Beginner Trail Building- Mtbr.com
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  1. #1
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    Beginner Trail Building

    Aside from this forum, can anyone recommend a YouTube channel, articles, etc that serve as a good intro to trail building techniques and tools? My home is on about 10 acres with 7 or so of it being woods. There are some very wet areas out back but it's a good mix of terrain. Definitely hoping to get some nice trails made for days I can't go to other local trails. Thanks in advance!

  2. #2
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    I have 9 acres that I build on! I don't have any YouTube recommendations. I just suggest get outside and start digging.

    You can spend hours trying to survey the land and build the trail perfect the first time but you won't really get an idea of what you want or the true dimensions something like a corner needs to be without riding one that you built first.

    Start with "rake and ride" if you can. Just clear out a path in the woods, keep it simple and ride it to see how it goes. From here get creative and start looking at landscape features you'd like to work into the trail.

    If you have hilly terrain it will be a good idea to learn how to incorporate grade reversals and cutting hairpin turns into your trail.

    Learn how to bench cut into a hill so you have a flat trail to ride along hill sides and can create reasonable gradients even in very steep terrain. Concept is simple, cut into the high side and pile the dirt up on the low side to create a level trail. I normally break the soil with a hoe and move it to where I need it with a spade.

    One thing to keep in mind is new trail is very slow to ride. In most places the ground will be soft which makes rolling resistance very high. Riding will help pack it down but it also needs time to settle.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by CBCNY View Post
    Aside from this forum, can anyone recommend a YouTube channel, articles, etc that serve as a good intro to trail building techniques and tools? My home is on about 10 acres with 7 or so of it being woods. There are some very wet areas out back but it's a good mix of terrain. Definitely hoping to get some nice trails made for days I can't go to other local trails. Thanks in advance!
    It is best to learn from someone with experience, but here are the go-to books.
    https://www.americantrails.org/resou...d-how-to-do-it

    Here are some long videos for the Forest Service, there are nine, most are about three hours long and are a little outdated.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9EZRnizUXJQ

    It takes hours / days / months / years to learn, so video sources are limited. Who whats to watch 20+ to 100 hours of video? Find the local group in your area and see if they will let you work with them and learn.

    If you want to learn the basics to build your own trails on your property, get the books!
    "The physician heals, Nature makes well" - real fortune cookie

    CCCMB trail work for trail access - SLO, CA

  4. #4
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    Thank you all for the feedback!

  5. #5
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    It certainly helps to have a basic understanding of surface water, soils, geology, and such when you start to dive into some of the theory discussed in the books.

    But there's so much about trailbuilding that can't be learned in books and you've gotta spend time looking at terrain and digging trails and learning from those who have gone through the learning process before you. Also keep in mind that especially as you're learning, it's an iterative process. You're going to have some idea in your head and you'll do the work putting it onto the ground and you're going to find something that forces you to change. Maybe your original plan doesn't ride how you thought it would. Maybe there's a drainage issue that only shows up after heavy rain. Maybe you find when you start digging that the soil consistency sucks and needs a different technique.

    I'm building a short trail in my half acre right now...because what else am I going to do, right? We had a 3" overnight downpour a couple days ago, and walking my trail afterwards, I could see some spots with problematic drainage that I need to address.

    I also have a couple corners that I'm still not 100% happy with that need a little attention tweaking the curve or the camber of the trail tread or whatever.

    Parts of my trail are rake 'n ride and parts needed some digging. I have a good bit of elevation change for a half acre lot, so some areas, if I didn't bench cut, I'd slide down the hill. Other areas I did some digging so I could make some rollers. Dig down to create a dip and access enough good mineral soil. Relocate that extra soil a little bit further down to build a small hill for pumping. So far I built a couple rollers this way, and they held up great to that heavy rain event. Backyard trails are good spots for rake 'n ride in general, though, because they'll be seeing such low traffic levels in general.

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    One other thing I'll say that's specific to backyard trails is you definitely want an easy loop option.

    When I first built mine I didn't want to do a whole lot of bench cutting so I went straight up a hill at a 35% gradient. I was thinking "It's for a good workout anyway so just suck it up and ride." I ended up not riding because I dreaded climbing that insanely difficult hill every 4 mins. I have nice easy options now but the steep climbs are still there for when I'm doing an interval workout.

    You can do a lot with 10 acres but it will still only take a few mins to get around. So whatever you build make sure you won't mind going back over it every few minutes.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fajita Dave View Post
    One other thing I'll say that's specific to backyard trails is you definitely want an easy loop option.

