Modern Trail Building.. What's popular right now?- Mtbr.com
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  1. #1
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    Modern Trail Building.. What's popular right now?

    What's everyone building these days?

    Ten years ago, everyone wanted jumps and berms but 8% IMBA standards ruled the land.. These days, Flow Trails like the one in Demonstration Forest in Aptos, CA seem to be the standard. Even Bentonville, AR, the home town of The Wal Mart has flow, jumps and fun stuff..

    But now that trail builders have answered the calls to build bike-specific flow, which to me, is as "modern" trail building can get, what's the next level?

    I ask because I was on a flow trail binge, for a long, long time. It was recently I rode some rather rudimentary trails that were narrow, steep, rocky and raw. I was puckered, I was scared and I had a blast!!

    Brought up the question that: If the chance to build new routes, and lines came available, would flow be the call? What's everyone else building?

  2. #2
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    It depends on a rider's style of course, but I prefer riding and building trails that utilize the natural features and terrain. I think it is a shame when I see flow trails that literally could be anywhere because the ground has been manipulated so heavily. I have been increasingly seeing maintenance on traditional trails adding berms and flow trail like features. Sometimes that does help with the way the trails rides, but other times is takes away a lot of character and some of the inherent riding challenges. But hey, I'm probably way more of a traditionalist when it comes to the riding experience than your average rider.

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    Best trails I've ever ridden have all been a mix of flow and older traditional style trails. You can build a traditional trail a little wider and give it some flow without going overboard on jumps and berms.

    SVBC has absolutely mastered trails like these here in central Virginia.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fajita Dave View Post
    Best trails I've ever ridden have all been a mix of flow and older traditional style trails.
    This.



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  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by twowheelmotion View Post
    but 8% IMBA standards ruled the land..
    I'm going to stop you right there. IMBA guidelines do not lead to bland or bad trails. Choosing mileage over quality leads to bad trails. Tech, fun, wood or rock work is expensive. If you don't want to pay contractors, you have to have a land manager who is willing to bring in volunteers to gnar it up. Few land managers are willing to unleash volunteers. All the things people like or complain about regarding trails is the choice of the builder/land manager/club/Santa Claus or whoever. A group that wanted to could build Ladies Only and be 100% IMBA guidelines compliant. Its just going to be very expensive.

    Quote Originally Posted by Fajita Dave View Post
    Best trails I've ever ridden have all been a mix of flow and older traditional style trails. You can build a traditional trail a little wider and give it some flow without going overboard on jumps and berms.

    SVBC has absolutely mastered trails like these here in central Virginia.
    ^^^ This. You can use the flow shapes and keep the trail looking more natural and not a dirt highway. Put the jumps and kickers and berms where the terrain allows for it.

    Look at this and you see a trail builder who took the time: https://youtu.be/oBKxmxhtVME

  6. #6
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    Paid professionals are building whatever their clients ask for. Although sometimes the terrain dictates the actual outcome in unexpected ways. You can't dig up dirt for berms and pump rollers on solid rock, and when you find solid rock, you have to work with the grade that it gives you, which of course isn't a problem from an erosion standpoint, but might be more difficult to ride than desired. I never like to miss an opportunity to provide a range of experiences on a single trail if I have some leeway. But I can't put a big jump line on 24" wide trail. In the past 2 years I've literally built everything from purpose built direction specific gravity trail with tech and jump features, to a completely hand built 8+ mile rock tech fest that involved using 3 come-a-longs and a grip hoist to move single rocks into place, and pretty much everything in between.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fajita Dave View Post
    SVBC has absolutely mastered trails like these here in central Virginia.
    That Lookout reroute up above Stokesville - that sticks out in my mind.

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    Quote Originally Posted by CycleKrieg View Post
    Choosing mileage over quality leads to bad trails.
    Wish more people understood this. I rode a trail recently where the terrain had good potential but the trail utilized non of it. Instead the trail cut out any speed that would have been gained on the descents. There were route options that offered no variety over the other option. There was lots of places the trail went out of its way to pointlessly wind around trees that were not otherwise in the path of the trail. The trail sees very little traffic. Despite only being a couple years old, it looks like nature is taking it back (still covered in leaves from the fall).

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    Quote Originally Posted by jeremy3220 View Post
    Wish more people understood this. I rode a trail recently where the terrain had good potential but the trail utilized non of it. Instead the trail cut out any speed that would have been gained on the descents. There were route options that offered no variety over the other option. There was lots of places the trail went out of its way to pointlessly wind around trees that were not otherwise in the path of the trail. The trail sees very little traffic. Despite only being a couple years old, it looks like nature is taking it back (still covered in leaves from the fall).
    We also have lots of that here in central VA from another trail organization haha! It's getting better though. I'm a member of this one but never get to help on trail work days because I work on Saturdays so I can't complain.

