planned from the E Tiger Summit to the parking log. That one should definitely be more tech. Lots of good variety in the works.

    It's kinda funny that I've been doing this long enough to hear concerns about almost every kind of trail we've been involved in building. I think it goes in cycles as we have opportunities come up that get a lot of focus.

    We've got great minds running Evergreen's trail crews. Mike is one of the best in the country at managing trail design. Mike and the guys are solid riders who love tech (Mike looooooves tech), love flow, love big epic xc rides, love jumping, even race DH at a pretty good level and are ripping good riders. You can trust they want to ride a big variety just like you do. I trust these guys, and I've worked with Mike long enough to know he truly gets it.

    I don't disagree with your concerns. I love the new flow trails but I crave variety. I just know what's coming down the pike and I know that we've got some of the best trail builders in the country right here. I've also built enough trail myself over the last 16 years to know that trails take a few years to show their final character.
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    The McDonalds of Trail Building: Standardizing Mountain Bike Trails

    Well stated and persuasive. I'll stay faithful to the cause and patient re the outcome.

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    I agree that there needs to be a variety of trails, from techy old-school to flowy new-school, but I disagree with the article's point that new flowy trails are all the same. Sometimes trails built by the same person or group will look the same but you can also have vastly different trails built by one person. I think new trails have progressed in a positive way that allows for more creativity and variety. Before many trails in an area were pretty similar. Now you can mix all kinds of elements of trail design - rocks, roots, rollers, jumps, features.... Sustainability isn't a bad thing, unless you like riding ruts.

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    That's a good point indie, all the "old school" stuff was pretty much the same too. I, like many here, love that as well and hope it doesn't go away which is part of the concern that's popping up. You can have old school gnar in the right place with the right amount of traffic though.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by FM View Post
    EB, can you send some rock down? I notice you have plenty up there.
    The McDonalds of Trail Building: Standardizing Mountain Bike Trails-img_1501.jpg

  13. #13
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    Great articles! Great points! I'll make a few more, but first...

    To really experience many of these articles' issues first hand, sign up for one of Tyler's work parties right now. Here's this Saturday's: Evergreen MTB Calendar.

    Dish it out -- I can take it -- but that's not just a plug. He may first put you to work digging in the dirt and rocks on Preston, but he may also take you down to dig on the hand-built section of the Silent Swamp DH or help finish up the machine built section. Then ride out on a new un-opened 1.5 mi mostly downhill combo of old road grade conversion, hand-built and machine built singletrack.

    Talk to him about the issues presented in the "Fundamental Problem with Modern Work Parties" and the "McDonalds of Trail Building" articles. You'll see and experience many of them first hand. Take a look at some of the hand vs machine built sections and talk to Tyler about it. Talk about the impact of volunteer turn-out, individual volunteers' impact on how a trail turns out, when individual volunteers can be given freedom to exercise creativity and put their personal touch on a trail and when it's not possible, the amount of work it takes in a tough environment like Tiger, etc. Crew leaders and trail builders will learn a lot from you too.

    We need turn-out this winter folks! Or there is a chance we won't be able to open Silent Swamp in the Spring... and we won't be able to start the new all downhill trail that's in the plan.

    Now that all of you are going to sign up for a work party, I urge everybody to read these articles *all* the way through beforehand. That includes the more educated, educational and objective comments at the end. And hit some of the links to other related articles. Don't just read the headlines and a couple opening blurbs to form your opinions. Politicians and pundits love and count on the fact that we do that!

    Just this one pic and caption could be the basis for a hundred discussions and something I've been thinking about for years:

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    "It's unlikely this trail will provide a wonderfully unique experience."

    A million things to say about it, but one thing then I gotta run down to Swan Creek to help build more machine built *and* hand-built trails...

    Why do we even use machines? Cost, schedule, volunteer turn-out, land manager requirements all factor in, but some trails can't be built by hand. When you're working with Tyler this Saturday, set down your bike take a left turn off Silent Swamp in the 10-15 year old clearcut. You'll barely be able to walk through it. Same for areas of the South Fork. It takes more manpower to flag a line in there than to build the same line through through a 50+ year old forest. Obviously we want to stay away from those areas, but it often isn't possible. Much of the future Raging River trail network is going to have be built through nasty clearcuts.

