From Issue #186
The axiom we hear is this: If we can make enough easy-to-ride trails, more people will ride mountain bikes, which will mean more trails and more access for everyone.
My favorite trails have always been a mess. Hell, some of my favorite rides have involved me walking down stuff I found too intimidating. Let’s look at two places that have a ton of trails I enjoy: Pisgah, North Carolina, and British Columbia. Much of the riding here is hard. It’s technical, it involves a lot of climbing to get to the downhills and those descents often require a serious set of skills to navigate safely.
These places did not become riding destinations because they have easy trails. They became riding destinations because word of mouth spread about the feeling of accomplishment one gets after figuring out the puzzle that a difficult trail lays in front of you.
I’ve heard the argument that if a trail isn’t hard enough, just ride it faster. Is that what we need on these beginner-friendly trails? Dudes on enduro bikes going mach chicken on some buffed-out flow trail, scaring the crap out of the couple who just picked up new bikes and have so far managed to go for only one ride with a helmet on backward, doesn’t sound ideal to me.
I understand trail-building standards are needed to maintain trails. But I also understand that there are miles and miles of trails that existed long before bikers started building trails, and will exist long after we all get kicked off of them because the e-bike apocalypse will have stripped us of all rights and access.
How many of those natural gnar trails I am a fan of would be built today? In the U.S., on public land, I would guess zero percent. Standards need to be met, and trails that devolve into a beautiful mess of exposed roots and rocks won’t ever happen on terrain that has been perfectly sloped and graded and bermed and armored.
I’m hoping there is more middle ground to be had, somehow. Watching trails get sanitized to “preserve” them seems like shaky ground at best. Keeping things rideable while still allowing nature to take its course seems like a more holistic approach than what I often see these days, which smacks of man trying to tame the natural world. A trail that evolves with time and weather seems a lot more in tune with nature than a bunch of manicured berms out in the woods, at least to me.
Perhaps I am speaking out of place here. I haven’t been to a trail-maintenance day in much longer than I would care to admit. I don’t sit on any boards that control the hows and whys of building new trails. Dirt Rag’s yearly mountain bike festival, Dirt Fest, relies on the machine-built Allegrippis flow trails of Raystown Lake in the state of Pennsylvania, which is notorious for difficult rocks and roots. Maybe the way I like to ride and the trails I like to ride on are throwbacks to a time in the past most riders wouldn’t like to revisit.
But honestly, I don’t think so. I think we need hard trails. And lots of them. As bikes continue to get more and more capable, I hope we still have trails that don’t remind me of groomed BMX tracks.