    Even if I did help build more trails here I don't have anywhere near the experience needed to make really good trails. I just have a lot of time messing around with backyard trails and I used to build BMX jump lines when I was a kid.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cotharyus View Post
    That Lookout reroute up above Stokesville - that sticks out in my mind.
    Lookout is a good example! So is Wolf Ridge and plenty of trails on Massanutten's western slopes.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fajita Dave View Post
    Lookout is a good example! So is Wolf Ridge and plenty of trails on Massanutten's western slopes.
    I havenít been on the western slope since I was in high school. That was in the early 90ís. At some point I need to make it back out there.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cotharyus View Post
    I havenít been on the western slope since I was in high school. That was in the early 90ís. At some point I need to make it back out there.
    Check it out on Trail Forks. Honestly you'll need the app just to navigate anyway as they packed a ton of trails into a small space. Definitely ride down Laird's nose and Puzzler. Anything else you do from there will still be awesome. If you're good through super chunky rocks you can ride/hike up Laird's downhill and ride the ridge line back from Kaylor's Knob. Upper Ravine is a good descent from the ridgeline, super chunky rocks at the top which transitions into a smoother flowy downhill.

    Western Slopes does have a $10 fee now that you pay through the LuvTrails app. I don't know if they charge in the 90s but the trails have changed massively in the past 8 or so years. I would live in their parking lot if I could.

  13. #13
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    So, to the OP... "What's popular right now?"

    (the following gets a bit off topic...)

    Dwindling are the days of large tracts of land where the ambitious loner with too much time on his hands could go build whatever sort of trail he wanted. Land managers are now forcing trail builders to act collectively through organized entities/clubs. Liability issues and catering to competing trail users force this. So when you have more people weighing in, trail design changes.

    In the past trails were very often built by the few gnarled, weathered, challenge-seeking, hard core riders. Fun was a far afterthought and challenge was the goal. (Think about it... picture the lone guy, with pick and rake in hand, bent and toiling for hours over the muck and mire - seem like fun?) Challenge was indeed the goal - trails were quite simply harder - more rugged, with steep ups and downs. The builder would be saddened if anyone could ride their trail "no-dab" the first few times through. Make no mistake, flow could be found but it had to be earned through long hours of grappling with off camber rocks and roots, the steeps and jagged sections, the ups and the downs. Personally speaking, a trail that leaves me scabby kneed, red-lined, cussin'.... that's a trail I'll come back to every day to make it flow. I'd sooner have a lost a good hard fight against a strong opponent, than be the champion in a too easily won contest.


    Now with more folks involved with trail building, or shall we say with giving input to trail building, naturally there will be more inexperienced riders weighing in. There will be more folks just wanting easy fun - a quick thrill. Not saying that is wrong, just different. So trails today, in general are easier. They are geared toward simple fun. A quick thrill. Again not bad, just different. Newer trails are more buff and highly manicured. Trails filled with man-made features. They are trails you can bring most any beginner too and they will have a blast. It will help "grow the sport" if that is what you are after.

    Call these "fun trails", cotton candy. You get a quick smile but the thrill is gone rather quickly for the advanced rider. But for the majority of riders, the non-obsessed mountain biker, these trails will provide lasting fun.


    As a testament to what I'm saying go to any DH, lift assist bike area. Its like a microcosm of the evolution (or de-volution) of trail building. The old school trails - the oldest trails on the map vs the new buffed out "fun trails" (I refrain from using the term "flow trail" as any good trail, buff or rugged, will offer flow.). New "fun trails" are packed with weekend warriors - literally falling over each other, riding on top of each other. For every one old school gnar trail, three fun trails are being built. Riding the original, old school trails at DH parks you'd think you are the only one on the mountain. No surprise, the majority of people on bikes want just the fun. The work and challenge take a far back seat for the general population.


    That said, anyone who is willing to spend their own time and energy volunteering to build any kind of trail has my appreciation. Furthermore, I'm very thankful I even have the opportunity to play in the dirt like I get to do. We still have so much public land to do nearly as we please. We are lucky.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Miker J View Post
    Newer trails are more buff and highly manicured. Trails filled with man-made features. They are trails you can bring most any beginner too and they will have a blast. It will help "grow the sport" if that is what you are after.
    Also, making this a bigger issue is that sometimes land managers (and even clubs) can get it in there head that trail maintenance is a museum function. The trails can never change and every root or pebble must be removed with prejudice.