    Huge thanks to all the trail gnomes out there!

    Cheers,
    Mike

  14. #14
    Sawyer Gnome
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    Quote Originally Posted by mwestra2 View Post
    Why do we even use machines? Cost, schedule, volunteer turn-out, land manager requirements all factor in, but some trails can't be built by hand. When you're working with Tyler this Saturday, set down your bike take a left turn off Silent Swamp in the 10-15 year old clearcut. You'll barely be able to walk through it. Same for areas of the South Fork. It takes more manpower to flag a line in there than to build the same line through through a 50+ year old forest. Obviously we want to stay away from those areas, but it often isn't possible.

    I can fully attest to this. I've spent a bit of time since last summer helping Tyler and Bryan on the trail projects up on Tiger, both machine built and hand built portions. The amount of time and volunteers it takes to cut through all the duff, getting to sustainable dirt is no small matter!


    This is what it's often like going as a first pass through a fresh tag line.






    Dense and gnarly would be an understatement.







    It would take loads of time to work through this by hand, but in building this section by machine, [on this day, it happened to be] Graham could knock out 20-30 yards of trail by himself.








    Another thought: money for trails often goes to locations where the greatest number of people can benefit. With an ever growing userbase, the need comes for trails that can stand up to use. If minimum footprint pirate style trails took heavy use, they'd fall apart, and we'd have a shitstorm of ramifications. The way Tyler et al. build is for proper drainage and longevity, and with the idea in mind of year round riding.

    I totally get that tech is awesome, and 100% handbuilt can have benefits. It just doesn't always prove to be the most efficient for generating miles of new trails given the funding, workers, and volunteers available. Also worth noting, there are miles and miles of techy trails around the area that people don't use much or talk about since they get stuck in their box with riding locations...
    Last edited by Nuzzy; 12-04-2013 at 04:06 PM.
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    The region you are in dictates a lot too. I've built trail in Arizona where you basically rake out 100ft of trail an hour, and I've worked on Tiger where a "fun" potential hump in the trail turns out to be a rotten stump and 4ft of mushy organic soil and you spend 2 hours digging out just to make 3ft of trail.

    I have helmet cam footage of Tiger and Tapeworm area from 98/99, and both those areas were a lot smoother and less techy than they are today. People seem to get this idea that "old school" trails were rougher and more rugged but it isnt always the case. Bikes are 100x better, so trails in general are easier to ride. Also riding old trails originally designed for hiking is going to be WAY different than newer trails designed by and for bikers.
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  16. #16
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    I find it interesting that only bikes seem to use motorized equipment to build trail. Seems odd that hikers that will spend however long it takes to build something by hand, yet bikes have to use machinery. Difference in trail standards, or do they have more volunteer time available?

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    Re: The McDonalds of Trail Building: Standardizing Mountain Bike Trails

    Quote Originally Posted by ACree View Post
    I find it interesting that only bikes seem to use motorized equipment to build trail. Seems odd that hikers that will spend however long it takes to build something by hand, yet bikes have to use machinery. Difference in trail standards, or do they have more volunteer time available?
    Bikes need more milage to make a trail worthy. Most hikers don't go for 30 miles on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

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    Sawyer Gnome
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    Quote Originally Posted by ACree View Post
    I find it interesting that only bikes seem to use motorized equipment to build trail. Seems odd that hikers that will spend however long it takes to build something by hand, yet bikes have to use machinery. Difference in trail standards, or do they have more volunteer time available?

    Difference in standards, yes. Hiking is obviously as low impact as you can get. Yes, the hiker base is larger.

    Also worthy of note: a hiking trail can be very narrow and not worry about blind turns and such, since speed is a non-issue. If a trail is being made to accommodate multi-use and be multi-directional, then it's important to keep clear site lines and route trail to avoid hazardous corners. That results in a much more involved process. You can cut a super narrow path in the desert, or sparsely wooded mountains; that can't be said for dense second growth forests.
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    Wish Mr. Lynch had video of preston in 91/92... 3hr slogfest on rigid bikes was a blast!!