    When I first built mine I didn't want to do a whole lot of bench cutting so I went straight up a hill at a 35% gradient. I was thinking "It's for a good workout anyway so just suck it up and ride." I ended up not riding because I dreaded climbing that insanely difficult hill every 4 mins. I have nice easy options now but the steep climbs are still there for when I'm doing an interval workout.

    You can do a lot with 10 acres but it will still only take a few mins to get around. So whatever you build make sure you won't mind going back over it every few minutes.
    Great advice here ^
    I ended up doing something similar on my 20 hilly acres and the resulting effort wasn't fun to ride and too difficult to maintain, my first attempt at trail building was soon reclaimed by nature.

    My current trails are set up in a clover leaf type pattern with about 5 loops, they intersect in such a way that I can ride the loops in different directions so that it doesn't seem like you're riding in circles. Also have an atv trail to the hub so that I can easily transport tools and supplies to a central area to work on and maintain the trails.

    I've found the best system is to walk out and flag the proposed trail and then after walking it several times use the rake & ride method to see if it's going to work before putting more effort into it. After that you can make improvements and add features to make it more interesting to ride.
    Good luck and happy trails!
    '18 Ithaqua, '16 Bucksaw, '14 Mukluk, '07 Enduro

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    Thanks again for the input everyone! I actually started building yesterday and feel like I've been lucky so far. Aside from some layers of dead leaves/rotted wood, I've been able to get a lot done with just a steel and plastic rake. I've had to dig out some large rocks and cut down a few small or dead trees, but no major obstacles. The weather here in Upstate NY is still dismal but it keeps me motivated to build instead of go ride other trail systems. I absolutely agree with you other backyard guys that building a loop/loops that are enjoyable and not too boring after some repetition is key. My first trail on the side yard that connects down to my atv trail is almost done but that's where things will get much more difficult. It goes from nice dirt with fairly open woods to a more meadow type setting, which leads me to my next question.

    When you have long stretches of fairly flat, grass/weed covered trail, what is the best approach to cutting trail? Brush hog/weedwack down to dirt and then ride it as much as possible? Dig down to a new layer of dirt? Also, what is everyone's preferred method of maintaining trail to prevent new growth (aside from constant riding)?

  10. #10
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    I don't have any grassy areas but some local trails do. Even with a good amount of traffic they grow back in during summer. So regular mowing/weed eating is required. They get cut wide so the tall stuff on the sides takes quite a while to encroach back on the trail. Riding through the grass is slow compared to dirt but just need to accept it as part of the experience.

    Once the wooded trails get worn in over a season they keep surprisingly well. I cut my trails wide so it takes quite a while for anything to start interfering with the trail. I completely avoid damaging native vegetation short of just trimming small branches. I just trim any branches when they start getting into my riding path again. When the tread itself packs down there isn't much that grows on it in wooded/shady areas.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by CBCNY View Post
    When you have long stretches of fairly flat, grass/weed covered trail, what is the best approach to cutting trail? Brush hog/weedwack down to dirt and then ride it as much as possible? Dig down to a new layer of dirt? Also, what is everyone's preferred method of maintaining trail to prevent new growth (aside from constant riding)?
    Meadows kinda suck.

    The reason has to do with the thick root mat you get in a meadow, and when you put a trail through it, you're going to break through that root mat. When you do, the soil will compress and erode and you'll get a "cupped" trail that will hold water. It'll happen really fast if you dig through that root mat. It'll happen less fast if you just mow a path and ride on that. But riding in grass also sucks.

    Probably best to skirt the edge of the woods if you can. Building wooden boardwalks can get you above the meadow and give you a solid, durable riding surface. But that's both labor and cost-intensive. You could also armor the hell out of any trail you put through a meadow (with rock or gravel), or import a bunch of soil for the trail (think pump track or dirt jumps or something to keep it interesting) But that's also pretty labor and cost-intensive.

    As for maintaining the trail, you need to trim aggressively. Your corridor width is going to be a LOT wider than your actual trail. If you don't ride it and keep the tread compacted, you WILL get vegetation encroachment. You'll need to trim and actually use the trail to keep things knocked back. I personally would not use herbicide unless you're dealing with particularly nasty nonnative invasive plants. Definitely wouldn't use herbicide on native stuff. If you trim a very wide corridor, you can probably get away with trimming most woody brush once a year or less. For herbaceous plants, you'll probably have to visit with a trimmer every couple months during the growing season.

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