  15. #15
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    Whatever trail you build, hikers and noobs will passionately cut alternate paths around every pebble which will become a worn-in re-route in a matter of days.

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    Quote Originally Posted by TylerVernon View Post
    Whatever trail you build, hikers and noobs will passionately cut alternate paths around every pebble which will become a worn-in re-route in a matter of days.
    This has been a pretty big issue around here in the past year or two. On some new trails I saw it coming and the trail should have been designed a bit differently from the beginning. Most of it is on older trails which have been ridden "correctly" for at least 20 years.

    I think education is a critical part of fixing that. Noobs just don't know any better. I always stack logs, branches or rocks where people start going off trail as a passive lesson for whoever started making them.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Miker J View Post
    So, to the OP... "What's popular right now?"

    (the following gets a bit off topic...)

    Dwindling are the days of large tracts of land where the ambitious loner with too much time on his hands could go build whatever sort of trail he wanted. Land managers are now forcing trail builders to act collectively through organized entities/clubs. Liability issues and catering to competing trail users force this. So when you have more people weighing in, trail design changes.

    In the past trails were very often built by the few gnarled, weathered, challenge-seeking, hard core riders. Fun was a far afterthought and challenge was the goal. (Think about it... picture the lone guy, with pick and rake in hand, bent and toiling for hours over the muck and mire - seem like fun?) Challenge was indeed the goal - trails were quite simply harder - more rugged, with steep ups and downs. The builder would be saddened if anyone could ride their trail "no-dab" the first few times through. Make no mistake, flow could be found but it had to be earned through long hours of grappling with off camber rocks and roots, the steeps and jagged sections, the ups and the downs. Personally speaking, a trail that leaves me scabby kneed, red-lined, cussin'.... that's a trail I'll come back to every day to make it flow. I'd sooner have a lost a good hard fight against a strong opponent, than be the champion in a too easily won contest.


    Now with more folks involved with trail building, or shall we say with giving input to trail building, naturally there will be more inexperienced riders weighing in. There will be more folks just wanting easy fun - a quick thrill. Not saying that is wrong, just different. So trails today, in general are easier. They are geared toward simple fun. A quick thrill. Again not bad, just different. Newer trails are more buff and highly manicured. Trails filled with man-made features. They are trails you can bring most any beginner too and they will have a blast. It will help "grow the sport" if that is what you are after.

    Call these "fun trails", cotton candy. You get a quick smile but the thrill is gone rather quickly for the advanced rider. But for the majority of riders, the non-obsessed mountain biker, these trails will provide lasting fun.


    As a testament to what I'm saying go to any DH, lift assist bike area. Its like a microcosm of the evolution (or de-volution) of trail building. The old school trails - the oldest trails on the map vs the new buffed out "fun trails" (I refrain from using the term "flow trail" as any good trail, buff or rugged, will offer flow.). New "fun trails" are packed with weekend warriors - literally falling over each other, riding on top of each other. For every one old school gnar trail, three fun trails are being built. Riding the original, old school trails at DH parks you'd think you are the only one on the mountain. No surprise, the majority of people on bikes want just the fun. The work and challenge take a far back seat for the general population.


    That said, anyone who is willing to spend their own time and energy volunteering to build any kind of trail has my appreciation. Furthermore, I'm very thankful I even have the opportunity to play in the dirt like I get to do. We still have so much public land to do nearly as we please. We are lucky.
    Well stated.

    What's popular now is inclusion and accessibility. It comes at the price of adventure. If you learned the sport of mountain biking in the '80s and early '90s, those bikes on primitive trails, you had to be adventuresome and athletic. Those of us that really connected to that experience often find the modern version of mountain biking less than compelling.

    For me, those old trails still exist. Many have been blown out from the moto crowd but the mtb lines are still in there. I have my home trails where I never had to answer to anyone about accessibility or liability. Just so long as that older experience is still available, I won't begrudge those who build and ride excavated flow trails.
    Well my days of not taking you seriously are certainly coming to a middle.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by MOJO K View Post
    Well stated.

    What's popular now is inclusion and accessibility. It comes at the price of adventure. If you learned the sport of mountain biking in the '80s and early '90s, those bikes on primitive trails, you had to be adventuresome and athletic. Those of us that really connected to that experience often find the modern version of mountain biking less than compelling.