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by ACree View Post
    I find it interesting that only bikes seem to use motorized equipment to build trail. Seems odd that hikers that will spend however long it takes to build something by hand, yet bikes have to use machinery. Difference in trail standards, or do they have more volunteer time available?
    Standards -- a bit. Volunteer time -- depends on the org. In WA the WTA gets 10X our volunteer #s. I don't know if they tackle any new trails with a machine... don't know if they have that capability. Maybe Dave can chime in. The DNR and MTSG are using (or used) machines to build Mailbox and Rattlesnake Mt.

    I'd have to do the math, but my gut tells me >95% of the mtb trail mileage out there was built by hand. It's only recently that many mtb orgs have even been allowed to build new legit trails. Mucho mileage of not so legit trail out there that was built by hand, though. We need all that energy channeled into legit work parties. Sign up today!

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by GeePhroh View Post
    Click image for larger version. 

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    Soooo, THAT'S where all the Tetherball rock signs went!

  22. #22
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    "I totally get that tech is awesome, and 100% handbuilt can have benefits. It just doesn't always prove to be the most efficient for generating miles of new trails given the funding, workers, and volunteers available. Also worth noting, there are miles and miles of techy trails around the area that people don't use much or talk about since they get stuck in their box with riding locations..."

    I've been slamming people with this for years now and the "Duthie 5 days a week crowd" has been the brunt. You all also know who you are. The good news is that they are finally starting to branch out and see what else we have out there. There is just soooo much more than Duthie and Tiger. We are truly blessed. (Cue all the complaining about not enough places to ride now...) Thing is, the fringe spots like Tokul are getting more traffic. (It is winter after all...) And, need to be a little more sustainably built. But, if anyone wants a more "raw" riding experience, as noted, there are still lots of local places off the Duthie/St Ed's/Beaver Lake radar that offer that style of riding. Like "old school" tech singletrack? Tolt hasn't changed in 20 years.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by mwestra2 View Post
    ...don't know if they (WTA) tackle any new trails with a machine...
    Just did a walk-through with Art, Dave, WTA and KC Parks of a big Gd Ridge trail re-route that should open by the end of the year. WTA is not opposed to using an excavator when it makes the trail building process more efficient. KCP will bring one in to help build the connections to the old trail and decommission it.

    Gotta give a mega-huge thanks to Len, Dave and Art for putting that meeting together! It was great to see the WTA and KCP seeking out ways to make the re-route more bike friendly.

  24. #24
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    No good Double standards again?

    Quote Originally Posted by Nuzzy View Post
    Difference in standards, yes. Hiking is obviously as low impact as you can get. Yes, the hiker base is larger.
    I'm not sure what specific difference in standards you guys are referencing.

    There's not a lot of new hiking trails going in except in Wilderness areas. Those of course are built by hand, with public money, at a very high cost per mile, and at an almost insane cost per mile per user day.

    The only other new hiking trails I know of locally are the rebuild of what washed out in Mt. Rainier National Park, and if heavy equipment and dynamite aren't being used then we have a different standard for both heavy equipment and dynamite.

    As far as maintenance on trails goes, I don't think the steel in those various new bridges on hiking trails went in by hand, nor much of the other building materials either.

    As far as hiking being low impact, that's been beaten to death of course but we can have it out again if you'd like.
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  25. #25
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    I was thinking there just aren't many new hiking trails going in, but I didn't have time to do any research .

    I do want to share an experience related to impact. Got a very late start on the Martin Creek trail to Cooney Lake this summer. An expedition of equestrians had gone up the bone dry trail earlier that morning and completely churned it up into a loose sandy chunder. Like trying to ride on the beach.

    But... as we were going up, tons of back packers were coming down. Then lots of mtn bikers. Then day hikers. And it started gently raining. By the time we were headed down, the trail had healed. All the boots and rolling tires along with the rain packed it right back down. Made for one fun ride!

    Trail design determines user impact more than anything else. Yeah, some uses will tear up trails no matter what. But in this case, because of the rolling contour design with gentle grades and tons o' grade reversals, the tires and boots are always working to pack the dirt back down.

    Before there's an uproar... no, I don't want every trail to be designed like McDonalds Creek...er I mean Martin Creek. I'm just sayin... if it had been designed steeper or gnarlier, we wouldn't get that self-healing effect. So we have to expect a different impact from use.

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