    For me, those old trails still exist. Many have been blown out from the moto crowd but the mtb lines are still in there. I have my home trails where I never had to answer to anyone about accessibility or liability. Just so long as that older experience is still available, I won't begrudge those who build and ride excavated flow trails.
    Totally agree with this. I think there is a resurgence of "pirate building" but it is 2.0 aka low key, low impact but focusing more the rider experience rather than mass consensus. These types of trails should be allowed as without continual maintenance they dissolve back to a natural state within months if not weeks. They use all natural features of rock, topography, dirt, local wood (not milled and/or nailed) and from the hiker perspective look pretty much like game trails for the most part.

    I actually think this is a positive move for MTBing. Formally sanctioned trail systems should go through formally sanctioned building processes and for promotion and mass consumption taking into account "the greater need / good". Small "homegrown project" trails that stay in what I would characterize as minimally evasive and/or "rustic" should continue to be built by those who know how. Many times these eventually become the basis for formalized trail systems.

    Of course, these systems should not be built on private land without permission and those built on public land should be aligned to the specific language in the master plan for those areas.

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  19. #19
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    The modern, sanctioned trails being built that I've ridden in the last five years, mostly in western Colorado, all remind me of a scene from the Matrix. They're all sitting in the galley of the The Nebuchadnezzar, and Mouse is waxing philosophical about "tasty wheat". Loosely paraphrased, "How does the Matrix know what tasty wheat tastes like? Same for chicken, maybe they don't know what chicken tastes like, that's why everything tastes like chicken." That's how I feel about these sanctioned trail builds, IMBA sponsored, backed and designed. Doesn't matter where or what you're riding, it all tastes like chicken. Someone is taking the topography of the trail build area, plugging it into the same IMBA algorithm, and out pops a trail route, same stupid switchbacks, unnecessarily loopy, bermed, with "flow" design everywhere. You can just feel the Matrix oozing from these lifeless trails. As mentioned previously, the trails I grew up riding evolved from game trails, almost organic in design and layout. Anyway, as we ride new trails and come across one of these, its common for someone in my family to yell out "tastes like chicken!". Rarely do we return to ride them a second time.
    I would advise not taking my advice.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by watermonkey View Post
    The modern, sanctioned trails being built that I've ridden in the last five years, mostly in western Colorado, all remind me of a scene from the Matrix. They're all sitting in the galley of the The Nebuchadnezzar, and Mouse is waxing philosophical about "tasty wheat". Loosely paraphrased, "How does the Matrix know what tasty wheat tastes like? Same for chicken, maybe they don't know what chicken tastes like, that's why everything tastes like chicken." That's how I feel about these sanctioned trail builds, IMBA sponsored, backed and designed. Doesn't matter where or what you're riding, it all tastes like chicken. Someone is taking the topography of the trail build area, plugging it into the same IMBA algorithm, and out pops a trail route, same stupid switchbacks, unnecessarily loopy, bermed, with "flow" design everywhere. You can just feel the Matrix oozing from these lifeless trails. As mentioned previously, the trails I grew up riding evolved from game trails, almost organic in design and layout. Anyway, as we ride new trails and come across one of these, its common for someone in my family to yell out "tastes like chicken!". Rarely do we return to ride them a second time.
    That's a very good way to put it. We don't have many trails like that around here but I know exactly what you're talking about.

    I find there's a few things in life that become a whole lot less fun when they get more refined. They're still "fun" but feel to safe to be exciting or satisfying.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by watermonkey View Post
    The modern, sanctioned trails being built that I've ridden in the last five years, mostly in western Colorado, all remind me of a scene from the Matrix. They're all sitting in the galley of the The Nebuchadnezzar, and Mouse is waxing philosophical about "tasty wheat". Loosely paraphrased, "How does the Matrix know what tasty wheat tastes like? Same for chicken, maybe they don't know what chicken tastes like, that's why everything tastes like chicken." That's how I feel about these sanctioned trail builds, IMBA sponsored, backed and designed. Doesn't matter where or what you're riding, it all tastes like chicken. Someone is taking the topography of the trail build area, plugging it into the same IMBA algorithm, and out pops a trail route, same stupid switchbacks, unnecessarily loopy, bermed, with "flow" design everywhere. You can just feel the Matrix oozing from these lifeless trails. As mentioned previously, the trails I grew up riding evolved from game trails, almost organic in design and layout. Anyway, as we ride new trails and come across one of these, its common for someone in my family to yell out "tastes like chicken!". Rarely do we return to ride them a second time.
    Quoted for truth. Same here in Vt.

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